Linux Format

The user interface

The interface between you and your files.


Applicatio­ns like file managers tend to adopt the overall system theme and icon set of your desktop environmen­t. When we fired up the fresh installati­ons of Thunar, Dolphin and Nemo, what struck us was how similar they looked. Things only started to change when we began to configure and expand the user interface options.

Apart from colour scheme and icon set, layout is an important considerat­ion. Thunar, Dolphin and Nemo use a similar layout by default, and it’s probably fair to say that a number of standard convention­s have establishe­d themselves in terms of how file managers tend to be operated and how they present the content to the user.

Simple or complex? We’re not going to say that one is better than the other, as long as an interface achieves its goals. We want interfaces that neither are difficult to use nor make it difficult to understand what they are trying to display.

Dolphin 7/10

We’re assessing Dolphin in its default state, which happens to be a configurat­ion with a lot of the features switched off. When first installed, the menu bar is accessible through a pulldown menu icon. This means that it’s kept out of the way if you rarely access it, but awkward if you do want to use it. We don’t see what the advantages are in keeping the toolbar as plain as Dolphin does on default. For example, it doesn’t even have icons for up or home folder navigation, or a refresh button. It does have a split view icon, though.

The Places panel to the left works in much the same way as most file managers. Along the bottom, there is a status bar showing free disk space and the current zoom level. On first installati­on, Dolphin looks like most other lightweigh­t file managers, and it’s up to you to customise it in the areas that you care about.

Krusader 8/10

Krusader is a stablemate of fellow KDE project Dolphin, and this file manager is unashamedl­y aimed at technical users who like all of the features turned on combined with plenty of potential for both expansion and customisat­ion. What you get with Krusader, before you embark upon customisat­ion, is a dualpanel layout.

We’ve seen some dual-panel layouts that duplicate the available controls, but in Krusader’s case, we’re given a single toolbar that affects the currently focused panel.

Within a few minutes, you should be able to get the gist of how it works, because it’s not a difficult user interface to pick up, even though we wouldn’t give it to a non-technical user. It offers many of the advantages of a GUI file manager combined with the flavour of a textmode file manager. It’s not a beginner’s tool, and nor does it try to be.

Midnight Commander 7/10

If you like text-mode interfaces, you’ll like Midnight Commander. The most common file functions are linked to F keys and displayed along the bottom. F9 takes you to the main menu at the top with more complicate­d functions. This keyboard-driven interface brings with it a few advantages in terms of precision and comes into its own for repetitive, accurate file operations and directory navigation. Similarly, when looking down a list of files, there is less room for ambiguity.

However, despite all of this praise, it is worth noting that the majority of people will struggle a bit to come to terms with something as alien as a text-mode interface if they were brought up in the world of the GUI. At the least, most users will experience a bit of a learning curve as it’s not immediatel­y obvious how some aspects of the user interface work.

Nemo 8/10

Nemo implements the basics we’ve come to expect, with an emphasis on keeping it simple. However, it doesn’t feel as compromise­d as Thunar as it offers a bit more. Beneath the sidebar there are icons that switch between Places (bookmarked folders and other locations) and a tree view. The bar along the top uses the breadcrumb­s approach, but there is an icon to switch it to a URI display that can be directly edited and cut and pasted. Unlike Dolphin, the top menu is enabled by default.

In the toolbar, three icons switch between the three viewing modes, and there is a search icon. There is a slider to control the zoom level of the main view. Of the traditiona­l file managers we’ve looked at, Nemo strikes the best balance of simplicity without omitting desirable features with its default layout, even though Dolphin and Krusader can be coaxed into offering a lot more.

Thunar 7/10

The main Thunar window contains the files and folders, and there is a sidebar that’s switchable between shortcut folders and a tree view. Along the top of the window, we find a box containing the folder URI, which is editable and pastable. In front of this, we have the back, forward, up and home buttons, and a search icon, as one might expect, but the fact that the toolbar can’t easily be edited means that it’s difficult to extend the user interface.

There are a few niceties that have been omitted from the layout. There are no buttons to change between different file display modes, and this has to be done within the main menu or via keyboard shortcuts. Similarly, there is no visible indication of current zoom level, although mouse wheel+Ctrl can adjust the zoom, and it’s possible to go a bit larger than most file managers. All in all, it’s a competent implementa­tion of most of the commonly used features.

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