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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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Ch 5: History of Windows Orthodox File Managers

OFM in Windows were logical continuation of DOS line of OFMs. Panels is GUI OFMs are  more informative due to smaller fonts used.  Many GUI-based implementations of OFMs  were influenced by XTreeGold, the most advanced file manager for Windows 3.0 and provide decent history retrieval mechanism for each command. 

Here is how development  of Windows file managers was described by Dan Rose in his preface to the "Utility -- File Manager " section of his site  Dan's 20th Century Abandonware - Screen Shot Gallery - Windows NT-2000 Shareware

From the mid-1980's to the early 1990's, it seemed every programmer and their gerbil were writing DOS-based file manager programs. Some of the most famous DOS file managers were Norton Commander, PathMinder, Q-DOS, XTree, and the file managers in PC Tools and Norton Desktop -- the only DOS file managers to offer true drag-and-drop ease of use.

In the early to mid-1990's, the only commercial Windows 3.x file manager was XTreeGold 4.0 for Windows by Central Point Software.

In 1995, Symantec, after "merging" with Central Point Software (and eliminating CPS's product line), was the first commercial software company to offer a 32-bit Windows file manager -- Norton Navigator 95 which is a 32-bit reincarnation of the former Central Point Software XTreeGold 4.0 for Windows 3.1x. Unfortunately, it is optimized for 32-bit, DOS-based Windows 95 and does not run on Windows NT/2000 Professional. The only other commercial 32-bit file manager created for Windows 9x/Me/2000 was a product called PowerDesk by Ontrack Data International, later sold to V Communications.

From 1996 on, PowerDesk was one of the last commercial file managers available for Windows 95/98/Me/NT/2000. A scaled-down freeware version was offered to entice you to buy the full commercial version.

Windows manager dominated OFM landscape and there are at lease half dozen actively maintained Windows implementation. Among them

GUI present some difficulties for shell integration and I do not know any that done it properly, preserving of key idea of DOS OFMs: commander is an extension of DOS shell.  Few developers of GUI based OFM  understand important of smooth integration with shell and benefits that such integration can provide to user. Even user menu, the classic feature of OFMs often implemented very weakly.

Also Windows based OFM often cut corners in informing users how operation performed. Even Total Commander which is better then average Windows GOFM has very weak menus that compare very unfavorably to FAR.

At the same time GUI significantly simplifies display of attributes and here GUI-based OFMs definitely beat their command line counterparts.

In this chapter we will discuss two leading command like Win32 OFMs: Far and File Commander. We will also discuss two GUI based OFMs: Total Commander and Norton Commander for Windows (currently abandonware).

As Windows OFM currently define state of the art of OFM development in general you will have a distinct feeling that OFM continues to evolve. For example the latest trend is to provide "hidden command line" mode in which each alpha-numeric key evokes quick search at the panel in best VI tradition without need to use Alt modified.


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