10 OS X Finder alternatives compared and reviewed

by Ross McKillop on October 8, 2006

Mac


Love it or hate it, Finder is the default file manager for OS X. But there are other choices out there, and this article offers reviews, screenshots and links to download 10 different alternatives.

Did I miss your favorite file manager in this list? By all means please feel free to leave a comment below and I’ll update this list (come on – the windows commenters have suggested a lot!)

Name Cost (USD) Demo version available Universal Binary Stars (out of 5) Detailed review
Path Finder $34.95 yes (21 days) yes ***½ here
Disk Order $22.57 yes (30 days) yes *** here
FileBrowse $25.00 yes (30 days) yes **** here
FileRun $??.?? no unknown n/a here
3DOSX free n/a no ** here
RAGE Macintosh Explorer $15.95 yes not yet, but works w/ Rosetta **½ here
Xfolders free n/a yes **** here
muCommander free n/a no **** here
Liquifile $9.90 yes (30 days) yes **½ here
Xfile $79.00 no no * here


Path Finder

Requirements: Version 4.5 requires Mac OS X 10.4 or higher, there is an older version available for 10.3 and 10.2, however that version will no longer be updated.
Download URL: http://www.cocoatech.com/download.php
Features in a nutshell:
New Features:

  • Undo support added
  • Superuser mode: You can now temporarily become superuser when performing a move, copy, delete, rename, label, and many other actions
  • Multiple Shelves
  • Labels Editor: Change label colors and names
  • Added Reload button to force a file listing refresh
  • Added ability to change default compression format: You can now choose between zip, sitx, bz2, and gz
  • Added Stuffit Verify feature
  • Added Slideshow to contextual menu item
  • Added set locked, hide extension, group, owner, change modification date, and set to invisible to File > Attributes
  • Added Apply to enclosed folders button to permissions setting in Get Info window
  • Added f5 as a reload directory shortcut
  • Added the Sparkle framework for automatic update checking and downloading
  • Improved the Size Browser’s interface (now a regular window with toolbar)
  • Added ability to disable the Finder’s desktop (see the General preferences)
  • Improved Japanese, French, Danish and German localizations
  • Improved Applescript support
  • Optimized application launch time
  • full list of features here
  • Thoughts:

    Path Finder is by far the most “popular” alternative to Finder for OS X. It has many, many features that you won’t find in Finder (top of the list would be tabs, desktop icon changes and the ‘drop stack’). The Path Finder menu item/button is also a helpful feature (see image below).

    It uses more system resources than most of the other File Managers outlined in this article, and isn’t above the occasional crash. It does share the same “3 view” option as Finder (list, columns, icons), but the addition of tabs helps make for a far less cluttered desktop.

    Being the 2nd most expensive File Manager reviewed, it’s a good thing that there’s a 21 day fully-functional demo available.

    Screenshots:


    lots of commands

    column view with tabs
       

    Path Finder menu icon

    new desktop ‘right-click’ menu
       

    Path Finder prefs

    more Path finder prefs
       

    changed desktop icons
     

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    Disk Order

    Requirements: OSX 10.3 and higher, there is an older version for 10.2 that won’t be updated and has fewer features
    Download URL: http://www.likemac.ru/english/download.shtml
    Features in a nutshell:

  • Tabbed interface
  • Copy/Move/Delete/Link operations
  • Built-in Viewer (viewing html, rtf, mov, mp3, jpg, gif, tiff etc.)
  • Built-in Editor
  • Built-in FTP-client (create, upload, download, CHMOD, transfer mode, encodings, viewing files and so on…)
  • Multi-Rename Tool
  • Archives support (tar, gz, tgz, bz, bz2, tbz, zip)
  • Sophisticated Drag’n-Drop
  • Color Marking support
  • System Index Utilizing Search
  • Command Line
  • Plug-in architecture (Terminal window, Burn CDs, Zip, Unzip, Untar etc.)
  • Very usable interface (Eject buttons by volume names and FTP sessions, customizable toolbar, Drives panel)
  • Customizable main menu shortcuts
  • Two file selection modes (Mac native and Norton-Commander-like)
  • Compare Directories, wildcard selection
  • Thoughts:

    Disk Order is pretty nice. The built in FTP client is helpful, the built-in preview works well and mix of Mac native and Norton-Commander styles blend really well. Its biggest drawback is that Xfolders is very similar, but free.

    Screenshots:


    Disk Order default view

    Disk Order with FTP
       

    Disk Order prefs

    Disk Order nag screen
       

    Disk Order Extras

    Disk Order Commands
       

    Disk Order (running a command)
     

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    FileBrowse

    Requirements: Mac OS X 10.4.0 and later
    Download URL: http://www.filebrowse.com/download.html
    Features in a nutshell:

  • 3D Icons/Thumbnails
  • Large In-Context Previews
  • Powerful Grouping and Sorting
  • Thoughts:

    FileBrowse strikes me as a ‘love it or hate it’ File Manager. It’s quite different than the others in this list, as it has far fewer features. But… what it lacks in features, it makes up for by perfecting the the existing ones. Plus, at the (early) version of 1.0.2, who knows what the future may have in store.

    Arguably the best ‘feature’ of FileBrowse is its unique, minimalist but elegant interface. FileBrowse can show thumbnails for many file types, not only for images. And folder icons even show the items inside, so you don’t have to open a folder to see its contents. Keyboard navigation within FileBrowse takes some getting used to. Previewing images at different sizes is a snap, and previewing multimedia (music, movies) is just as easy. Give it a try, but don’t blame me if you don’t like it.

    Screenshots:


    FileBrowse is pretty

    FileBrowse is pretty 2
       

    view the contents of folders

    huge preview
       

    play, preview or open media
     

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    FileRun

    Requirements: who knows, it’s not out yet
    Download URL: n/a – but the home page is: http://www.filerun.info/
    Features in a nutshell:

  • Powerful user interface
  • Advanced volume management
  • Reinvented trash handling
  • All activities in one place
  • Thoughts:

    I really only included this one because I’ve been watching this website for updates since Jan of 2006. It was supposed to be available for download in Feb of 2006, and still isn’t. It’s a shame, because it looks like it could be really great.

    Screenshots:


    FileRun – doesn’t exist, but looks pretty

    FileRun
       

    FileRun again

    FileRun LastOne

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    3DOSX

    Requirements: Mac OS X 10.1 or higher, and an OpenGL hardware accelerated video card (supporting OpenGL 1.2 or higher)
    Download URL: http://www.acm.uiuc.edu/macwarriors/projects/oldprojects/3dosx/download.html
    Features in a nutshell:

  • utilizes three dimensions to view directory hierarchies
  • supports a full range of file system actions, such as copying, labeling, creating new folders, and ejecting disks
  • developed using Cocoa and Carbon routines to gain access to the file system, and OpenGL for display
  • designed for the average user, and cutting-edge computer enthusiasts
  • cool eye candy
  • Thoughts:

    Barely worked for me. A neat concept that was either very poorly executed, or not at all intended for a MacBook Pro and/or Tiger. It reminded me a bit of Sphere, but I used Sphere for at least an hour longer than I did 3DOSX.

    Screenshots:


    3DOSX is a neat concept

    Too bad it doesn’t really work (for me)
       

    3DOSX prefs

    3DOSX apps view

    back to top



    RAGE Macintosh Explorer

    Requirements: OS X, OS 9
    Download URL: http://www.ragesw.com/products/explorer/download/
    Features in a nutshell:

  • Tabbed File Browsing reduces window clutter and allows instant switching between folders
  • Thumbnail view lets you see previews of all picture files instead of just generic icons
  • Hierarchical overview of all files and folders
  • Filter file list makes locating specific files fast and easy in clutter folders
  • Folder banks provide the ability to group specific documents together
  • Spring loading folders and advanced drag and drop features
  • Preview files as you browse
  • Store links to commonly used items
  • Get and set extended finder info
  • Batch file info changer
  • Back up important documents
  • Find unused and unwanted files
  • Cut, copy and paste files like text in a text editor
  • Permanently delete files and folders
  • Open multiple browser windows
  • Thoughts:

    As the name suggests, Macintosh Explorer is what might happen if Finder and Windows Explorer had an ugly child. OK not ugly, but not very exciting either. At least it has tabs. It responded quite slowly compared to the other File Managers.

    The Filter drawer was the best feature I found. It allows you to create and save filters so with one click you can find the files you’re looking for in a given folder.

    Screenshots:


    Default Macintosh Explorer with preview

    Default Macintosh Explorer
       

    Macintosh Explorer prefs

    Macintosh Explorer File list
       

    Macintosh Explorer Filter drawer

    Macintosh Explorer File Info

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    Xfolders

    Requirements: Apple PowerPC or Intel based Mac with Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger
    Download URL: http://www.kai-heitkamp.de/cms_en/main.php?content…
    Features in a nutshell:

  • Completely for Tiger re-written cocoa application.
  • Uses the new technology of Mac OS X Tiger.
  • Full integration of the Finder, thus support of all file operations from and to the Finder.
  • Drag & Drop between both filelists and the Finder.
  • Support for all important file operations.
  • Info dialoge for simply changing the file and folder attributes.
  • Intelligent path navigators for both file lists.
  • Bookmarks & manager for folders.
  • Direct access to importend system utilities.
  • Navigation with the keyboard ala Norton Commander.
  • Integrated, detailed Spotlight search.
  • Versatile search and compare possibilities.
  • Zip archive support.
  • Flat or 3D Unified look.
  • Supports the following languages: English, German, Italian, French, Spanish
  • Optimized for the PowerPC G5 processor, but remains compatible to G3 and G4 processors!
  • Universal binary: Compatible with Intel based Macs!
  • Xfolders is freeware!
  • Thoughts:

    Xfolders is one of the three reviewed File Managers that I haven’t yet removed from my Mac. It’s very easy to navigate using just the Keyboard, and all mouse actions are exactly as you’d expect. If you’re a fan of the Norton Commander style of File Manager, you’ll appreciate the Xfolders layout (though maybe not as much as muCommander).

    Compared to all of the other File Managers, Xfolders uses a very small amount of system resources. The ability to completely customize the Toolbar is a nice bonus.

    Screenshots:


    Default Xfolders view

    Xfolders Spotlight add-on
       

    customize Xfolders toolbar

    Xfolders new folder
       

    Xfolders prefs
     

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    muCommander

    Requirements: Mac OS X 10.1 and up
    Download URL: http://www.mucommander.com/#download
    Features in a nutshell:

  • Virtual filesystem with FTP, SFTP, SMB and HTTP/HTTPS support
  • Quickly copy, move, rename files, create directories, email files…
  • Browse, create and uncompress ZIP, TAR and GZip archives
  • Universal bookmarks
  • Multiple windows support
  • Customize the look and feel to your taste
  • Never leave that keyboard again, shortcuts are provided for almost everything
  • Available in 11 languages : English, French, German, Spanish, Czech, Simplified & Traditional Chinese, Polish, Hungarian, Russian and Slovenian
  • Thoughts:

    muCommander is a Norton Commander-lovers dream come true for OS X. Also, being cross-platform, you can use this File Manager on multiple OS’s (if you’re that kind of person). Supporting FTP, SFTP and HTTP is great (HTTP is a very neat feature). Smallest system resource footprint of all the tested File Managers.

    Screenshots:


    Default muCommander view

    Use muCommander to download files via http
       

    muCommander prefs

    run a command
       

    muCommander FTP/SFTP etc setup
     

    back to top



    Liquifile

    Requirements: OS 10.4 or higher
    Download URL: http://www.liquefile.com/ (then click the download link)
    Features in a nutshell:
    Even the folks at liquifile.com seem to have trouble explaining their product. They suggest you watch this video (in German) to understand its features. Liquifile is based on some concepts and technologies (like liquid browsing or the scatter tree) that originate from the “iworld” or “infoverse” project.

    Thoughts:

    It’s neat. I guess. I won’t be using it any time soon, but I suppose there are folks out there who might adore this File Manager. Give it a try, it’s unique at least.

    Screenshots:


    use the far right slider to adjust size

    some file options
       

    bubble size and location matters

    folder view
       

    Liquifile prefs
     

    back to top



    Xfile

    Requirements: OS X, I think.
    Download URL: http://rixstep.com/4/0/buy/index.shtml
    Features in a nutshell:

  • Runs on the Unix API (super-fast)
  • Nothing is hidden – absolutely nothing
  • Nothing is off-limits unless privileges do not allow
  • Open a Terminal.app console window anywhere, at any path, with a single click
  • Full ‘stat’ information available for all objects: icon, path, device, inode, mode, links, owner, group, device type, size, blocks, optimal block size, user defined flags, file generation #, last accessed, last modified, status changed
  • Owner, group, mode, set uid, set gid, sticky bit, and user defined flags directly editable
  • Resource fork alerts
  • Creation of hard and symbolic links
  • Open any document at any location with any application or launch any application anywhere
  • Executable under 40 KB [sic] – ‘one bounce launches’
  • Does not drop ‘.DS_Store’ or similar ‘config files’ everywhere on your disk
  • Rugged, extensively tested fully compliant Cocoa document-based application for OS X
  • Thoughts:

    Seriously, $79 for a single license and there’s no demo/trial? We’re supposed to decide if we want to buy this software based on just three screenshots? Get real. I’m not sure that it deserves even one star, but I like the idea of a 40 KB executable.

    Screenshots:


    Xfile looks pretty nice

    uh ok
       

    delete stuff
     

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    • KodeK

      That Liquifile is not in Italian :/

    • http://bandar.raffah.com/wp Bandar ..

      Then, After seeing all those … I should love my normal Finder … it is far better ..

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    • ninjafury

      Running any of those will just take up more ram on your system. Anyway, the best File browser is built write into OS X… No it’s not the Finder. Its the Terminal.

    • http://www.simplehelp.net Ross

      KodeK,

      Correct – the movie that shows the Liquifile features is in Italian.

    • Hans Konings

      Your comment on Xfile is a bit unfair:

      Seriously, $79 for a single license and there’s no demo/trial?

      For those 79 damn dollars you get a lot more than Xfile alone. Xfile is part of a much larger package. Some of it is great stuff. See for yourself at:

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    • http://heymans.org Bert Heymans

      That’s a great list, Xfolders really deserves the 4 stars you gave it.

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    • Graham

      Can someone please make me a spatial finder? PLEASE??!!

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    • http://niklasbrunbergmac.se Niklas

      Liquifile seems a bit out of place since it’s menat to be used on a handheld device or at least a device with pressure-sensitive display/tablet.

    • http://davemarketingtactics.com Dave Barnes

      1. I have been using Pathfinder for the last 6+ months and find it [now] indispensable.

      2. In the beginning of my trial of Pathfinder, I found that I just did not “get it”. It took me at least a month to really appreciate it.

      3. I found that the 21-day demo clock behaves strangely. For me, it was about a 45-day demo and I still had time left.

    • http://www.liquifile.info carsten

      @ross: KodeK is right, ross. the Liquifile movie is not in italian. it is german. (i know it, because i took it ;-)

      @all: …sorry for the bad quality by the way. there will be a new one soon that is also in english. for all of you who want to know more about Liquifile in english: read the readme. we are working on better documentaion right now.

      @ross: can you provide a link to the new movie, when it is done? i think that could be a great help since it is not very easy to understand Liquifile without it.

    • http://www.liquifile.info carsten

      @graham: what is your ultimate “spatial finder”? can you describe it? that could be a help to understand you better….and it could be very interesing…

    • http://www.simplehelp.net Ross

      Carsten -

      I got your note via email – I’ve changed the info to state the movie is in German (how did I get it into my head that it was Italian??) I would be more than happy to update w/ a link to the english movie as soon as it’s ready, and update the review w/ the next version of Liquifile as well.

    • clord

      I’m sick of 1990′s style file browsers period. Cramming in more buttons or designing a really slick looking interface are just not going to cut it. What we need is a radically different approach to file management. What I would like to see is something like http://creativebits.org/mac_os_x/desk_-_rethinking_the_finder
      or a more mature implementation of http://blacktree.com/apps/deviant/index.html Basically, what I want is a desktop that IS the finder. When I click on a folder on the desktop, I want the desktop itself to reveal the contents of the folder. The ability to open a separate finder window could be retained, but basically I want to do all of my file management right in the desktop.

    • http://www.liquifile.info carsten

      @Niklas: thats not totally correct. there are many LiquidBrowsing types. some for mobile and some for other application areas. Liquifile is one of the normal ones…well…and it’s not running on a mobile device, does it?
      (well…let’s better say not YET ;-) . well, Liquifile is implemented in native ObjectiveC. there is no pressure sensitive device running OSX yet (sadly).

    • http://www.lachoseinteractive.net/ Dominique PERETTI

      Have a look at Backdrop Folders !

      With Backdrop Folders, you can open “views” of your folders at the desktop level and interact with them.

      These views remain visible when you reveal the desktop with Exposé, which allows you to pick a file or to do a drag and drop operation in no time, without the hassle of having to switch to the Finder and navigate through your disk hierarchy.

    • clord

      Backdrop folders is definitely a step in the right direction. But i want something like icon view on the desktop. Backdrop folders is like contextual menus on steroids, but what i want is a “finder” that is indistinguishable from the desktop. Thanks for the tip though!

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    • quincy babbington

      One of the things I don’t like about the current finder is that you can’t view id3 tag information right in the list view. Which of these Finder alternatives offers views of id3 tags for mp3s?

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    • Dave Jewell

      Sadly, the FileRun web site seems to have gone severely “minimalist” in the last few days. There’s nothing left at http://filerun.info/ or http://filerun.de except one tantalising icon.

      Looks like RIP, I’m afraid… :-(

      Dave

    • http://www.simplehelp.net Ross

      Dave -

      Noooo!!!

      You’re right. Damn. Well hey – lets be optimistic and instead of thinking it’s RIP, we’ll think it’s “teasing us just before the launch”.

    • mGee

      The review of XFile is far from unfair. $79 is ridiculously over-priced. When all your competition doesn’t even approach your price, your app is over-priced. Regardless of what YOU as the developer feel it’s worth.

      Even the $49.95 price for Path Finder is over-priced.

    • fdisk c:

      I would like to know what other two you kept.

      Maybe it’s time for someone to start a Finder Replacement GNU SourceForge project?

      @Dave: I’ve used, and own Path Finder, but the entire concept of user interface has to be re-thought. It is not as simply as a Path Finder replacement, rather, it might amount to an entire OS replacement. Nonetheless, neither Finder nor Path Finder adequate. Unfortunate, although I study CS, OS design is not my specialty and I plan getting my PhD in the ‘overcrowded’ field of Classics.

      This topic does need to be addressed further, user interface in any operating system. Neither OS X nor Vista (ack) is approaching acceptable–although, OS X, coming from an retired Windows XP user and linux user, is much better but no panacea.

      Yes, I will buy Leopard.

    • fdisk c:

      It is impossible not to make a grammar or spelling error while posting!

      Please do tell, though, what were the other 2 Finder ‘replacements’ you kept.

      Sorry about being redundant, but I am curious.

      I wonder what error I made in this post?

    • Free Playing

      This is one super duper site

    • ehicles

      Hi there, I must say that you have done a wonderful job on your site and I thoroughly enjoyed my stay here, I thank you for sharing it with me…

    • Raleigh

      You have a great website. Keep up the good work.

    • tanker

      I found a new one called Forklift.
      There are some screeshots at http://www.binarynights.com

    • lorden

      Is there anyway to get a hold of the demo to Xfile? Want a small replacement. This seems perfect! Even a very old version would be great!

    • lorden

      please send demo of xfile or acp to somenkeps@hotmail.com

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    • Fairly

      Xfile $79? You read well. The ACP costs $79 and that’s 50+ Cocoa apps and another 30 command line progs and a text and web services prog. Xfile is only one program. It’s also available in a smaller package. ftp://rixstep.com/pub/Xfile.tar.bz2

    • Harri

      Xfolders has good unified look but perhaps carried too far. As for functionality it’s totally lame.

    • Kei

      Xfile is way overpriced, whether for its stand-alone or “package” versions. Besides that, it’s supported only by a single and often rude developer (check his “Fairly” posting above). Try Pathfinder (and I don’t work for them), or one of the other alternatives. While Xfile is fast, no amount of speed helps with essentially fly-by-night ops.

    • http://www.simplehelp.net Ross McKillop

      Fairly -

      At the time I wrote this (October 8th, 2006) there was absolutely no info on the Xfile web site that stated otherwise. If you are in fact the Xfile developer then I commend you on hugely fixing/updating your site. I assure you, there was NO info on rixstep.com other than the 3 screenshots I borrowed, and a “buy it now” link. And nowhere did it say anything about a $45 version that didn’t include the entire ACP. Now that I can try it, I’ll give it a download and update the review accordingly. Cheers,

      Ross

    • bgeek

      I second the suggestion to have ForkLift included.
      I read about this one a while back and it looks very promising.
      Features (as per their site): Dual pane view, preview info/view, ftp, Zip, GZip, Tar, Rar integration.
      $29.95, 15-day demo, http://www.binarynights.com
      it is at version 1.0.1 (6/2007).
      I will be giving it a look-see.

    • http://www.simplehelp.net Ross McKillop

      For some reason this post seems to attract more comment spam than any other on simplehelp. So I’m disabling comments to to avoid the hassle of having to review possible comment spam. If you have something you’d really like to add to this discussion, by all means please use the Contact Form and I’ll manually add your comment. Cheers!

      Ross

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