In late December of 2005, my work computer was replaced with a new one but it was not the joyous event it sounds like. My previous computer ran KDE on Linux. The new one had WindowsXP and installing Linux was not an option.
So I have been using WinXP for over a year now. In my first article I compared KDE and WinXP and discussed some of the frustrations involved in making the switch. In this article, I go into copious detail about file managers.
Note on screenshots
I apologize for the MS Windows XP screenshots in this article. As you will soon see, they are all in Japanese. The only MS Windows XP machines I have access to are Japanese language ones at work. I do not know why but for some reason there is no way to change them to English. I tried. The computer support people at work tried. We cannot change it. So the screenshots are all in Japanese. Usually the picture is more important than any text in it however.
Konqueror & Explorer
The file manager is the base of the GUI. MS WinXP uses Explorer; KDE has Konqueror. Both are file managers but Konqueror has many more features that make it much more useful. The differences are so great that it is hard for me to think of Konqueror and Explorer as the same sort of program.
There are no Explorer features that Konqueror doesn’t also have. At least none that I have found. Konqueror, however, has many features that I use almost every day in KDE but that Explorer doesn’t have at all. Here are six of them:
- Split Views — speed up drag and drop file management.
- Tabs — save desktop space. Especially useful when combined with split views and saved in a profile.
- Profiles — are bookmarks for a powerful, feature-rich file manager.
- Filtering — lets you see just the file types you are interested in.
- Embedding — allows you to view and possible modify many types of files right in a Konqueror window or tab.
- File Size View — graphically represents files and directories based on how much space they take up.
Konqueror’s “split view” does just that — split the window in two or more, vertically or horizontally. Great for dragging and dropping without having to open another window. Combined with profiles, this is a huge time saver. The closest thing to split views in Explorer is “split pane view", but split pane view is less flexible and less useful. All it is, in my experience, is a folder tree view in a sidebar. Each view in KDE behaves like a fully functional, independent, file manager window.
A Konqueror window split into four, showing icons in regular and list view, with thumbnails on, and file size view.
An explorer window in “split pane view”.
If you are not familiar with tabs, basically they allow you to have two or more web pages open in one program window. This saves screen space and I believe some memory (since the pages are sharing the same window). You switch between them by clicking on the “tabs” at the top of the window.
Konqueror with 4 tabs opened.
Anyone who is familiar with Opera, Firefox, or MS Internet Explorer 7 will understand Konqueror’s use of tabs. They are the same thing, extended to the file manager. Like multiple desktops, tabs are quite useful once you get used to them. Konqueror has them for file browsing as well as web page viewing (thanks to embedding). Explorer doesn’t have tabs at all. Another case of “want it and don’t have it"
Tabs reduce clutter because I don’t need to have as many windows open. They increase my productivity because I can group related folders or web pages together in a single window. For example, working on an article like this, I might have the base directory open in one tab, the images directory open in another tab, and view the article as html in a third tab, all in one window on Desktop 3. That alone makes me more productive.
Further, a setup like I described above means I rarely have to go searching for the window I want, even though I might have 4 other Konqueror windows open on other desktops. Switching between tabs is also usually fast because the tabs will almost always be very close to each other near the top of the window — not scattered at random with all the other programs in the taskbar.
Profiles are like advanced bookmarks that save the URLs plus window size, tabs, and split views of a Konqueror window. You can call it up again later from the profiles menu. Combined with split views and tabs, this is an extremely useful feature.
I have one profile called “News” that opens a larger-than-usual Konqueror window with several of my favorite news sites in tabs. Another profile, which I named “Incoming Pics” opens a Konqueror window split into three, one for the directory on the USB memory stick from my camera, another for the directory where I temporarily keep the pictures while I rename them and rotate them if necessary. The final view is set to the directory where I keep all my pictures. One click, one window, and I can do all the file management things I need to do with my new pictures.
Explorer does not have this. Not that it matters since Explorer doesn’t have tabs or useful split views either.
Filtering allows you to see just the file types you are interested in. Want to move a bunch of pictures to another directory but there are a bunch of other files (PDFs, word processing documents, text files, whatever) in the directory with those pictures? Just filter on “JPEG images” and that is all you will see. Now you can easily select all of the images. But only if you are using Konqueror — Explorer doesn’t have filtering. The closest it comes is arranging icons by type which still makes it hard to choose just the files you want.
Filtering in Konqueror (Before).
Filtering in Konqueror (After).
It is easy to see how filtering helps you get more done faster and more easily. The only improvement I would suggest is the addition of a generic “All Images” or “All Word Processing Documents” option, to save having to select each file type individually.
Embedding means that instead of opening a file in an external program, that file can be viewed (and maybe modified) in Konqueror. Click on an HTML file, for example, and Konqueror displays it as a web page right then and there in the same window. In fact, Konqueror is just as much a web browser as it is a file manager. Press the back button or the up button, and you are back where you started, in file browser mode. Konqueror can embed a large number of file types. Basically, if there is a KDE program that understands a file format (JPG, PDF, ZIP, etc), chances are that it can be viewed in Konqueror.
Ironically, embedding really is just a logical use of “integration", of which MS is so famous for claiming the benefits. KDE does the “integration” thing right. The only embedding I can find in Explorer is it’s support for browsing zip files as if they were directories. Of course Konqueror does this also (and for more file types).
I have found embedding extremely useful when working on web pages — I can view an image or a web page in Konqueror and see updates easily while still being able to quickly open the page in an editor or some other program without having to constantly switch between a web browser and a file browser. The web browser is the file manager.
File Size View, with pop-up window information
This one is unusual. “File size view” shows the data in a directory not as icons or thumbnails or a list, but as a graphical representation of how much space each file or directory takes up. Took me a while to really figure it out, to be honest. Now I use it fairly often and it has really proved itself. It is a simple, graphical way to answer the perennial question “What the heck is taking up so much room in this directory?” When you need to answer that question, nothing is as helpful as file size view.
File size view is, as the name says, a view. Views are just ways of displaying the data in the file browser window. Usually they involve icons — big ones, small ones, icons in columns, icons with thumbnails, that sort of thing. File size view is special because it doesn’t use icons at all.
Icons and Thumbnails
In Konqueror it is easy to change the size of the icons. Just press the magnifying glass with plus sign on the toolbar for bigger icons and the magnifying glass with minus sign for smaller icons. There are about five sizes available. Explorer does not have this and cannot do this. A default icon size can be set in the control panel, but not on-the-fly in a window.
In Konqueror thumbnails can be turned on and off just as easily as icon sizes can be changed. You can have about five sizes of thumbnail and switch between them quickly and easily. In Explorer, as far as I can tell, you have only one size of thumbnail, unless you go and change your default icon size.
In KDE, you can tell Konqueror what file types you want to see thumbnails for. I don’t like thumbnails for movies or any sort of text or word processing file so I have it set to only show thumbnails for images and then only if they are smaller than about 4 meg in size. Unfortunately, you cannot do this with Explorer. In WinXP, thumbnails is all or nothing.
Oddly enough, WinXP can show thumbnails of OpenOffice.org documents but not MS Office documents. Very strange that.
Copying and Moving
Here are some miscellaneous observations on the ways that Konqueror and Explorer handle copying and moving files, both through drag-and-drop and keyboard shortcuts.
I want a left-button drag-and-drop action to default to a menu asking whether to copy, move, or link (or something else when appropriate). KDE allows this but I cannot find a way to make this the default in WinXP. I know you can get the menu by right-button dragging, but that isn’t what I want. Sure, you can argue that the right button is for context menus and thus the WinXP way is therefore “correct”. I would reply that the left button is for dragging, not the right button. Whatever, KDE allows the user to do it the way he wants to. WinXP doesn’t.
Does WinXP have a “copy to” or “move to” right click menu? I seem to recall seeing something about it once but cannot find it now. KDE has them and they are sometimes quite handy. “Send To” is close but the defaults are pathetic and it not easy to customize.
The screenshot below shows the “copy to” and “move to” items. You chose a destination folder and the item you clicked on is either copied there or moved there. Very handy for quick file management without opening new windows.
Right click in KDE and you have “move to” and “copy to” options.
Right click in WinXP and there is no copy to or move to option.
The “copy to” or “move to” menus are also in the right click menu when you view an embedded file (like a web page or an image). So it is easy to quickly copy the file without going through the usual “save file as” menu.
In WinXP, the “copying” and “moving” progress windows can be moved around the desktop but not always minimized. Some windows have the usual buttons (maximize, minimize, close) but others do not. I have not been able to figure out when a copy or move progress window will have a minimize button and when it won’t. Even when you can minimize the window though, it doesn’t minimize to the taskbar but to the desktop, above the Start menu. Why should it do that? Anyhow, this is annoying since with only one desktop, the copying/moving window is constantly in the way.
The “Moving” window in WinXP. Notice there is no minimize button.
The “Copying” window in WinXP. Notice there is no minimize button.
Drag and drop a folder from a compressed file in WinXP and suddenly the “Copying” window has a minimize button.
But it doesn’t minimize to the task bar. Instead, it ends up above the start menu. Looks like something out of MS Windows 3.1 to me.
There is no “auto skip” option when copying or moving files in WinXP. When you are moving several files and there are one or more existing files with the same name as ones you are copying or moving, your only options are to skip each individually, allow all, or cancel. KDE has those options plus “auto skip”, which does just that — automatically skip any files that already exist.
When you copy and then paste a file in the same directory, Explorer will give it a default name like “copy of whatever”. Konqueror gives you a warning that a file with that name already exists and prompts for a new name. I prefer Konqueror’s way since I am always going to rename the file anyway and having it prompt me for a name saves me a couple of clicks.
I prefer Konqueror’s pop-up file information to Explorer’s sidebar approach because it is a better use of space and because the information I need is closer to where I am already looking.
The way it works is that in file browser mode hovering the cursor over an icon will cause a small information window to pop up, complete with a thumbnail of the file’s contents. This is similar to Explorer’s sidebar in WinXP. The benefit is that Konqueror does not require you to set aside a fifth or more of your window’s real estate permanently to the information window. Instead, you see the information when you want it (by hovering), you don’t see it when you don’t want it, and it doesn’t waste valuable real estate, ever.
Explorer defaults to moving (or removing) directories associated with downloaded HTML files when you move (or remove) the HTML file. This is unforgivable. The GUI should always ask first before (re)moving anything that I did not specifically tell it to (re)move.
There is no option to delete vs move to trash. KDE gives you the option to have either, both, or neither in your right click menu and also whether or not you want to confirm the action. Personally, I want to confirm removing things but not when I move stuff to the trash. In KDE, this is easy to do. In WinXP, it isn’t.
You cannot paste clipboard content straight to a new file in Explorer. For example, copy some text from a web page and then go to an Explorer window and hit “paste”. Nothing happens. In Konqueror it asks for a name for the clipboard content and then automagically create a file for it. Very useful.
Pasting from the clipboard to a new file.
Similar to the point above, copying a file in Konqueror and then pasting it into a text input field pastes the file name with the full path. In WinXP, nothing happens. Pasting a file into a text field is just ignored.
I don’t understand why the “open in new window” option is called “Explorer” in Explorer. In Konqueror, right there at the top of the right-click menu are — “Open in New Window” and “Open in New Tab”. In Explorer, however, it is not “Open in Explorer”. Not “Open in New Explorer Window”. Just “Explorer”. Very poorly labelled. Also, it ignores your preferences because on my computer at least, the new window opens in split pane view even though I have that turned off.
Right Click on a folder in KDE.
Right Click on a folder in WinXP. Where is the option to open the folder in a new window?
I have looked at several features that KDE’s Konqueror has but that WinXP’s Explorer doesn’t have. I have also mentioned a few of the things I don’t like about Explorer and often why I think Konqueror’s way of doing it is better. You may have noticed that there is nothing positive about Explorer. That is true and it is not for lack of trying. The fact is, for me, the way I work, there is just nothing special about Explorer. I didn’t find any feature that struck me as being especially cool or useful that Konqueror didn’t also have.
Switching from KDE to WindowsXP at work has seriously impaired my productivity. This is not just because of Explorer, of course. My next article will look at some of the other programs that come with KDE and WinXP.