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Less is More: The Orthodox File Manager (OFM) Paradigm

by Dr Nikolai Bezroukov

Content : Foreword : Ch01 : Ch02 : Ch03 : Ch04 : Ch05 : Ch06 : Ch07 : OFM1999 : OFM2004 : OFM2012


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Norton Commander for Windows

NCW is the "last of Mohicans" in Symantec family of OFMs. This was a short lived commercial product available from Symantec only in Europe. NCW was released in early 1996 initially as Windows 95 version only. So it came three years after the release of Windows Commander, version 1.0 of which was released in the autumn of 1993.

Symantec Form:10-K405  Filing Date:6/26/1996 in forward looking statement mentioned that

THE NORTON COMMANDER FOR WINDOWS 95 is a 32-bit utility that is designed to provide a character-based graphical approach and mouse capability for Windows 95 operations such as copy, move and delete. The Norton Commander for Windows 95 includes a wide range of file viewers, application launching functions and a customizable menuing facility. Additional features for the Windows 95 version include a variety of network utilities and editor associates.

It was late and overpriced product: one of the most expensive OFM implementation in Windows 95 market ($120). It supported Windows 95 and NT only. It was not directly available in USA (one needs to buy it from Great Britain) and was not supported in by USA Symantec headquarters. Soon after version 1.0 there was an update: version 1.01 which was released Aug 27, 1997 and fixed few bugs.  A year later in August 1998
Symantec produced Norton Commander version 1.02 which worked for Windows 98.

Version 2 was created for Windows 2000 in late 1998 and released in 2000 (beta was released November 1998). The last known version of NCW was 2.01. As of 2012 it is still used by loyal users (64 bit - Is there a Norton Commander clone for Windows Vista, 64-bits - Super User):

A decade ago, Symantec created the Norton Commander 2.0 for the 32-bits Windows system. I bought it back then and amazingly, it still works great on my Vista-64 bits system with Quadcore processor.

As I already pointed out NCW was essentially reanimation of discontinued product that was made by Symantec under pressure from European users (German users were especially vocal in this respect). The first impression after installing NCW 1.0 (later  NCW v.2.0 became available; I never tried it) was mixed.  In some ways they make progress and some they were far behind other OFM implementations that existed at the time (and first of all FAR). At this point I saw no advantages in switching from Far to NCW.  It was also weaker then Total Commander (called at this time Windows Commander).

New functionality provided by NCW is very modest. It looks like more or less diligent reproduction of NC5 in GUI -- more like a student project that advancement of the state of the art. It can be used as a OFM, but probably can be recommended only for low level users.  For the power and long-time OFM users Total Commander is definitely preferable (and much cheaper).

The main and questionable enhancement is a built-in scheduler.  I like it  (among other things it plays chime every hour), but it does not belong to OFM functionality. At the same time a lot of things would disappoint long time OFM users. For example file manipulation capabilities and the support of command line were underpowered. 

But the main problem was with viewers. Symantec screwed this area royally:  NCW does not supply its own viewers and bundles basic Quick View Plus viewers from INSO. So to view HTML one need to get full version of Quick View Plus.  So NCW was a unique OFM which has an internal editor, but no internal viewers.

Oleg Volochtchuck was listed in the NCW development team. But recent (as of December, 1997) rumors suggest that he moved to the USA and now works on other projects.

Advanced features implemented

NCW Contributions

Incompatibilities

Ctrl-E, Ctrl-R and Ctrl-O do not work at all.

Especially bad is lack of Ctrl-O. Norton Commander related IQ was definitely lost in Symantec during all those years. Generally command line support leave much to be desired. You can resize panel with mouse making left or right bigger, but you cannot increase the size of DOS windows in the bottom. When you type a command, unless you use pipe with mode (like dir | more ) the command line window will be closed before you see the results. What a shame !

Command line windows is optional and can be hidden, but when it is hidden, quick files search is not switched to "vi-style" like in Total Commander. You still need to use Alt-letter combination.

Renaming of directories is clumsy.

As the product is no longer maintained by Symantec,  a reader informed me that some commands are behaving strangely in newer version of Windows like Win2K and WinXP. For example for those OSes NCW fails to compare directories correctly. It falsely says that freshly-copied files are older.  Also it fails to sync for the same reason. This is probably due to not understanding some newer attributes in the version of NTFS used in Win2K and XP. It should not have problems on FAT32 I think. 

Also NCW is not a self-contained product. It requires MS C++ DLL to operate.

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