Exponential growth to file management productivity

User Interface customization

No 2 people are the same, so xplorer² is customizable to a minute degree, to make it your own — from basics as the window looks and layout, down to behavior of individual commands. Important tweaks are available from program options, others more specialized are available through an external settings editor.

Basic program options tweak how UI elements like the active folder view and the tree behave, whether you want dark mode interface and such. Using layouts you can define different workspaces, sets of panes and their positions and sizes to suit different file management tasks.

Under Customize main menu you will find several categories of favorite lists, that are maintained in a uniform fashion (Add/Organize/Execute as we saw for bookmarks), and in particular:

When you add a new item in these lists e.g. with Customize > Column sets > Add current menu, you only define the item name. For further customizations, including a different icon and a keyboard shortcut, please use the Organize menu item of the list.

Each of these lists can hold up to 100 saved items, if you need more you must first delete some of the old unused entries. The same limit applies to saved hyperfilters. If you want to see more items in Customize submenus, saving you the trouble of using More... menu commands, increase "Custom menu items" advanced option. Then you will have direct access to more favorite customizations.

If you add any of these special favorite commands on a toolbar, right click on the button and pick Properties menu command. This gives you a shortcut access to the list's Organize menu, where you can change the item's properties. For example you can edit the commands of a macro this way.

Keyboard customization change F5 key for refresh

Bookmarks and other items listed under Customize menu can be assigned custom keyboard shortcuts (in the range 0-9) using dialogs similar to figure 8. To change the keyboard shortcuts of all other menu commands use Customize > Keyboard command. This way you can assign e.g. <F5> to be used for folder refresh and so on.

Figure 51. Keyboard customization dialog

The dialog lists commands organized by the main menu bar (File, Goto, ...) . Use the Category drop down list to select the menu that holds the command you want to remap, e.g. for Refresh we need View menu. Scroll down to find the command you want and click on it. You will see its current keyboard shortcuts in Current keys box. To set a new key, click in Press new shortcut key box and type the key e.g. <F5>.

If you try to set a key that is currently in use for a different command, the dialog will let you know about it; decide whether you want to keep the old command assignment or just remap it to the current command. Soon you must use complicated combinations with <CTRL> <SHIFT> and <ALT> keys because you will run out of simple accelerators.

Click assign button to set the new combination, it will be then listed in Current keys box. If you want to remove the old accelerator, select it and click remove button. To reset all key mappings to "factory defaults" click reset all button.

Change as many commands as you want, and click ok to finalize the new key bindings. All menus will be updated to show the new keyboard shortcut next to the command name. You only need to change command key bindings once, and next time you restart xplorer² it will remember your favorite keys.

If you switch to Miscellaneous category, you will find many useful "hidden" commands that aren't in any menu. They are identified by number but you can see what they do in the command description pane (or use the command finder to search for obscure commands). For example command 57640 lets you repeat whatever menu command you used last — default shortcut key is <CTRL+Y>

Customize > Keyboard use menu command lists the current key assignments for all xplorer² commands. You can copy out the text, paste it to an editor and print them out so that you remember the quickest way to reach your favorite commands.

Toolbar customization change bookmark icon

As we have already seen, toolbars can be moved around, show large or small icons, and show command labels for clarity — or hide them to save space. You can also pick what buttons each toolbar contains. Right click on a toolbar and pick Customize from the menu:

Figure 52. Toolbar customization dialog

Any command from the menu system that shows an icon next to it can be placed on a toolbar. You know which commands you need to use more, so you can place them on a toolbar for easy access. Also you can remove toolbar buttons that you don't use that match and replace them with others you enjoy more.

The dialog shows all buttons that are Available [1] (all menu commands with icons), and a list of buttons Current [2] on the toolbar. Select any command from the Available list and click on Add [3] button to add it to your toolbar; likewise select a button from Current list and click Remove to get rid of it.

Finding a command to add can be a bit of an ordeal, as there is no way to search for commands, you just scroll the list till you see the icon you are after. Toolbar button names may or may not be similar to their respective menu commands, sorry about that! As for commands in Customize menu (macros, user commands, bookmarks etc), you can identify them by their list name.

If you are looking, say, for the user command you added with the label WINDIFF, click in the Available list [1] and press the first letter W a few times. It will show you buttons that start with W and you will soon locate the one you are after!

The current list shows items in the order they appear on your toolbar. Select an existing command and move it up/down with the buttons [4]. When you add a new button, it gets inserted before whichever item in the current list you have selected. If the new button ends up somewhere you don't like, use move up/down to relocate it.

You can reorder toolbar buttons with the mouse, when you don't see the customization dialog. For a normal toolbar hold down <SHIFT> key and click on a button. You will see a big rectangle drawn around the button, then move it with the mouse and drop it to its new position. Drop it outside the toolbar to remove it completely!
Add separator buttons (the first one in Available list) to organize toolbar buttons in groups. These are the little vertical bars separator you see. You can add as many separators you need and position them to split groups.

When you are done customizing buttons, click Close button to see your new toolbar. Or if you changed your mind, click Reset button to undo your recent changes.

Use Customize > Toolbars > Add new menu to add a new toolbar with a name, and get to customize it immediately, adding buttons for a particular task. You can have up to 10 such extra toolbars. It makes sense to organize extra toolbars in a task-oriented fashion, bunching relevant buttons together. Whenever the need arises you activate the toolbar using View > Toolbars menu (or right click on any toolbar). You don't have to keep all toolbars visible at all times. Toolbar visibility is one of the properties associated with layouts — each layout can have its own set of active toolbars.

You can do away with the limitation about icons and put any menu command on a toolbar through a macro. So you create a simple macro that just invokes the menu command, add it to the customized list, and then it has an icon and can be added on the toolbar indirectly! For more details see this blog post.

Toolbar skins

For a quick face-lift of xplorer² appearance, you can download and install custom toolbar and menu item images that other xplorer² users have created and shared with the community. To see what's available click here.

You can also create your own skin. It's easy and no programming is required. Just grab the original button images and modify to taste with any image editor, then drop them in the installation folder. You may also consider sharing them with the rest of the world - just drop us an email.
Download skin designer pack (17 KB)

Nowadays you need two skins, for the 2 available toolbar icon sizes. One should have buttons 16-20 pixels square (x2skin.png), and the other should be any size you like up to 48x48 to match your screen's DPI (x2skin_XL.png)

xplorer² context menu

The shell context menu is a system menu that contains commands to handle selected files and folders, simple things like rename and properties, plus any advanced commands you added by way of context menu shell extensions. xplorer² adds a couple of its own menu commands at the top of this context menu, under xplorer² heading.

You can put any of xplorer² menu commands in this submenu, whatever you need to have handy as a context menu command. Use xplorer² > Organize command to add and remove items from this special menu:

Figure 53. Organize xplorer² submenu

Use the little toolbar to add, remove and reorder existing menu commands. When you click Add new you get a dialog similar to keyboard customization, where you can select a menu command by category as they appear on the main menu bar. You can add separators too for grouping commands. When you are all done click ok button to finalize the menu; commands will appear nicely with icons and keyboard shortcut information, see the above picture.

This submenu is inserted in the context menu of all items, active folder, folder tree, even the background menu where you click "nowhere". If you don't want to clutter your shell context menu with extra commands, you can remove xplorer² menu using the advanced option "Don't add xplorer² commands in shell context menu".

Program options demo video: working with program options

xplorer² has many options that you can fine tune so that it behaves to your liking. Use Tools > Options menu to bring up the program options dialog, with basic tweaks. There are even finer options to tweak, using Tools > Advanced options menu command, which opens a separate program with a plethora of possible adjustments.

Figure 53a. Program options dialog

The main options dialog organizes the available settings in reasonable categories, using the property tree [1]. As you click the tree branches, the respective properties are loaded in the list [2]. The active tree category is shown in bold. The property list is a custom control that may be unfamiliar to some people, so please watch the demo video for the basics of its operation.

The list is split in 2 columns, the left shows the property name, and the right its current value setting. You can resize these columns with the vertical separator line — but this is usually not necessary. The information box [3] explains what the   selected   property does in brief.

Click on a property name to select it, or use the up/down arrow keys to move in the list. Most properties are simple yes/no types (similar to checkboxes) that you flip on/off using the mouse or <SPACE> key. When a property is set to Yes it is enabled: toggle. Other options are drop-down lists where you select one of the available options, for some you type in a number or path, and a few more complex types launch an external dialog (e.g. for font or color selection). Use the button  ...  on the rightmost of the property row to activate such extended properties (or press <F2> key)

The way you change the selected property depends on its type. If you are expected to type some text, you can start typing immediately, then press <ENTER> key to set it. Press <TAB> or <F2> to select from a drop-down list, or use the drop-down arrow with the mouse. To jump to the category tree press <SHIFT+TAB> keys. If the selected property doesn't expect text, typing a few letters will either find the next matching property by name, or jump to the property search box [4] automatically.

Use one or more keywords in the search box [4] to find matching properties, regardless where they reside in the category tree. As you type more keywords, you find fewer options with increased precision. Note that all keywords you type are searched for, but if nothing is found, the search automatically switches to any keyword mode, where a single keyword match is enough. Text in property description and values is also searchable. You can change properties in the search results list directly. To see all properties, clear the filter text with [X] button.

After you change one or more options click on ok button to close the options dialog and apply your preferences, or cancel to retain your old options. Some options like font changes necessitate opening a new window — this is done automatically with minimal interruption to your workflow..

Most program options are specific to the current layout. You see the layout name on the option dialog's titlebar [5] (it is the [Default] layout in this example). If the current xplorer² window shows multiple folder tabs, the options you change will be applied to all tabs simultaneously.

Hopefully you will find most options self-explanatory by their extended information in box [3]. Let us go quickly though the available categories.

General options

A fundamental option is "Save settings on exit", which controls the persistence of all other settings. If you have this option ticked, xplorer² will save settings on exit, meaning the state of the window, all the tabs and any recent changes to program options, will be remembered; next time you run xplorer² it will look exactly as you last left it. Turning this option off isn't recommended; if you want xplorer² to start at fixed locations use command line arguments instead of disabling saving settings on exit.

Changes you make to global properties like bookmarks and items in Customize menu are always saved on exit, regardless of this option (unless you tick the advanced option "Don't save global options either"). If you have it disabled, use Actions > Save settings now menu command whenever you want to save a snapshot of your latest settings.
xplorer² professional saves settings only in the windows registry. This is the recommended location even for ultimate edition, when you have it installed in your home/base computer. If you want to run ultimate edition in portable mode, pick "File in installation folder" from the drop-down list as the destination for saved settings. This will create an INI file in the flash drive, next to the program.
persistence options

When you quit xplorer², only the active folder tab will save its settings. When you restart xplorer², all tabs will look identical. If you want to save settings for each tab individually, tick the advanced option "Each folder tab can have different settings"
Further reading
◪ If you have problems with settings not persisting properly, check the options troubleshooter
Other general options of note include:

  • Plain menus. Tick to hide less frequently used commands for a less confusing menu bar. Untick to show all menu items.
  • DOS console. Tick to use the modern xplorer² console replacement, otherwise a normal MSDOS console window is used for external commands.
  • History items. How many past inputs to keep for combo boxes. Each dialog has 1-2 comboboxes where you enter your text parameters; this number controls how many are remembered. If you type more than this limit, the older ones are discarded. History items assist repetitive commands with autocompletion. Privacy concerned users should click clear history button and set history items to 2, which means remember nothing.
  • External text editor/viewer. If you don't like the internal editor² for text documents, enter here your alternative full paths for the replacement. You should leave the Viewer blank though because editor² reads search keywords from xplorer² content search commands, and you can find them with <F3> once the text file is loaded.
  • Balloon help. Clear this box if you don't want to see the explanatory balloon help tips in dialogs.
general page

Appearance options

Click on Appearance tree category branch to tweak these options:
  • Dark mode. Tick to enable the fashionable dark mode where everything is on black background. You don't get much flexibility choosing colors in this mode. Untick the option to return to normal window colors.
  • Main font. Choose a bigger or smaller font for folder contents and other window panes. Fonts for menus, titlebar etc are controlled by your system display settings. Each window has its own independent font which must be set separately (e.g. search results scrap window)
  • Inactive background color. Choose a different color for the background of inactive panes. Default is a slightly darker tone than the active folder pane — which is white.
  • Bright active titlebar. Change the active pane's titlebar color so you can tell it apart easily, not just by background color. This is recommended if you use dark mode UI.

Format options

Click on Format tree category branch to tweak these options:
  • Thumbnail size. Basic pixel size for thumbnail view mode. This also affects the size in Mini thumbs view mode, through the advanced option multiplier "Mini-thumb size factor". You can see bigger thumbnails with dynamic zoom (<CTRL> + mousewheel)
  • Item icons. Select what icons to show for files and folders using the drop-down list. The available options are
    • normal for rich regular icons and overlays
    • simple for faster document-related icons; won't show icons for executables
    • plain for super fast plain icons (just 3 types); will show only basic icon overlays
    • no icons will show plain text listings, very frugal. Thumbnail view modes work
  • Show infotips. Shows popup details when you leave the mouse button on a file; the information is file type related. In scrap windows it also shows the full path.
  • Icon overlays. Enable icon overlays through shell extensions, eg. for TSVN repository controlled folders. Otherwise only show basic overlays for shortcuts and shares.

Sorting options

Click on Sorting tree category branch to tweak these options that deal with arranging items
  • Folders sorted. Using the drop down list you control whether folder items are sorted mixed as files, or separately (first of all) or after files.
  • Automatic re-sort. When autorefresh senses a change in the folder contents, any new files are inserted in their rightful sort position — otherwise they are added last. Causes panes to "jump" in fast changing folders like Downloads.
  • Highlight sort column. The primary sort column in detailed view mode shows with a different background color.

View panes options

Click on View panes tree category branch to tweak these options for folder view panes:
  • Zebra background. Draws detailed view rows in alternating white/dark background colors, for easy row reckoning — an alternative to grid lines
  • Single click activation. Click once to open items — instead of double click
  • Hover selection. Oddball selection mode by hovering on an item. Not really suitable building large selections — incompatible to sticky selection mode.
  • Max list width. Maximum column width for folder views set in list mode. Names wider than this limit will be cropped — use the tooltip to see the full name. Set to 0 to abolish the width limit if you don't mind very wide name columns.
view pane

Folder tree options

Click on Folder tree category branch to tweak these options for folder tree pane:
  • Show 2 trees. Shows a separate tree for each left/right pane. Hides the quick access list too.
  • Single click activation. Load folders in the active pane "hands free" as you browse the tree with arrow keys, without pressing <ENTER> — after a small timeout.
  • Hover expansion. During drag-drop, if you hover your mouse over a tree node it will expand so you can locate subfolders.
  • Follow active folder. The tree aligns with the active folder, as you browse, change tabs etc. Otherwise you can manually synchronize the tree pressing <ALT+T>
folder tree

Previewer options

Click on Preview tree category branch to tweak these options for quick viewer pane:
  • Text preview length. Only a few bytes from a text file are loaded in the previewer pane in draft mode. Increase this number to see more file content, but expect delays.
  • Playback begins. Normally you preview music and video files from the beginning; this option can start playback later, a few minutes after the beginning so you jump straight to the chase!
  • Mouse peek preview. Turn peek preview with both mouse buttons on/off.
  • Autoplay media. Plays music and movies automatically when you select one — otherwise you must click on play play wmp button. To enable this option play something first.
  • No hex preview. Tick to disable the hexadecimal preview of files that don't have a normal preview (e.g. to stop seeing binary contents of EXE files).

Advanced options

Click on Advanced tree category branch to fine-tune these options:
  • Byte size limits. "Checksum limit" is the biggest file to calculate MD5 checksums (they are quite slow accessing the entire file). "ZIP items limit" is the maximum file size that will be extracted from archives for searching and previewing,
  • Path autocompletion. Autocomplete paths like windows explorer, using a popup window. Otherwise autocomplete path stubs pressing <F1> key repeatedly till you find the correct folder.
  • Spreadsheet mode. Turn on the convenient spreadsheet in-place file property edit mode
  • Ignore first click. If you click to activate a folder pane with your mouse where many items are selected, you risk losing the selection, unless this option is ticked. Alternatively press <TAB> key to switch folder activation.
  • Preserve dates. Setting a file comment will not change its modified date — if you so prefer
  • Close old window. Tick to close the old window when you clone a new layout window, otherwise both remain open
  • Faster networks. Tick for faster network access albeit a bit poorer on visuals. Disables posh icons, folder size calculation, disk free space status and automatic tree alignment.
advanced options
Folder options button in options dialog invokes your system Folder options (Control panel). Keep in mind that these windows folder options are largely irrelevant to the behavior of xplorer² but there are a few that do matter, like hiding extensions and protected operating system files.

Advanced options tool

xplorer² offers many more micro-adjustments to its working with registry editing (see details). As registry isn't everybody's cup of tea, there is a user friendly tool to help you with these micro tweaks. Use Tools > Advanced options menu that will quit xplorer² and start the settings editor:

Figure 54. Advanced options tool

Advanced options are split in two categories, global and layout-specific, and are selectable using the tab control [1]. Global options affect all layouts, and layout options are just for a single layout. Use the layout selector drop-down list [2] to choose which layout you want to change.
The layout selector is set to the xplorer² layout that was active when you started the external settings tool

There are too many options to describe in detail, the most important ones were mentioned in the body of this document, so you can search for them by name using the search box [4]. Or use a generic keyword like thumb and click Find next button a few times to see what tweaks are available related to thumbnails.

Searching for options works in the current tab only, find next will cycle through the matching options in the current tab. Switch to the other tab (global or layout [1]) to search all possible matches for your keyword. If a property isn't found in the active page, the tab will be switched automatically for you.

The main body is the property control that lists all tweakable program options, and lets you change them. There are numeric, text, color and other types of properties. As you select properties, you get to read brief explanations about what each one does in box [3].

After you are done changing options, click on ok button to save them and then restart your xplorer² to see them in action.

Backup and transfer settings

You spend time and effort to tweak xplorer² settings to your liking, so you want to safeguard them against the numerous setbacks that are unavoidable with computing. Hence you should make a backup of your settings every once in a while, and keep them safe in case you need to restore them.

xplorer² saves its settings in the registry (or INI file if you run ultimate edition in portable mode). Use Actions > Export settings menu to save your current settings to a standard registry information REG file. Ultimate edition gives you an option to create an INI settings file, see the question to the right. All settings are exported, window sizes, dockable panes, fonts, tabs, layout information etc. Keep this x2settings.REG file (or however you chose to call it) somewhere safe, perhaps in your backup disk drive.

If a case arises where you need to restore settings, one possibility is to fully quit xplorer² with File > Exit menu, then double click on the previously exported x2settings.REG file which will be automatically imported. When you restart xplorer² it will look like it did when you created the settings snapshot. Another way is to do Actions > Import settings inside xplorer².

You must browse the REG file you want to import and select it before using the import menu command. You are effectively using xplorer² as a giant Open dialog. For ultimate version, ensure your current settings persistence option matches what you are trying to import (must be registry for REG and file for INI import).
export selector

Another use for backed-up settings is for troubleshooting problems. After series of tweaks you may find your xplorer² is in a rut and won't work properly. An extreme attempt to bring order is to fully uninstall then reinstall xplorer² with its "factory" settings. Export your settings before such drastic measures so you can restore them — but chances are the problem will return.

Settings are organized in registry keys. There is one key for global options, one for the default layout and then any number of keys for other layouts you have defined in Window menu. So the following registry keys are in use:
HKCU\SOFTWARE\ZabaraKatranemia Plc\xplorer2_UC
HKCU\SOFTWARE\ZabaraKatranemia Plc\xplorer2_UC.global
HKCU\SOFTWARE\ZabaraKatranemia Plc\xplorer2_UC.customLayout
... (other layouts)

Finally if you want to move xplorer² to a new PC, export its settings from the old one (before uninstalling), then import them to the new PC. Not all settings are transferrable, e.g. bookmarks and user commands with full paths expect a similar folder hierarchy organization — which may be absent (even small path differences make bookmarks unreachable).

Further reading
Migrate your license and settings to a different PC
◪ Registry hack to reset settings without uninstalling — and with minimum harm to your basic xplorer² settings

Window layouts manage layouts

One moment you browse general files and need a dual pane generic file management window, the next you are in a folder full of photos and you need a large previewer pane to examine them. You could use View menu to turn panes on and off to suit your current browsing needs, but for large UI changeovers you can save and reuse layouts (aka workspaces) that let you change the window appearence in one stroke.

Figure 55. Two sample layouts side by side

A layout keeps information about the entire xplorer² window and in particular:

xplorer² starts in its default layout. You should first do all your customizations to make sure this basic layout meets your most frequent demands. For some people that's all that's required. If you want to define special workspaces on the other hand, make your changes to the window and its options, then use Window > Save layout menu to define a new layout with a descriptive name for your reference. Then use Window menu to switch among the layouts you have defined, or back to the Default layout. Whenever you choose a layout from Window menu, a new xplorer² window opens for it. You can read a custom layout name on the window's titlebar in [square brackets]: layout title
When you first save a layout make sure you give it both a name and optionally a longer description about what it is meant for. This is the only time you get to set a layout description — without having to resort to registry editing. This description shows on the statusbar as you traverse the layout items list in Window menu.

The bottom half of Window menu is a list organizing saved layouts, like we have seen many times in Customize menu and bookmarks. Use Window > Organize to assign icons and shortcut keys to saved layouts — note you cannot rename or reorder them like other favorite lists but other than that the list management is similar, e.g you can delete unwanted layouts.
These limitations are due to the fact that a layout is an entire registry key with your custom window settings

Some people use layouts to organize different sets of folder tabs, but that's not the recommended use case. If the only thing you need is to switch folder tabs, you can use folder groups, perhaps combined with a custom desktop shortcut to launch xplorer² with these particular folder groups using arguments. At any rate each layout starts with a fixed set of folders every time (unless you ticked "Disable per-tab setting policy..." advanced option).

Each layout is a dynamic changing entity. As you use the layout, change folders, close tabs, change pane styles, all these modifications are persisted and modify the essence of a layout. When you re-clone it, you will start where you left it last time. If you want a layout to be frozen and always stay the same, tick off "Save program state on exit" option — which is itself tied to a particular layout!

When you start xplorer², it comes up in its default layout. If you want to start with a different layout, use "/S:layout name" command line argument. However it is recommended you make your basic modifications to the default layout so you don't need to invoke another one as your default.


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