Total Commander 5.51

Old-school DOS users like me hate Windows Explorer, and most think there’s no alternative for basic file management tasks.

We’ve been forced to use the same Explorer since Windows 95. It stunk then, and it still stinks today. The bad news is there’s no improvement on the horizon. The good news is there’s a third-party program called Total Commander that’s great for power users
like programmers, network administrators, or web developers.

Long-time computer users will recognize the basic user interface of Total Commander: two window panes side by side showing different directories. Several third-party utilities used this look back in the 1980’s and 1990’s in DOS file management tools, and it has plenty of advantages. It’s easy to compare directories, to see which files are different in which directories, and to copy files back and forth. The space bar tags files and directories for copying. Click on a column header like Name, Ext, Size, or Date and Total Commander sorts the files.

The first indication of Total Commander’s power and flexibility, though, is what can be shown in those two window panes. When browsing a directory, double-click on a compressed file like a Zip or Rar file. Total Commander goes right into it and shows the contents just like a normal directory, much like Windows XP’s Zip file decompression on the fly, only more seamless and transparent to the end user. File copy and move operations work the same as with a normal file or directory – Total Commander automatically compresses and decompresses files to move them in and out of the Zip file.

Total Commander also integrates an FTP client: hit control-F to connect to an FTP site, and it shows up in Total Commander just like a local drive or a network drive. Copying files between a laptop, a file server, an FTP server, or even between two FTP servers all work identically.

Basic buttons line the bottom of Total Commander’s screen, indicating that users can hit F4 to edit a file. While logged into an FTP site, hit F4, and Total Commander automatically downloads the file, opens it in the preferred editor, waits patiently for the user to make changes and save them, and then checks to see if the file has been changed. If it has, Total Commander notifies the user and offers to upload the changed file – perfect for webmasters that need to make quick fixes.<p>
Web authors will also appreciate the directory comparison features: with the local development directory in one window and the live web server in the other window (either via FTP or mapped drives), click Mark, Compare Directories. Total Commander highlights any files in either window that are newer than the opposite directory, that don’t exist in the opposite directory, or that have different file sizes. At a glance, it’s obvious which files need to be synchronized.

Windows Explorer offers sorely limited file copying and moving functionality: when Explorer encounters a file that already exists, it asks if you want to overwrite that one, overwrite all files, or cancel. How about a little more information? Total Commander shows you the file sizes and dates of each file, and asks if you want to overwrite this one, overwrite all, only overwrite the older files, skip this file, skip all files, append, or rename! Total Commander also offers robust file-renaming tools.

Any long-time computer junkie uses a handful of DOS commands to this day, simply because they get the job done with a minimum of fuss. Total Commander offers a command prompt at the bottom of the window that acts like a constantly open DOS prompt. Type a DOS command, and it’s executed in the directory: useful for running programs that require command line parameters.

Like Windows Explorer, Total Commander has different file list styles: brief, full, comments, and a tree view similar to old Norton Commander. Comments refers to the ability to store file descriptions in description or files.bbs. Tree view fans will also appreciate the ability to hit control-enter on any directory (or several directories) and see the number of files and the file size on any directory. (Large network directories can take some time to calculate, though.)

Total Commander isn’t just for old-school users, though: some of us have grown accustomed to the dynamic right-click functionality in Windows. Things like Send-To and third-party extensions are available in Total Commander as well: just right-click on a file or directory, and the standard menus appear just as they would in Windows Explorer. (By default, right-click tags and untags files, but this is one of Total Commander’s dozens and dozens of configurable options.)

Total Commander’s setup program fits on a floppy, and the full program takes less than 2mb – perfect for hauling around on a USB key drive. No setup is required: it runs out of any directory, so network admins can use it from any machine on the network by
running it from a file server. That’s a hallmark of a useful network tool.

How much would you pay for a program that does all this? $59? $69? Total Commander is just $35 and a trial version is free at

But wait – there’s more! I’ve barely scratched the surface of its capabilities. It can do parallel port file copying just like it does FTP – the remote file system appears in a window just like a local file system or an FTP session. The toolbar can be configured to do everything from launch Control Panel to filter files by extension or name.

I’ve used Total Commander for a few years, and the author, Christian Ghisler, still actively develops and improves the program on a regular basis. Ghisler resides in Switzerland, and with the program’s global following, it’s designed for global use: languages include everything from Afrikaans to Vietnamese. With the quality of this program, it’s obvious why people all over the world use it religiously.