File management, compression and decompression
Probably the most used and important program on your computer, except webbrowser, is file manager. Again, the Windows included Explorer is not capable enough so I will tell you something about its replacements. Besides I'm focusing also on good file compression / decompression tools.
Starting with file management tools, I will introduce 2 programs to you using two-pane user interface (split horizontally or vertically), which I consider the best choice. Too many common computer users are prejudiced against two-pane file managers. They are used to Windows Explorer way too much. Maybe it will take a while to get used to double interface, but I assure you, the workflow is much faster using such system. You don’t need to open 2 windows to copy file from one location to another, like it is the case with Windows Explorer. In these 2 applications you have everything on hand.
The best free file manager in my opinion is multilingual FreeCommander, which is capable of replacing both Windows Explorer and Total Commander (I was using TC before). Besides standard features like displaying the content in several ways (tree view, details, list, thumbnails), copying, moving, renaming, deleting, creating, searching, editing and viewing files and folders, it contains archives management (compression and decompression of archive files), can split large files, create MD5 file size checksum, compare and synchronize folders, batch rename files, create desktop snapshots, run command line, or connect to FTP accounts.
The only big disadvantage of FreeCommander (shakes the hand with Total Commander) in current 64bit operating systems world is its insufficient integration with such systems. Surely the cause is application’s 32bit architecture which can’t display complete context menus under 64bit Windows. That is really big minus for me, but I’m waiting patiently for 64bit release. Meanwhile I’m using different program…
Windows Double Explorer
The application with full 64bit operating system integration is Windows Double Explorer (WDE). Unfortunately, I could just wish it was as good as FreeCommander, but it performs the tasks much better then Windows Explorer. Windows Double Explorer is also two-pane file manager with one great feature: you can open several tabs of content in each pane. It basically combines two (or more) Windows Explorers in one window and add some features. This being said, it can manipulate with Libraries in Windows 7, which is great and definitely something FreeCommander can’t do.
The Windows Double Explorer should work just with Windows 7 (haven’t tried with Vista, on XP it doesn’t work), is still in beta version these days (but I haven’t had a problem using it) and can be downloaded from its website.
Archiving tools (compression and decompression)
If you download something from internet, most probably it will be packed, compressed and compacted in one archive file. Windows can handle a basic archive file types like ZIP with no problem. But what to do when it comes to RAR, TAR, GZIP, 7Z, CAB and others? Solution is simple – install one of the applications bellow, which can be used also on USB flash drives as portable programs.
One of the best compression tools I’ve ever tried, but certainly not very attractive, is open-source 7-Zip. On the other hand, you won’t see him that often and not for long, so if it does the job, why not? And really, 7-Zip does its job perfectly. It even compress to its native special format 7Z which is 30-50% more efficient than ZIP that can be compressed with this tool better than with any other archiving tools. Compression/decompression times are pretty low and the program creates encrypted, password protected archives too. Creation of self-extracting files, splitting the archive into several pieces and integration in Windows Explorer context menu are standard functions I demand.
7-Zip handles packing and unpacking of 7z, ZIP, GZIP, BZIP2 and TAR file types and decompression of RAR, ISO, ARJ, CAB, DEB, DMG files, just to mention a few.
IZArc is another great multilingual archiver which copes with the same functions as 7-Zip and adds archives repairing and disk image conversion. The visage is not much better though (can be improved with skins), nor the speed, but it supports a huge amount of several archive file formats, including 7Z and disk images like ISO, NRG, BIN, CDI, IMG. IZArc can really be your only archiving program, so don’t waste the time and download it.
The last application I mention in this article is PeaZip (download link), the open-source archiver and file manager. It is the prettiest one from all the archivers I’ve ever seen (except maybe its icon). Natively uses its own PEA file format, but supports huge number of different archives with 7Z and RAR among them. Features includes archive conversion, splitting, comparison, encryption, creation of checksums, password file protection and integration with Explorer’s context menu. The only disadvantage is a bit longer procesing time of archive files.