[xplorer˛] — King of the hill
home » blog » 27 May 2007

"Out of memory. We wish to hold the whole sky, But we never will." — Random heiku

Last week we saw a list of the most popular file managers for windows in terms of "website visitors" — if we are to trust Alexa's statistics. But we're intelligent people over here and we don't pick our tools just because the rest of the world+dog uses them, surely. So this week we'll try a series of objective tests and compare file managers on substance. Perhaps the popularity rank and the real worth rank coincide after all?

Most of the time program features come in a list, e.g. "finds text in PDF files", and "supports FTP", but what was the last time you bought a car because it sports a "gear box" and "internal combustion engine"? In real life you don't just want features, you want the best in its class, e.g. a ferrari engine instead of a lada engine. Not all car engines are the same and neither are file managers... or are they?

For this test drive I picked the industry standards obviously including xplorer˛. On paper they all offer more or less the same features, give or take the odd detail here and there. Let's start with a few trivia: (table headings used: xp˛=xplorer˛, opus=Directory opus, TC=total commander, desk=Powerdesk)

version1.79.06.56  6.0
price (US$)29.95  703439.95
download size (MB)
installed size (MB)1.5619.61.914.5
executable size (kB)  7766,656  8322,048
menu commands19217388150

xplorer˛ establishes an early lead with lightest download and install size (if we exclude Narayan's fat monster :) and most commands on the main window menu — and the least damage on your wallet too! Top porker in all counts is opus. Also note that powerdesk pro doesn't come with a free trial so all the following tests correspond to the free version.

All the following tests are performed with default options, as each program comes straight out of the box. We start with resource use upon startup, as reported by windows task manager:

memory usage (kB)  11,588  21,676  9,252  11,920
USER objects961227498
GDI objects167273154185
load time (sec)~02~02

The winner for the lightest impact on your system is TC (windows 3.1 appearances have some advantage after all) with xplorer˛ a close second. Way ahead in the wrong direction is opus involved in some inexplicable serious embroidery (24 threads out of the box?!).

Now let's do some management work and see who gets it done fastest. All tests were done on my dell notebook (single core 2GHz, 1GB RAM running XP SP2). These figures will differ in other systems but they should retain their relative order. They have also been repeated a few times to cancel any handicap on the program that read stuff off the disk first before the OS cached file information. So all's fair and square. All timings in seconds to complete the operation.

read SYSTEM32 folder with 2578 items~0~0~01.5
search for "pipa" in a folder with 2694 items (text files only)  1.57  16.3  4.2550.7
search for "pipa" in the same folder (scan all files)16.316.34.25*50.7
copy 10 files (1 MB)~1~1~1~1
*partial search, see comments below

These results show that in reading and copying speed all programs are indistinguishable, except for powerdesk which is distinctively slow reading folder contents. You may argue that waiting 1.5 seconds to read 3000 files isn't the end of the world but this is a cut throat competition and powerdesk programmers are caught with their pants down here. Also check out those text search speeds, totally rubbish. Powerdesk is an early drop out lemon.

Then we move to something more interesting, searching for text in files. xplorer˛ has a useful "search plain text files only" mode (if you don't tick the search all files option) which is really useful when you search for text in source code or HTML. None of the other tools had something like this — or it wasn't obvious how to turn it on. In this mode xplorer˛ thrashed the competition (1.57 seconds). In "normal" mode, winner was TC, and xplorer˛ shared the also-ran spoils with opus. But note that TC only found 223 of the total 260 files that contained the target text "pipa". That is because TC can't find text in PDF and office documents like xplorer˛ (and opus) can. So it's a empty victory, mere tomfoolery.

Based on these not so complete, yet indicative tests, xplorer˛ demonstrates that it packs some serious engine BHP under its slender shell. And it is gentle with your system resources. And with keyboard customization fresh from the production line, it really deserves its popularity rank and more. Admitedly there's not much in it, but why have (a close) second best?

A final thought. You may argue, with all these instant desktop search tools nowadays, who cares for speed statistics on content any more? All these tools like copernic, google desktop, microsoft desktop and other search tools share the same limitation: they index on complete keywords. So you can find "window" but you won't find something in the middle like "ndo". This seems trivial but it is quite important for programmers searching in source code where hungarian takes over from english. Desktop search will also leave you in the cold if you search for sybmols like underscores, periods, arrows and other programming language constructs. QED: real men need traditional search gear!

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