Exponential growth to file management productivity

Simple file management simple stuff

If you worked with windows explorer — and who didn't? — then you will find that xplorer² can emulate its looks and functionality, no PhD required to do simple file operations using the mouse. This window snapshot shows a basic xplorer² window with most panes hidden, browsing a single folder, with a folder tree on the left and a preview pane on the right, just like windows explorer!

Figure 13. Windows explorer mode

Use the tree to locate folders, and select file items with the mouse. The preview pane will show a draft preview of the focused item. Double click to open the selected document in its registered application, or use the right click context menu to perform file operations as copy, delete, rename and so on (these commands are also available from File menu). To transfer copied files, switch to the destination folder and use Edit > Paste menu command, or use drag-drop. These are all elementary actions and will not be elaborated further.

The difference between cut and copy when we are dealing with files is that copy creates a duplicate copy where you paste, whereas cut-then-paste is equivalent to a move operation (relocation). Files that are cut appear somewhat dimmed.

If you hold down <SHIFT> key as you right click, you get an extended menu with more commands. For example, the context menu of executable files will include a Run As command that allows you to run a program impersonating a different user.

Context menu commands apply to all selected files. To build larger selections with the mouse, either use lasso selection (drag a rectangle around the files to be selected), or use keyboard modifiers as you click on items: You must be careful selecting many items with the mouse because an accidental click may unselect all items. Use one of the advanced selection methods to build file selections with accuracy and safety.

An underused hidden gem is Send to submenu. You can create a compressed folder out of the selection, attach files to emails (mail recipient command) and more — you can even customize this menu for special targets.

Right click on some empty spot to open the active pane's background menu. In there you will find commands to create new files and folders, change the pane style etc. Thus, just using the mouse and context menus, ignoring the entire menu system in xplorer², you can do all the basic file operations!

send to context submenu

All these basic file operations like drag/drop, copy/paste, rename and delete can be undone, albeit not by xplorer², but from windows explorer! If you find you have made a mistake, minimize xplorer² and any other window that obscures the desktop, then right click on the background and you will find the undo menu command. As xplorer² uses windows explorer for its basic file operations, it is possible to undo them in this roundabout way. undo operations

Further reading
◪ Undo actions for most dangerous file operations

Rename and change type

If you don't like the name of a file or folder, use File > Rename menu to change it. Although you can give long descriptive names to files and folders, it is recommended you kept names succinct — they take less space on the screen. Short names are imperative for folders if you want to create deep hierarchies without running into deep path problems.
Almost all symbols can be used in filenames except for these that are used for path separators, wildcards and other reserved functions:
   \ / : * ? " < > |
If you use any of these in the name, they will be automatically replaced by underscores _

When you create a new file or folder using Actions (or a pane's background menu), the item is created in the active folder and immediately you get in rename mode, to change the default New File.txt. We saw that changing extensions is potentially dangerous that's why xplorer² selects only the base name when you rename inplace rename

Some people use <F2> as a way to copy the entire selected filename with <CTRL+C>, then press <ESC> to cancel the fake rename. Hence they don't like the partial name selection that xplorer² meant as "optimization". If you copy names more frequently than rename them, tick the advanced option "F2 rename selects whole name". Note if you are in list view mode (anything but details), <CTRL+P> copies the entire filename, so you don't need to resort to fake renames.
For plain text files, changing extensions is legitimate, e.g. changing a newly created file from New File.TXT to Stdafx.CPP. If you change the extension with inplace rename, you will be pestered by warnings against it. For fewer warnings of this kind use File > Change type menu command. This is also useful when extensions for known file types are hidden from system folder options. change type warning

Recycle and delete

File deletion is an inherently dangerous file operation, that can lose precious data by mistake or accident (always create backups of important documents). When you hit <DEL> key, the selected files and folders may end up in the recycle bin (which is recoverable), or permanently deleted, which is hard to undo — but possible if you act fast.

Only local filesystem files and those in USB-connected hard disks are moved to the recycle bin; other locations are deleted directly. Files that cannot be recycled include:
  • Network files
  • Files in USB sticks (flash drives)
  • Files in phones and tablets
  • Deep paths (length >256 characters)
  • All non-filesystem items (e.g. zipfolders, FTP)

You must be extra careful when you delete files in any of the above folder types. It is recommended that you have delete confirmations enabled (using recycle bin properties) as an insurance policy. Delete confirmations that go into the recycle bin look slightly different than permanent deletions. Please study the following confirmations; the second one (permanent) requires special care because it is very hard to undo.

recycle confirmation

On the other hand sometimes you may want to ensure that files are deleted for good instead of being recycled. To delete permanently bypassing the recycle bin, press <SHIFT+DEL> keys together. If you prefer using the mouse, customize the toolbar and add the special Trash button trash. There's an even more extreme trashing option via Actions > Shred menu, which overwrites the file with random data then deletes it, making its retrieval impossible — but shredding isn't recommended for modern solid state (SSD) hard disks.

You can browse recycle bin in xplorer², just like any other special folder in the shell namespace. Note that instead of the regular filesystem columns, you see details like Original location and Date deleted, which is information related to this special folder. Sort by Date deleted column to see the most recently deleted items first. Then select one or more deleted items and use Restore context menu command to undo their deletion:

Figure 13a. Undoing file deletion

Don't forget to empty your recycle bin from time to time, using the context menu on the recycle bin desktop icon. If you accumulate too many recycled items, deletion will become sluggish.

Super-charged drag-drop demo video: supercharged drag-drop

Transferring files with drag-drop is natural and easy to grasp. Select a number of files, then grab them with the left (or right) mouse button and drop them to a destination folder. While dragging you get visual cues about what's being dragged and where will it go:
  • A drag image shows the item(s) icons being dragged and their number.
  • Eligible drop targets that will accept the dragged items are highlighted as you move around the pane; otherwise the folder pane itself will receive the drop.
  • The impending file operation (Move, Copy or Link) is shown as a drop tip, that also includes the name of the target folder. If dropping isn't allowed you will see a no-go nodrop feedback cursor.
When you release the mouse button, you perform the last shown drop action into the last target folder. To abandon the operation without dropping, press <ESC> key or the other (usually right) mouse button, and the drag will be cancelled.
drop targets
Dragged icons look nice but could get in the way of the drop target. If you don't want to see a dragged image, untick "Show images during drag drop..." advanced option. This will also show simpler drop cues (a [+] cursor for copy, otherwise it's going to be a move operation)

When you drag, you must find the desired drop destination. Most UI elements in xplorer² window accept drops, like the active and inactive folder pane, the folder tree and so on. If a pane contains too many items and you cannot see your target, you can scroll the window (while dragging) if you place your mouse pointer near the window edge where you want to move towards. You can drop to a different folder tab if you leave your mouse a second or two over a hidden tab — it will then activate to accept your drop. This spring-loaded folder feature also works in the tree, where you can open tree branches by hovering over them.

Drop targets are usually folders but you can also drop on program icons (EXE files, they will receive the dragged files as arguments to open them) — this method also works for user commands you place on a toolbar. Naturally you can drag-drop to other windows programs, not just inside xplorer². Use <ALT+TAB> or the windows taskbar to select a different window to drop into.

If you find that you cannot drop into xplorer² from another program, you are most probably running elevated as administrator. The solution is to run xplorer² normally. If you need to drop into a protected system folder like Program Files, drag-drop will automatically elevate xplorer² momentarily anyway.

The default file operation when dropping is Move if you are working within the same drive (e.g. reorganizing files under C:\) or Copy when you drop to a different drive (e.g. from C:\ to E:\). You can override these defaults using keyboard modifiers:
  • <SHIFT> to move files
  • <CTRL> to copy files
  • <CTRL+SHIFT> to create shortcuts
You will see the changing drop cues (label and mouse cursor) when you press these modifiers while dragging. If you don't remember which key to use, drag files with the right mouse button; when you drop, a context menu will open to select the desired operation!
right drop menu

Drag and drop is easy and straightforward, but for some people is a plain drag. One tries to double-click and ends up doing an unwanted drag-drop (or vice versa) — especially with poorly setup mouse settings. An advanced setting "Turn off left drag-n-drop" will only allow dragging with the right mouse button, which should be easier to master and spare you the accidents. Use Go to > Drop target menu to browse the folder where you last dropped something inside, to recover accidentally dropped items.
Further reading
◪ More tricks with drag-drop
Drag-drop to other windows and programs demo video drag to other programs

Previewing 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. There are 2 modes selectable by tabs at the base of the previewer panel. The figure below shows draft and native previews of the same document. The left one is plain text, the right one shows also formatting.

Figure 14. Draft and Native preview tabs

The Draft tab shows fast previews of most file types. For photos and graphics of all sorts you see a large thumbnail, which can be zoomed in/out and rotated through a toolbar zoom toolbar or touch gestures. xplorer² uses windows system thumbnail cache to offer quick image previews. It embeds Windows Media Player to offer previews of music and movies.

For plain text files like TXT or CPP, it loads and displays the first few KB (the limit is adjustable). Using the context menu (see right pic) you can change the preview font (Set Font command), select and copy text, Search for text in the preview etc. Normally xplorer² can figure out the encoding automatically; for the rare cases it won't, use Encoding submenu to pick a code page or indicate the text format (UTF-8, unicode etc). If you turn Tail mode menu command on, xplorer² loads the last few lines of the text file instead of the beginning. This makes sense for log files. Finally if you turn on Text only menu, xplorer² will show all file types as text — e.g. images will show a hex dump (47 49 46 38 GIF8 00000) instead of the thumbnail. Select this menu item again to turn on regular image previews.

Advanced office document types like PDF, DOC and XLS are also previewed as unformatted text using text filters meant for desktop search. When a document was scanned for text (e.g. a file search result), any matching keywords are highlighted so you can quickly see the surrounding text context. Use Find next menu to find the next search keyword match.
The internal text viewer called editor² is also aware of search hits. If you open a plain text file (a search result) in editor² using File > View menu, then <F3> key will find the keyword you searched for in xplorer²!
previewer menu

The little pin at the right end of the previewer's tab strip is the equivalent of View > Lock viewer menu command. When you lock the preview panel, it will stop following the focused file and remain fixed to the present file. A possible application is to listen to music while you browse. Unpin the previewer to resume normal previewing as you click around the panes.

Click on Native tab to switch to more accurate, slower previews. This mode is identical to the preview panel in windows explorer. To see accurate previews for your file types, you need to install preview handlers. Luckily when you install an office suite, it automatically adds preview handlers and text filters for its associated file types. If you have problem with certain document types, you can search for preview plugins.

As you can see in figure 14 above, native preview looks nicer, and you can preview the entire document, not just the first few lines. However it feels cramped in the narrow space available, so opening the document in its native program may be the better option. Draft mode is quicker and adequate for most preview needs.

Some preview handlers are buggy and end up locking files you preview in native mode. xplorer² tries its best to release documents you want to delete, but sometimes this isn't possible. In worst case you can quit xplorer², delete the locked document, then restart the program.
Further reading
If you have problems previewing or searching for text in PDF documents, install Sumatra PDF, a lightweight PDF reader that works very well with xplorer². If you have another preferred PDF program, sumatra will let it be and install itself as a secondary handler. Just make sure you tick its shell extension options (for desktop search and windows previews)

Peek preview mouse peek

The previewer is one of the adjustable panes so you can resize and dock it to various locations. To see bigger previews you can use the splitter bar to resize the pane. But this larger preview comes at the expense of other panels, that end up shrunk.

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 simultaneously to preview the file under the mouse cursor. Just enable "Mouse peek preview" from options. Then let go of the mouse keys and the preview will go away!

A variation of this command can show popup previews for two files simultaneously. Select 2 items that have thumbnail previews (e.g. photos) and press <Alt+Shift+Q> keys and a popup window will show their large previews side by side for easy comparison. This is especially useful when considering similar photos before you decide which one to keep. Press any key or click the mouse to hide the preview window.
NOTE: if just one item is selected and you are in dual pane mode, this command compares the focused items in the left and right folders.

Starting programs

You can launch documents using their associated program, by hitting <Return> key, double-clicking or right-clicking and picking Open from the shell context menu.
If you need to start a program directly, there are many ways to do it with xplorer²: Nowadays the easier way to start programs is through the system Start menu. Press window winkey key and start typing your program name, and it will be found automagically! Only use one of the methods described above if you need to pass arguments to programs.

Extract text information

The contents of the active folder pane can be exported, as you see them in the window, with whatever file properties (columns) you have selected — even group headers, for e.g. printing. Use Edit > Export CSV menu command and your pane contents will be transferred to MS Excel (or whatever tool you have for CSV documents) for further processing. This command exports all the contents, regardless if they are selected or not.

Edit > Copy columns menu likewise copies all details, but only for selected files. The information is placed in the clipboard as text, which you can paste wherever you like.
This command also works in the folder tree where it copies all expanded branches under the selected one.

If you are interested in filenames only, there are 2 options in Edit menu:

One good use of copying full paths is for Open dialogs used to open documents in most programs. These system dialogs are not as easy to navigate as xplorer², so the alternative would be to find the file you want in xplorer², press <ALT+C> to copy its path, then paste it in File name input box in open/save dialogs:

You don't have to find the exact folder to open, pasting the full path will do the job nicely! Here is a demo video system open

On a different note, Edit > Extract text menu command is meant for formatted text documents like DOCX and PDF, where it will extract pure (unformatted) text and save it in a separate file, using text filter modules available for desktop search. For example text from ESTATEMENTS.PDF will be saved in ESTATEMENTS.PDF.TXT.

One possible use is to compare PDF documents for modifications, using a text comparison tool like WinDiff.

If there's no text to extract you will see an error message on the statusbar: error

By default extracted text is saved as plain text. If you are dealing with english or the text is in your default locale (main language setting) you should be ok. If on the other hand you want to save text as unicode, tick the advanced option "Paste text in folder saved as unicode". This will create bigger text files.

Changing file properties change file properties

The filesystem shell supports many file properties, simple stuff like size and file attributes, as well as more advanced ID3 tags, document information like subject and author and so on. Some of these properties are innate and cannot be changed directly (like file size in bytes), whereas others are adjustable like various file dates. You can browse file details in a number of ways:
  • Using detailed view mode, where you can choose which properties to show
  • The status bar and infobars show simple file attributes
  • Use File > Properties menu to see the standard property page (see right pic). This shows properties for one or more selected files, organized in tabs. You can change properties using the Details property page tab.
  • Use View > Details pane to turn on context specific attributes for each file type (see below).
xplorer² has many dedicated commands to change file attributes and properties en masse (french for many at a time :), like dates, tags and comments, mass rename etc. In this section we concentrate on simple property methods.
shell properties

The most intuitive way to change properties is straight into the detailed view mode. Like in-place file rename, you can slow double-click (click twice but not too fast) on any property that is changeable, and you can edit its contents as such:


You can think of the active folder pane as a little MS Excel spreadsheet, where you can change cells of various properties, like date modified as above. All properties are edited as text, so you must make sure you stick to the expected format — or an error will result. In the above pic, Name, Modified and Keywords can all be modified in-place, but Size cannot (it is innate.)

Spreadsheet mode is accessible through the keyboard as well. Press <F2> key as if you were to rename the selected file, then press <TAB> a few times till you reach the property column you want to change. Any innate properties will be skipped. Press <ESC> key to cancel any unwanted changes to a property.

Details pane

Turn on this pane from View > Details pane menu to see general as well as file type-specific attributes. This dockable and resizable pane shows the attributes of the  focused  file in the active pane, and updates as you browse different files and folders.

Figure 15. Details pane showing image properties

In figure 15 a PNG (image) file happens to be selected. We can see a little thumbnail preview on the left, followed by standard information as Name, size and date modified, but as this is an image we also see its dimensions in pixels. The most important type-specific information is shown e.g.:

If you are familiar with HTML editing, you can change the file that defines which properties show in the details pane, or remove those you don't need. Any supported property can be added, both stock and shell. The procedure is explained in this blog.
Details are extracted lazily in a background thread so you don't need to worry adding slow properties here.

Properties that appear as links (like name and comment in figure 15) can be modified. If you click on such a property link, it's like you used the menu command that changes said property. Innate properties like Size just show a bold title, since they cannot be changed directly.


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