xplorer² Quick Start Guide
File exploring reinvented: Feel like home miles away from home
The main window is shown in Figure 1. There are four main areas: The active and inactive folder views, the folder tree and the quick previewer window. A toolbar, menu and status bars complete the picture. If this appearance looks rather complicated, you can turn off all the elements you don't need (from View menu), e.g. the tree, the previewer, even the second folder pane.
Figure 1. The main window
Here is a brief description of the main window elements:
- On-board help . If you are new to xplorer² you will appreciate the links to demo videos that illustrate basic file management tasks to get you going with xplorer². Once you are comfortable with the program you can close this pane using Help | How do I? menu command.
- Active pane . Shows the contents of the folder you are working with. This is 100% equivalent to the views windows explorer offers. The example shows a detailed view where you can see extended information for items in columns. Two items are selected, shown in highlighted color. A local titlebar shows the path of the folder being browsed. Only one pane can be active at any time; all user input is directed to it and all other user interface elements (toolbars, status bars etc) show information relevant to the active pane only. All menu commands act on the active pane, too.
- Inactive pane . In dual-pane mode you can browse two folders at a time, having a "spare" one displayed in the inactive pane. This pane is identical in all aspects except that it doesn't accept input; a slightly darker background color allows you to tell which pane is inactive; you can pick your ideal color from Tools | Options | Window. The 2 panes are totally independent and can be configured differently, like in this example where the inactive pane is in thumbnail view showing HTML previews. The inactive pane can be activated by clicking on it or hitting <TAB>, whereupon the old active pane becomes inactive.
- Folder tabs . Each pane can show more than one folder at a time. In such a case tabs will appear, each bearing the title of the respective folder. You can click on a tab to bring a hidden folder upfront. You can only work with one folder at a time, but tabs allow you to switch quickly among locations. You can also save folder groups and restore tabs for subsequent sessions. You can have the tabs on top or to the bottom of the pane depending on the setting in Tools | Options | Advanced.
- Folder tree . Shows a hierarchical view of all the folders in the namespace, starting at the root (desktop). It is exactly equivalent to the windows explorer folder pane. Here you select folders you intend to browse. It is not normally used for managing folders but having said that a reduced set of commands are applicable when you activate the tree (e.g. click on it). The tree can be configured to follow the folder in the active pane so that the two are always synchronized. You can also activate dual trees, one per pane. See Tools | Options | Window for all the available settings.
- Quick previewer . Shows a preview of the focused item - the one with the dotted rectangle around it - in the active pane, depending on the content. Figure 1 shows the preview of a MP3 file that involves playing it with windows media player (if installed); WMP is used for video previews, too. When the focus is on image files (GIF, JPG, etc) the pane will show a preview picture. For text files (TXT, DAT, INI, etc), the first few lines are shown and finally a hexadecimal preview for all other "binary" file types. The quick viewer pane is normally read-only but a few commands are available from a context menu (right-click to display it), e.g. Copy of text or graphics. [PRO] A second tab shows activeX (exact) previews of office documents and other popular file types.
- Toolbar . Contains button-operated equivalents for some frequently used menu commands. It hosts the addressbar too, a combo box where you type paths for folders you intend to browse, and also command lines to execute. The drop-down portion contains the history of folders visited in both panes. Right click on a toolbar to change icon sizes and show or hide text labels using the context menu. You can customize and add new toolbars for the commands you use the most.
- Status bar . It is separated in 7 areas: on the left you get various messages for information and errors. The second shows details for the focused item (type, size and modification date). The third part shows the index number of the focused item. The fourth shows information for the selection in the active pane; e.g. 2: 9,703,340 means that 2 files are selected and their total size is 9,703,340 bytes. The small fifth part shows an icon when a filter is constraining item visibility, and the sixth shows an icon when hidden and protected OS files are obscured. Finally the rightmost part shows the free space on the active drive. You can fine-tune the information displayed on a status bar through Tools | Options | Advanced.
- Menu bar . Shows all available commands. As you traverse the menu system you can read brief command descriptions on the status bar. Depending on the context some menu items may be disabled, e.g. when a command requires at least one item selected and there's no selection in the active pane. If the menu system appears daunting, you can switch to a simpler version from Tools | Options | Window.
- Info bar  [PRO]. Each folder pane can have its own "status bar" showing details of the focused item. Info bars are activated through View | Toolbars. Any column can be placed on an infobar; to select your favorite columns just right-click on the infobar.
- Drive bar  [PRO]. This toolbar lists all your local and mapped drives for quick access.
- Mini scrap  [PRO]. A virtual folder that can be used for temporarily holding items, showing bookmarks or even as a launchpad for programs. If activated it acts as a complete file manager; its only difference from the "normal" pane  is that you don't normally browse single folders in it.
- Details pane  [PRO]. Shows extended information about the focused item in the active pane, including a thumbnail preview and standard file properties like size and date last modified. Click on a link (like in your browser) to change some of the properties like file attributes and name. In addition file-type specific information is shown, e.g. the duration of a song or video, the dimensions of images etc.
- Multi-function box . Located on the right of the addressbar, it is a very flexible and convenient tool for filtering, selecting and searching for files. Use the drop-down arrow next to the toolbar button to change mode and fine-tune its operation.
The four major parts are separated with splitter windows, which you can resize to taste. You can also select whether the folder panes are stacked horizontally or vertically using View | Tile horizontally menu. You can move the quick preview panel to the left (under the tree) using the relevant check box in Tools | Options | Advanced. Once you reach a satisfactory arrangement xplorer² will remember it for you and reinstate it every time you start the program - unless you clear the Save program state on exit checkbox in the options dialog.
[PRO] All peripheral panes (tree, quickviewer etc) can be rearranged to taste if you grab them from their titlebar and move them around to another side of the xplorer² window. An outline rectangle indicates the new docking location. If you hold down <CTRL> key while dragging a panel it will stay floating (detached). Once you setup the panes to your liking, use View | Toolbars | Lock dock sites command to fix their position. Use the little pin icon on the titlebar of each docked pane to toggle its autohide mode. When autohidden, a pane is minimized to a tab-like button and you can expand it by hovering the mouse over this button. Click again on the pin icon to permanently dock the pane.
In a sense, xplorer² has a Multiple Document Interface (MDI) where each "document" is a folder. Only one folder is active at each time but many others are easily accessible, from tabs in the active and/or the inactive pane. Tabs are added with File | New tab and removed from the Window menu. You can rearrange tabs with drag-drop. Right click on a tab to see a context menu with various commands including Lock which locks a tab from browsing - folders open in new tabs.
Instead of a traditional menu bar and toolbars, you can have the newer ribbon user interface, which combines the two, offering a more intuitive organization of commands. If you see the old-style menu you can turn on the ribbon using View | Ribbon command.
Figure 1a. Ribbon toolbar instead of menu
The ribbon is like a big tabbed toolbar. The basic Home tab contains the most frequently used commands, whereas other tabs offer more detailed control for advanced features. The leftmost File tab (dark blue) is a traditional drop-down menu where you can exit the program, get help, and get back the original menu if you don't like the ribbon!
Many ribbon buttons are split into a main command like Paste and a drop-down portion that shows variations of the main command (e.g. Paste link). You can get information on what each button does if you hover the mouse over it. Most xplorer² menu commands are present on the ribbon but for accessing all the commands you need to turn off the ribbon from "File" menu.
The ribbon offers limited customization support. You can right click on a button you use frequently and put it on the Quick Access Toolbar, the little toolbar the ribbon puts on the window titlebar. You can put up there all the commands you need then right click on the ribbon to minimize it, and reclaim the space it uses.
TIP: The ribbon toolbar is optional. If you find it confusing or you need the traditional menu bar to access some of the most advanced xplorer² commands, use the leftmost FILE ribbon tab and choose Show normal menu command. Alternatively you can execute any command clicking on the Command finder (question mark) button on the quick access toolbar.
Column mode (Miller)
Usually when you browse into a subfolder, the current tab switches entirely to it. Say you were browsing C:\path\DESKRULE and then you entered the subfolder C:\path\DESKRULE\INSTALLER, you'd expect to see the contents of INSTALLER folder replacing the old pane contents. If you turn on Miller browsing (File | Column mode menu) then both the original and the subfolder contents will show side by side. If you enter a new sub-sub folder e.g. C:\path\DESKRULE\INSTALLER\APPX then a third side panel will open, and so on. As you browse deeper, panes to the left shrink in width. If you have too many folders simultaneously open, a scroll bar will appear to help you manage the panes, since only a few of them will show at a time.
Miller browsing will strike Windows users as odd, but it is popular with Mac computers and their Finder file manager. Its advantage is that you can see neighboring folders simultaneously and transfer files from one to the other. Like dual pane browsing, only increased to multiple panes!
You move from one miller pane to the next either with left/right arrow keys, or clicking with the mouse. Only one folder is active in a miller column set, which will show in white background; all the other folders show with a darker background. The active folder is dominant: its path shows as the tab's current path, and all menu commands will operate in files selected in the active pane, just as if it was the only folder showing. After you create miller panels, each one could be set independently (e.g. one in thumbnails, the other in details, and a 3rd in list mode. But usually they all share the same view mode.
Figure 1b. Side by side Miller browsing
Let's go through the elements of a tab showing side-by-side folders, showing this mini-hierarchy:
- Inactive folder panes . These are folders higher up, browsed earlier. They show with a darker background. If you click in an inactive pane then it will become active, deactivating the previous focus.
- Active folder . This is where you work in, selecting items to open, copy or preview. It shows with a lighter background color. Use up/down arrow keys (or PageUp/Down) to move within the active folder's contents.
- Folder tree . The tree isn't a part of column browsing mode, but it is shown here to aid your understanding the relationship between the side-by-side panels
- Pane's titlebar . Shows the path of the currently active folder
- Tab strip . The title of the active tab represents the currently active folder in the miller set. You can combine multiple tabs with miller mode, and each tab can show a different set of neighboring folders.
- Main scrollbar . When you have too many side-by-side folders open, there's no room to see all of them, that's why a scroller pops up to help you manage the folders. Each individual folder pane is also scrollable, but by default its scrollbars show in miniature, to save on screen space.
- Splitter bar . Vertical divider bars separate miller columns. You can resize each pane dragging its splitter bar with your mouse
When you open a new miller pane, the old pane shrinks down in width. By how much? If the pane is in detailed view mode, then it will be shrunk to the width of the NAME column. If it is in list or thumbnail mode, then it will shrink to the size of the currently selected folder item. You can set a maximum width limit to miller columns from program options (Window property page) setting a value for Max list column width. There are more tweaks available using Tools | Advanced options editor, e.g. the maximum number of side panels (default is up to 6 parallel folders).
If you use the folder tree or any other UI element outside the miller container to browse into a folder "far away" (e.g. typing a path in the addressbar), then the current miller pane is reset to the new folder. But miller mode remains active, so if you browse subfolders of this new master folder, sideway panels will pop up. To turn off miller mode completely, use File | Column mode menu or click on the equivalent toolbar/ribbon button. Also note that miller panes will not survive a program restart, only the last active folder will be re-loaded when you start xplorer² next time.
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