xplorer² Quick Start Guide
File exploring reinvented: Feel like home miles away from home

Browsing the shell namespace browse using breadcrumbs, the drivebar and bookmarks

Nowadays the shell is vast. Apart from the normal hard drives, CDs, you have your local area network, FTP & webfolders, and all sorts of "virtual" folders like Control Panel etc. xplorer² can access (almost) everything that your windows explorer can including non-standard namespace extensions. More importantly it helps you get from A to B quickly and effortlessly with a variety of folder access mechanisms:

Figure 2. Selecting a subpath from a pane's titlebar

Normally you browse folders in the active pane but there are other possibilities, depending on keyboard modifiers:

Folder views show and save ID3 tag columns

Once you reach your folder you can view your contents using the standard modes accessible from View | Pane style menu: Large/small icons, list, details and thumbnails. In detailed view you can select the columns of information you want to see for your files. xplorer² supports all the standard shell columns and has its own extra columns too, called stock (denoted by [S] in figure 3). Use View | Select columns to pick the columns that are most appropriate for your task.

Figure 3. Column selection dialog

Most of the regular (filesystem) folders support the same columns: 32 standard (windows XP) plus 26 stock columns. When you install additional column handlers (e.g. see Audioshell ID3 tag columns) xplorer² will use them too.

In later windows versions the number of columns (file attributes or metadata) has increased exponentially (e.g. 350+ columns available for windows 7). The column selection dialog box has a filter field that allows you to find a column from the Available list. Type a few letters of the column you are after then click on GO button to filter the column list.

"Virtual" folders like My Computer have their own columns, depending on the type of information they contain. Although you can select columns in such folders, most of the time you won't need to.

There is a third class of folders which, whereas not being part of the filesystem, have pseudo-filesystem qualities. Examples are webfolders, zipfolders (XP), FTP folders etc. xplorer² knows how to get information like file dates and sizes out of such folders which means you can turn most stock columns on and have a near filesystem "experience". In addition you can have near-normal access to the "files" including previews of contents, thumbnails, even synchronize them with normal folders.

NOTE: Stock columns are available even in older windows like NT4 and 98, whereas explorer columns require windows 2000 or newer.
[PRO] Custom column handlers (shell extensions) work even in windows vista and 7/8, despite being discontinued by windows explorer. So you can continue using your favorite column handlers like foldersize. If you install Total Commander WDX plugins you also get extra [X] columns that behave like regular shell extensions. The ultimate version also allows system properties to be used as columns using szSystemPropsList registry setting — available through the advanced options editor.

All columns belong to 3 broad categories: text (owner, comments, attributes), numbers (size, checksum) and dates (modified, created). These categories determine the arrangement of items when a column is used to sort a folder. (Categories also determine how columns are used within hyper-filters). View | Arrange by allows sorting by the most frequently used columns; to sort using an extended column just click on the respective column header.

TIP: You can view file details through infotips (popup text descriptions) too. Enable infotips from Tools | Options | Window and then pick which details you want to see per file type as explained in this article.

[PRO] Advanced sorting and grouping arrange items in collapsible groups

When in large folders item grouping (View | Arrange by submenu) will help you organize your content in categories based on the main sort column. Within each group items are sorted alphabetically; if you want to specify a different secondary etc sorting method, just click on a column header while holding down <Shift> key.

Such secondary sort modes are also supported in plain (ungrouped) views, again using <Shift> key while clicking on a column header. To cancel the multi-sort mode, just click on a header without pressing <Shift>.

For windows vista and later, it is possible to collapse and re-expand a group using the little arrow at the right side of the group header. This way you can concentrate on the files you need. You can collapse all the groups at once using <Ctrl+Shift+Left> arrow key; to expand all groups just refresh the folder view.

Figure 3b. Custom categories dialog

View | Arrange by | Custom groups is an extension of the grouping concept. Instead of relying on column information, you can control exactly which groups will appear and in what order using the dialog in the above figure. Using the small toolbar at the top-right corner you can define, edit and reorder your custom groups using standard hyperfilters. Each filter determines the group membership. Items are placed in the first matching group (in the order they appear in the dialog). Any items that cannot be categorized end up in the "unspecified" group.

For example, applying the two categories in figure 3b (each defined by a simple wildcard filter) on a folder will result in the following grouping:

Figure 3c. Example of custom grouping

Once you define a custom grouping you can save and reuse it using Customize menu. This menu also contains a relevant command called Color coding. Here you use a similar procedure to define a set of hyperfilters, but instead of grouping you customize the display attributes of matching items so that they stand out. See the color coding section for details.

If you want to stop arranging in groups (either simple or custom) uncheck the menu command View | Arrange by | Show in groups or click on the equivalent toolbar button.

Folder view settings

xplorer² offers a sense of continuity as you browse your folders, maintaining your settings including view modes, sort orders, column widths, etc; it even remembers the item that was focused the last time you browsed a folder and brings it into view when (and if) you return.

In other words, by default xplorer² uses the current view settings for any pane as default. If for example you change from detailed view mode (View | Pane style menu) to list mode, then list mode will be default from then onwards for all folders browsed in that pane or tab.

A different way to manage folder view settings is to setup a pane like you want it using various commands from View menu (e.g. pane style, number of columns, grouping, sort order) then declare this view mode as default using Actions | Folder settings | Default menu command. This way you tell xplorer² which default view mode to use for all folders. If you change any view parameters in some folder they will only last temporarily until you browse another folder, where the default settings will again return.

Note that folder settings can be different for each pane (left/right or up/down in dual pane mode), and even for each folder tab in a pane. You can have one pane in detailed view mode and the other in list mode. When you quit xplorer², only the active tabs save their settings; next time you start xplorer² all tabs will look like the two last active tabs.

[PRO]: You can force particular folders in a fixed view mode using Actions | Folder settings menu. So for instance you can have "My pictures" folder to appear always in thumbnails, even when you are browsing in a pane that is normally in detailed mode. When you get out of such customized folders the pane returns to its previous view mode.

In smallish folders set in large icon or thumbnail mode, items can be arranged as icons on your desktop. Use View | Arrange by | Manually menu command to move items with the mouse and leave them where you like. The positions can be saved as part of other custom folder settings (Actions | Folder settings | Save menu), so when you come back to this folder you'll find the items where you left them. Note you can sort (e.g. by Name or Date) a manually positioned folder if you need, temporarily destroying your custom positions, but once you switch back to manual arrangement, the positions will be restored.

Show or hide items via filtering wildcards, autofilters and quick filters

You can limit which items are shown in a pane using wildcards, in the usual DOS fashion (e.g. type *.txt in the addressbar to show only files with txt extension). You can have multiple comma-separated wildcards too, as in *.txt , *.dat. This visual filtering allows you to work in large folders concentrating only on a subset of the items. Other filtering methods are:

Whenever any filter is hiding items from view, you will see a green funnel icon on the statusbar. Double click on this icon (or use View | Show all menu) to cancel the filtering and see all the items in the folder.

Previewing, viewing and launching items Preview PDF and office documents

Except for regular information like file sizes and dates, xplorer² offers access to the contents of files, as long as they are in normal or near-normal (e.g. zip) folders.

The most convenient option is to turn the quick viewer pane on from View menu. Then as you move the cursor around in a folder pane you can see the preview of the focused item. The quick viewer can show text (including RTF, Unicode and UTF-8), graphics, HTML, office documents, even audio and video files. You can customize many aspects (e.g. font) using the context menu in the previewer pane and also through Tools | Options | Window. The draft picture viewer supports zooming in/out and rotations through a toolbar or touch gestures.

[PRO] xplorer² can tap into text filters compatible with windows indexing service, to extract plain text from otherwise unreadable formats like office documents, Adobe PDF etc. This text can be previewed, stripped of its formatting, giving you an idea of the content. Depending on what other programs you have installed you may already have many such text filters. If you need more, there are some free components to download:

Figure 3a. Draft and Native preview tabs

[PRO] In addition, the professional version can show exact previews for certain document types that can be activated in place in internet explorer (ActiveX). The figure above is an example of the same content - a word document - displayed in "draft" and "native" mode. Native mode is more representative but draft is quicker and maybe adequate for most needs. For windows vista and later xplorer² taps into shell preview handlers that provide a rich yet resource efficient quick preview of documents and images.

Instead of a permanently docked preview pane, an alternative method is View | Peek preview menu, which pops a large window previewing the selected item. Hit any key (except PageUp/Down) and the preview goes away! The preview is similar to the Draft quick preview tab, so it will show images and plain text (including text extracted from DOC/PDF/XLS documents) only. For music/video or accurate Native preview you must still use the regular quick preview panel.

Likewise you can press both left and right mouse buttons together to preview the file under the mouse cursor. Just enable mouse peek from Tools | Options | Window. Then let go of the mouse keys and the preview will go away!

When it comes to text files in particular, you can view or edit their contents using File | View and File | Edit commands, respectively. The natural text viewer is editor², included in the program distribution. It is preferable because it is fast, low on resources (especially when you view multiple files) and it shares search options with xplorer². However you can specify alternative external text viewers via Tools | Options if you prefer something more advanced.

Naturally you can launch documents using their associated program too, by hitting <Return>, double-clicking or right-clicking and picking Open from the shell context menu.

Searching for text in files Search for text with boolean operators

Mark | Containing text is a handy tool that allows you to search for text within all files shown in a pane, without having to open them individually. You specify what to search for and various options in the dialog (see figure 4) and xplorer² will mark all the matching files. A few remarks are in order:

Figure 4. Find text in files dialog

The quick previewer is aware of files that have successfully matched a <Ctrl+G> command. When positive match files are focused, the previewer will load the part of the file that contains the text in question, and will zoom around the hit, aiding further examination of contents.

ADVANCED: Boolean text searches
You can search for multiple text strings and also assign a boolean connotation to each substring. To achieve the former you just separate the expressions you are after with commas, e.g. hello , world will mark as positive hits files that contain either hello or world (or both). You can add a boolean effect using the special characters + for AND and - for NOT, at the beginning of each expression. E.g. searching for help, +me, -god will mark files that must contain "me", maybe contain "help" and not contain "god". (You shouldn't use spaces after the + or - characters, unless you want to match a string that starts with spaces.)
The down-side of this flexibility is that if you want to search e.g. for commas verbatim, you have to either enter them as special codes (conveniently included in the Special characters drop-down box) or check the Verbatim checkbox to disallow multistring use. Also note you cannot combine boolean searches with regular expressions - you'll have to use the constructs in Table 1 for equivalent boolean functionality.

Table 1. Special characters understood within regular expressions
.Matches any single character
[ ]Indicates a character class. Matches any character inside the brackets (for example, [abc] matches "a", "b", and "c")
^If this metacharacter occurs at the start of a character class, it negates the character class. A negated character class matches any character except those inside the brackets (for example, [^abc] matches all characters except "a", "b", and "c").
If ^ is at the beginning of the regular expression, it matches the beginning of the input (for example, ^[abc] will only match input that begins with "a", "b", or "c")
-In a character class, indicates a range of characters (for example, [0-9] matches any of the digits "0" through "9")
?Indicates that the preceding expression is optional: it matches once or not at all (for example, [0-9][0-9]? matches "2" and "12")
+Indicates that the preceding expression matches one or more times (for example, [0-9]+ matches "1", "13", "666", and so on)
*Indicates that the preceding expression matches zero or more times
??, +?, *?Non-greedy versions of ?, +, and *. These match as little as possible, unlike the greedy versions which match as much as possible. Example: given the input <abc><def>, <.*?> matches "<abc>" while <.*> matches "<abc><def>"
( )Grouping operator. Example: (\d+,)*\d+ matches a list of numbers separated by commas (such as "1" or "1,23,456")
{ }Indicates a match group
\Escape character: interpret the next character literally (for example, [0-9]+ matches one or more digits, but [0-9]\+ matches a digit followed by a plus character). Also used for abbreviations (such as \a for any alphanumeric character).
If \ is followed by a number n, it matches the nth match group (starting from 0). Example: <{.*?}>.*?</\0> matches "<head>Contents</head>"
$At the end of a regular expression, this character matches the end of the input. Example: [0-9]$ matches a digit at the end of the input
|Alternation operator: separates two expressions, exactly one of which matches (for example, T|the matches "The" or "the")
!Negation operator: the expression following ! does not match the input. Example: a!b matches "a" not followed by "b"

Note that this syntax is slightly different than the popular Perl-compatible regular expressions. For instance groups are denoted with {} whereas many users may be familiar with ().

The command Mark | Quick search can also be used to search for text in files featuring a much simpler user interface, with the broadest search options possible.

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