Alternative to Explorer in Windows: Get more features

Replace Windows Explorer with a better alternative

Windows Explorer needs and overhaul and it is lacking in features you might expect from a modern file manager. Explorer++ and Files are free open source alternatives to Explorer that have more features.

If you are wondering what is missing from Windows Explorer, how about tabs? There aren’t any and everything must be done in separate windows, which can be frustrating. It is an often-requested feature and Microsoft may add them in a future Windows update, but right now, they aren’t there.

Searching in Explorer windows can be slow and there is often an irritating green bar that slowly creeps across the top of Explorer windows when it is doing something simple, like opening a folder and listing the files there. Is there an alternative? Yes. Here are two: Explorer++ and Files – Modern File Manager.

Explorer++

You may find Explorer++ suits you better than the built in Explorer for browsing and organizing files on the disk. It is fast and has a great range of features, most of them familiar, but easier to access, and there are a few extras not found in Microsoft’s app.

Explorer++ thumbnails file view in Windows
Thumbnails view in Explorer++

There are the usual Windows Explorer views in Explorer++ that you are familiar with in Windows, like List, Details, Tiles, Small, Medium, Large and Extra Large icons. A Thumbnails view shows thumbnails of image files, which is useful for browsing your photo collection. A grid is displayed in Details view so you can see rows and columns more easily and it can be turned on/off in the settings.

Use tabs in Explorer++

Explorer++ running in Windows is an alternative to Explorer
Details view in Explorer++

Tabs make working with files and folders so much easier and Explorer++ enables you to open multiple folders or disks on tabs using a keyboard shortcut or through the menu. This means that it occupies much less desktop space and you could have half a dozen tabs open, whereas in Windows Explorer (actually called File Explorer these days), you would need to have half a dozen separate windows open on the desktop.

Tabs not only save desktop space, they are also useful when moving files around and you can drag one or more files from the current tab and drop them on another tab to move them on the disk. Closed tabs are remembered and can be quickly re-opened from a menu if you need to access a folder again. Tabs can also be rearranged by dragging and dropping the tab headers.

There is a useful option for Explorer++ to start with the last set of tabs, which could contain all your most used folders or disks.

Quick access to functions

Explorer++ does not have a huge number of extra features and mostly it just makes things easier. For example, there is a toolbar with Delete and Permanently Delete buttons, which send a file to the Recycle Bin or skip the bin and really delete it. There is also a Destroy File(s) option which overwrites files either one or three times for security and prevent recovery from a hard disk drive.

There are Refresh, Properties, Command Prompt, view selection (List, Details, Icons) and other buttons in the toolbar too.

Windows Explorer lets you pin folders in the sidebar and Explorer++ lets you bookmark them. Bookmarking is similar to web browsers and there is a Bookmarks menu and a Bookmarks bar, which appears under the toolbar. Folders can be created and bookmarks added to them in a Bookmarks Manager. Clicking a bookmark opens the folder in a new tab and all tabs can be bookmarked in one go.

File attributes are more easily set in Explorer++. A window can be opened with checkboxes to set the Archive, Hidden, Indexed, Read-only, and System attributes. The modification date, creation date and last accessed date can also be changed easily. Files can be split into parts and parts can be merged.

Better searching

Searching the disk using Explorer++ utility for Windows PC
Search the disk with Explorer++

The search function in Explorer++ is an improvement over Windows Explorer. For example, it can be case sensitive or insensitive. Attributes like Archive, Read-only, Hidden and System can be specified in the search. Sub-folders can be included or excluded as preferred and there is an option to use regular expressions, which are special patterns that define search functions.

Wildcard selection

Files can be selected by clicking single items, Ctrl+clicking multiple items, or clicking the first and Shift+clicking the last. That is just like regular Windows Explorer, but there is an extra feature and files can be selected using wildcards. For example, you could select all files with ‘report’ in the filename by searching for *report*.

You can also click one file and then select all files of the same type, such as all .jpg images or all .docx files. It is possible to do this in Windows Explorer, but it is a multi-step process. It is one step in Explorer++.

Files – Modern File Manager

Files – A Modern File Manager is a free alternative to Explorer in Windows and this open source software has all the features of Microsoft’s file manager, plus a few extra ones too. In many ways, it is like a skinned version Explorer and it is mostly the same, but it looks modern, fresh, clear and simple. It makes Explorer look very dated indeed. It runs in Windows 10 and 11, and it can be found and installed from the Microsoft Store app.

Files, a modern file manager and alternative to Windows Explorer
A fresh, modern file manager. This is the dark theme

Like Windows Explorer, there are favorites, drives, online cloud drives like OneDrive, and network drives in the sidebar. The main part of the window shows files and folders and the usual views are available, like Details, Tiles, Small, Medium and Large icons, and Columns

Files - Modern File Manager, an alternative to Windows Explorer
It looks different, but has all the features of Windows Explorer

Hidden items and file extensions can be shown or hidden as you prefer. It is visually different, yet the features are familiar at the same time. It even starts up like Explorer and it shows common folders, drives and recent files, making it easy to get to the items you need.

Files, an alternative to Windows Explorer
A preview pane shows file previews and details

A toolbar across the top of the file/folder listing provides quick access to common functions like cut, copy and paste, new folder and so on. There is also the file path box and a search box. A preview pane can be shown on the right or below, or it can be hidden hidden and this shows details about the selected file. It also shows the file contents of known files, like photos and text files. It is like Explorer’s preview pane.

Dark and light themes are available, but also there are a large number of color schemes are available and switching is just a mouse click in the settings. The color scheme and app design make this a very attractive and modern looking file manager.

The feature set of Files differs from Explorer in only a small number of ways, but they are important. A split pane view can be selected and this shows two drives or folders in the one window, one on the left and one on the right.

Files tabs and history

Tabs are available in Files and multiple disk views can be opened on separate tabs, so that you can easily browse multiple folders without taking up a lot of screen space or overlapping windows. Files and folders can be moved from one tab to another by dragging and dropping them.

Files, a file manager alternative to Windows Explorer
History of file actions carried out in Files – A Modern File Manager

All the Explorer features you need are there and you can double click files to open them, right click to access Open With, Ctrl+Z undoes the last operation like moving a file, and so on. An Ongoing Tasks list is a history of the actions taken in the Files app, so you can see where you moved or deleted files.

Files has a modern and attractive look and is well worth trying if you are looking for an alternative to Explorer in Windows.

Conclusion

Explorer++ is a great alternative to Explorer in Windows and it does not need installing. Just unzip it and run it. You can add an icon to the taskbar to make it as easy to start as regular Explorer. It has a many features that are quicker and easier to use than Windows Explorer and a few extra features not in Microsoft’s file browser.

Files – Modern File Manager offers everything in Explorer, adds a few extra features like multiple tabs and split panes, and throws in a great interface that looks modern and has many colorful themes to suit every taste. It throws out the traditional old style Windows interface and it has its own ultra modern and fresh look. It is recommended.


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