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Thunar and Rox Filer: Mighty File Managers With a Difference

By Jack M. Germain
Mar 31, 2010 5:00 AM PT

The file manager utility more than any other system app on any computing platform is the workhorse of daily computing tasks. Linux users have numerous file managers as choices. Depending on the distro, usually one or two default apps are preinstalled -- but these might not be the best options.

Thunar and Rox Filer: Mighty File Managers With a Difference

Thunar and Rox Filer offer flexibility and features not found in other typical Linux file managing systems.

Thunar is designed for the Xfce Desktop Environment, but it works natively on the Gnome Desktop as well. Its right-click menu access provides options specific to the location within the directory. This reduces the need to use the drop-down menu system. Rox is a desktop environment like Gnome, KDE and Xfce, but its Rox Filer app integrates easily into other desktop systems for managing file tasks.

As I mentioned in my review of Atol's dual-panel file manager, having two integrated screens in view simultaneously can be very useful. Riding herd on files residing on a hard drive and an external drive, for instance, needs special synchronizing tools built in. However, many file-viewing and maintenance tasks do not need two-panel features. A solid, speedy file manager in a single pane gets the job done.

My first experience with Thunar came when I started using Ubuntu. I needed something a mite more powerful than the resident Gnome Commander. Thunar quickly surfaced as my top choice. Rox Filer is the resident file managing environment in Puppy Linux.

Thunar Basics

Thunar file manager
Thunar file manager
(click image to enlarge)

Describing any Linux app as a counterpart for a Windows program can be a kiss of death, but that is what first attracted me to Thunar. When I migrated to Linux, Windows XP was my comfort zone. So Linux apps that gave me the look and feel of Windows made the transition easier. All file managers do not work the same way. Thunar worked like what I knew.

Thunar's interface shows the Linux file structure in the extreme left of the file manager window. An option in the View menu lets you select a tree display or shortcuts display. Each is accessible with a hot-key. Similarly, the path location can be displayed in pathbar or toolbar style. Thunar also has a Send To option to create a Desk link, other drive, Bluetooth device or email client.

Highlighting a location or directory displays the contents in the right side of the window. This is where Thunar's convenience is most evident. Right click on a file to open the specific options. For instance, a text file, audio file or graphic file presents a list of open with apps. Other options include Cut, Copy, Delete, Rename and Properties. You can click on the full action command or press the underlined key.

Your Way

Thunar has configuration options that give users the ability to have the file manager display their way. Select Edit/Preferences to set options for default view, icon view and date format. You can also set the side pane choices with display sizes.

One configuration feature I have not found in most other file managers is the behavior preference. You can control navigation by activating a display action with a single click or double click. A cool option with the single click is the slider that sets the delay time before an item gets selected when the mouse pointer is paused over it.

Including multiple files in the same directory is fast. Just hold down the Control key while you hover the mouse pointer over the desired file. I have the slider set to almost no wait time, so I can literally sweep the pointer over files and keep moving. The intended files are instantly highlighted.

Even More

Another setting not typical of other file managers is the advanced preferences, which offer options for folder permissions and volume management. Taken together, Thunar's file manager preferences pack a powerhouse of options that make the app extremely easy to set up.

Thunar has additional features that place it ahead of other Linux file managers. Take, for instance, the Bulk Renamer feature. This allows users to easily rename multiple files instantly using criteria available in renamer plugins. For example, the Audio Tags renamer generates new file names based on the tags present in audio files.

Thunar's Extensions Framework is an easy way to extend this file manager's basic ability to integrate even complex tasks. This extension framework is very limited in the current version 1.0 series, but developers plan to include a more powerful plugin interface in the version 2.0 series. This will allow users to adjust nearly every aspect of the file manager.

One more option is the User Customizable Actions plugin accessible from the Edit/Configure Custom Actions drop-down menu. This feature offers an easy way to extend the file and folder context menus with custom actions.

Rockin' With Rox

Rox Filer
Rox Filer
(click image to enlarge)

Rox, which stands for "RISC OS on X," is a desktop environment that reflects its developers' goal to bring some of the popular features from the RISC OS to Linux. Rox places heavy use on drag-and-drop user actions. The concept behind the Rox file manager interface revolves around the traditional Unix view that everything is a file. Rox is based on a design that uses several small programs together instead of creating one integrated app.

It runs on Linux, Unix and Mac OS X. It runs on platforms that can run GTK applications. You do not need to install the full Rox desktop environment. The standalone core component is ROX-Filer. This is a powerful graphical file manager.

Its look and feel is considerably different from traditional Windows-style and basic Linux file managers. At first, I did not like it -- but I loved the Puppy Linux distro of which Rox is an integral part. More than learning to tolerate it, I actually came to like using it.

Using Rox

Once you get beyond the strange look and feel, Rox takes on a rhyme and reason of it own. For example, the interface lacks traditional File, Edit, View drop-down menus. Instead, it uses a green up arrow for changing to the parent directory, a Monopoly game-style house icon to change to the home directory, an arrow and globe for the bookmarks menu, and several other similar command icons for sorting, hiding/showing files and rescanning directory contents.

I've grown to love the flexibility of the bookmarks feature. Rox filer tracks visited locations everywhere in the file structure. Much like a Web browser history list, it lets me scroll through file locations I used recently and return to them instantly. I can also make any location a bookmark for instant return.

All of the menu power is held under the right-click mouse button. Whether the pointer activates a folder or a file within a folder, right clicking opens options for Display, Next Click actions, Select options, New and Window choices. It is within these unfolding windows that you open shell and terminal windows, create new or blank directories, or drag files to create customizable menu items.

Roxing Around

The home icon opens a display of the file structure embedded on the hard drive. Clicking on an external drive icon or USB drive icon from the desktop opens another Rox window that displays the files at that location. I open several Rox windows and then drag files from one window to another.

This gives me a quick and simple way to sync files between the hard drive and an external storage source. Rox asks if I want to create a relative or absolute link or just copy or move the file. Once I respond, the action is completed in a flash.

Changing icons, creating permissions and setting run actions can be a hassle in some Linux distros. Rox soothes that pain. Its right-click menu options put the solution just a mouse click away.

Final Thoughts

Thunar and Rox Filer are as different as security settings for Windows and Linux -- but both file managers offer solutions not found in other Linux file apps.

So far I've been content to use Thunar with Ubuntu and Rox with Puppy Linux. My next rainy day project will be to put both apps on both distros.

Of course, I may have conniptions over which one to use. While uniquely different, both are very flexible and powerful.

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