Windows Explorer is the fundamental file and folder management and navigation system for the Windows GUI, and has evolved over the many iterations of the Windows operating system. While many users are fine with Explorer's performance features (others would say design quirks), there are always power users trying to get more out of their interface. As a result, there are a lot of custom extensions, toolbars, and other add-ons to Windows Explorer, as well as entire programs such as Total Commander or Xplorer2 that aim to be total replacements of Windows' built in file and folder manager. Here are a few of our favorite picks for Windows Explorer extensions, as well as a few Explorer replacements worth taking a look at.
QTTabBar is an extremely customizable open-source Windows Explorer tweak that adds a whole mess of additional features to the default Windows Explorer, most noticeably the addition of tabbed browsing, allowing you to keep open instances of Explorer to a minimum. Other features include the ability to view folders in an "exploded" view from the view pane, a favorite folders selection, recently closed folders, a customizable navigation and search toolbar, and plugin support for even more customizability.
Verdict: The tabbed browsing alone would already make it a nice addon to Windows Explorer, but the additional folder views, search functions, plugin support, and general level of customizability make this excellent for improving Windows Explorer's features.
FilerFrog is a freeware program that helps users with file, folder, and image management operations. FilerFrog adds additional options to Windows Explorer's right-click context menu, allowing users to extract files to and from folders, create and manage a list of favorite folders, split and join large files, batch rename and sort files, batch delete empty files and folders, encrypt and decrypt files, perform batch image manipulation, create photo albums, and more.
Verdict: While no single feature of FilerFrog is a must have, it is a good grab-bag of little tools that can help automate otherwise tedious file and folder management tasks.
StExBar is a simple Explorer toolbar that adds a few functional buttons for certain Explorer operations, such as showing or hiding system files, opening the console, copying file or folder names or paths, but what would make this toolbar interesting for some users is the ability to add new toolbar buttons with customized taskbar functionality, letting you add the features and shortcuts you want or need right on the explorer toolbar.
Verdict: The stock buttons on this little toolbar are okay, but the ability to make your own is what makes this toolbar an interesting addition.
NirSoft's Custom Explorer Toolbar is a Windows 7 utility that gives users the ability to add a host of toolbar buttons that existed in previous versions of Windows Explorer. If you missed having dedicated buttons for such tasks as Cut, Paste, Delete, etc, then load this toolbar up, and even if you're not nostalgia tripping, you might still get some extra use out of some of the dedicated buttons you can add to the explorer toolbar.
Verdict: If you miss some old features and buttons from previous versions of Explorer, or are looking for a few more shortcuts to add to the toolbar, you might want to consider this addon.
FileMenu Tools allows users to add more items to Explorer's right-click contextual menus, coming with a host of extra options such as synchronizing folders, copy to or move to buttons, and joining and splitting files. In addition, like StExBar, you can use FileMenu Tools to create custom commands for running external applications.
Verdict: Heavy users of contextual menus can get even more functionality through FileMenu Tools, whether with its built-in buttons, or with user-defined custom commands.
Users unsatisfied with Windows' native file copy system would do well to try out Code Sector's TeraCopy, an alternative file copy tool designed to be faster and more functional than the default tool. TeraCopy includes numerous features that put it leagues ahead of the basic file transfer tool, such as the ability to pause and resume file transfers, error recovery or skipping of bad files, shell integration to replace the default tool, as well as Windows 8 support. TeraCopy is free for non-commercial use.
Verdict: A popular replacement for the default file copy system, TeraCopy is a good file copy tool that is faster and provides a better feature set.
UltraCopier is an open source, multi-platform file copy tool that includes some interesting features lacking in the TeraCopy, such as the ability to dynamically throttle copy speed, move items up and down on thefile transfer queue on the fly, while also retaining many of the same kind of features, such as collision and renaming handling. UltraCopier is also skinnable, and supports plugins for those users looking for additional features or tweaks for the default program.
Verdict: Another excellent replacement for the default file management tool that slightly edges out the popular TeraCopy with some of its additional features.