Navigating your hard drive using Windows Explorer is pretty straightforward. Double-clicking a directory like My Documents brings up a list of items you have in that folder. You're given a couple of options for how you view the contents of a folder, such as arranging by date or by name. You also can view your documents using icons or tiles. The Windows Explorer window shares some of the features of Internet Explorer as well, like Favorites and toolbars. Clearly, this is nothing new to anyone who has used a Windows machine, and like many of you, I have my own ideas of how it could be made better.
We can probably agree that the options available with Explorer are adequate for navigating your hard drive, but a little more information and flexibility would go a long way. I found a few programs that add much more to file navigation, such as tabbed and paned directories for drag-and-drop file transfers and document previews so you know what you're opening before you open it. These Windows Explorer replacements offer tons of information about your files at a glance, like expanded properties and sorting capabilities not available with the default Windows setup. Some also feature much more intuitive methods for moving files around.
There are a number of free and shareware programs at Download.com designed to improve how you navigate your hard drive. Here are my choices for those who want a better file Explorer.
2xExplorer Z1 is a free Explorer alternative that offers a dual-pane interface so moving files around is much easier. You'll be able to preview images before you open an external program using an included thumbnail viewer that pops up as an extra window. You can move files quickly between the two-paned interface with drag and drop or hot keys. 2xExplorer Z1 is a fairly simple alternative, but it's still a step up from Windows Explorer.
Xplorer2 Lite is the free, light version of a more feature-packed program, but offers plenty of tools for better file navigation. Like 2xExplorer Z1, this app offers a two-paned interface for easy transfer of files, but you can add tabs to each pane for even more flexibility. The interface is a bit more refined, with a preview pane built into the window, and Xplorer2 Lite offers added features like a document shredder and syncing between panels for easy document backups. I particularly like how you can click on the breadcrumb in each tab to switch directories quickly.
XYplorer is a shareware alternative ($24.95) that offers more tools and file information than the other programs and a few more ways to view documents. You can have XYplorer automatically show thumbs in the document list or you can use the info panel to get a full size preview. The info panel offers a wealth of information about files with a powerful included search tool to find any file quickly.
If you want an easy upgrade to Windows Explorer, check out one of these programs. The added information, quick file transfers, and preview capabilities make them well worth the download. As always, if you have a better alternative, please let me know in the comments so I can check it out!