Open Source Applications: EmelFM2

I’ve discussed both Firefox and Pidgin before. Both are very nice applications, and in the Linux world, they’re pretty well known. Firefox has become the default internet browser in almost every distribution, and the same thing goes for Pidgin (sometimes even in KDE-centric distributions). This time, I want to draw some attention to a hidden gem I’ve discovered not too long ago: EmelFM2, a wonderful two-pane view lightweight file manager.

Let me back up here a bit. In any operating system, the file manager is one of the most important programs. It’s no coincidence that the first Windows File Manager had a file cabinet as its icon, because that’s what it felt like: a cabinet with hundreds of drawers holding your files…and other drawers. The analogy gets lost a bit when it comes to subdirectories, but you know what I mean.

Fifteen years ago, a file manager managed your files, and not much more. You could copy, move, delete, and open files in the right program…and in Windows 3.X,  most people just browsed to the right *.exe to start those programs. This was before Windows 95, and a start button was still an unknown concept.

Along the way, file managers became more and more complicated, something which can be seen in the screenshots in the Wikipedia article on Windows Explorer. These days, Windows Explorer not only lets you browse your files, it also displays “the desktop icons, the Start Menu, the Taskbar, and the Control Panel”. Nautilus and Konqueror are more or less the same, being integral parts to their respective desktop environments. Now, this is all fine and dandy, and while I think it’s great that Nautilus provides an audible preview when you hover over an audio file, and Konqueror lets you browse everything from local file systems to websites to ssh shares, I also think they pretty much suck at…file management.

First of all, they’re slow, an unavoidable drawback of their many functions. If you carry a lot of bulk, you’re not built for speed. But secondly, and most importantly, they only have one pane (yes, I know Konqueror has a two pane view, but it’s not one I find usable).

Personally, I need two panes. Everything I download goes into a directory in my /home, unsorted, to check them out. Then, I move them to a spare partition to their own directories, based on filetype, author/artist, age, etc. That means that some days, when I’ve been slacking, I have to move close to a hundred files to a hundred different directories. In a traditional, one-pane file managers, that’s a nightmare. Even with tabs, bookmarks and keyboard shortcuts, I end up spending way too much time on such a simple task.

Two-pane managers are great for this. You have the source directory on the left, the target directory on the right, and all you have to do is select the file and hit one button (most of the times, F6). You still have to switch target directories, but it’s still much faster, and less prone to error (I can’t count how many times I used the wrong keyboard shortcut to copy or paste a file, simply because I was pressing buttons and clicking the mouse all the time).

Now, the best such file manager in Windows is Total Commander, but since this isn’t a Windows blog, I’ll leave it at that. People who use KDE also have nothing to worry about, since Krusader is at least as good. But Gnome/GTK users don’t have such an obvious choice. Gnome Commander is ugly, and never worked well for me. I always found myself struggling selecting files, and moving from directory to directory. Gentoo is even uglier, and Midnight Commander…well…I’m sure it’s very powerful, but that doesn’t mean it has to hurt my eyes.

But then I found EmelFM2. It’s fast, powerful, configurable, lightweight, and it actually looks very good. Every time I need to do some “serious” file management, I fire it up. Even if I have to move dozens and dozens of files, it never takes more than fifteen minutes.

To be fair, I don’t use it for my every day file management. For example, double-clicking a file doesn’t always automatically open the appropriate application. You can configure it until it does…but sometimes even I like things easy :) That’s why I use Thunar most of the time…another great file manager, but it unfortunately doesn’t offer a twin-pane view, or even tabs. On it’s own, it’s just not good enough.

Simply put, if you often have to move files around, and you’re in a GTK-environment, try this one out. You won’t be disappointed in EmelFM2.


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2 Responses to Open Source Applications: EmelFM2

  1. Anonymous says:

    Nice article. You could go a bit more in depth on emelfm2 itself, but if someone is looking for a graphical orthodox filemanager, emelfm2 is definitely your best pick (IMO and I tried most). So whoever is interested should try it out and you’ll find out all the nice details yourself.

    Midnight Commander can still look awesome though, it’s more stable, and also more powerful I think. But if you’re into GTK and not so much console then emelfm2 or some others like tuxcommander can do the trick. (tuxcmd though, I found, is a bit buggier than emelfm2)

  2. celettu says:

    True, I could go into the many many MANY features of EmelFM2…and I think I just indicated why I didn’t ;)

    Basic point of the post is: GTK-users, don’t despair, there’s a twin-pane file manager for you that actually looks decent.

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