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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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Volkov Commander - a masterpiece of assembler programming

Volkov Commander (VC) was the first OFM that beat NC-line to the punch (see also Unofficial Volkov Commander Site). VC 4.0 was and still is a masterpiece of assembler programming -- small (v. 4.xx is a COM program and is less than 64K), but extremely powerful. In a Windows world it is really amazing that a useful program has a size less than 100K (not 100M as hello world type of programs in some languages ;-).

In 1992 it took the world by storm as the best freeware (and then shareware) implementation of OFMs. VC implemented several important enhancements that later became parts of the OFM paradigm. Among them Ctrl-[ and Ctrl-], quick tree panel browsing mode, nested and more flexible user menu files, and several others. 

 

I have used VC from the late 1992 as the main tool for producing my Softpanorama Bulletin  ( A monthly ezine which was published on floppies in 1989-1996). Volkov Commander was first published in the Softpanorama Bulletin in the December 1992 as a New Year gift to the readers and subscribers. But it was available in a pretty stable beta form for at lease six months before that.  See folder /Christmas in sp4aa.zip. In 1993 the development of Volkov Commander were partially supported by the grant from the Softpanorama bulletin and Vsevolod Volkov made a couple of presentations at the Kiev Softpanorama seminar.

It is interesting to note that he wrote Vsevolod Volkov while being a student in Kiev Polytechnic University, where he graduated in electronics, not in computer science. And he wrote the program in extremely difficult times that US readers can understand only as conditions that existed during the depth of Great Depression and German readers as condition during Weimar Republic hyperinflation.  I still can't understand how it was physically possible for a student to write such a program without even owning a computer. And at this time in Kiev privately owned PCs were as rare as Lamborghinis in USA now.  Universities were poor as church rats as for computing facilities and to get computer time on a PC for a student was not that easy. I was a chair of computer science department at the Kiev University of Commerce and Economics at the time, and all we have was two dozens of AT class machines in the labs and a half dozen in various departments.  Even among professors of computer science very few people owned PCs at home.

Later he worked as hardware engineer in various start-ups. Again this was an extremely difficult time for Ukraine when after the dissolution of the USSR (in November 1991)  economic advisors (or were they economic hit men?) with academic degrees (aka "Harvard Mafia") decided to use "shock therapy" on unsuspecting people to bring "free market" in no time and sold all the assets to local robber barons (aka "oligarchs") and via them to Western companies for pennies on a dollar.  Salaries instantly disappeared, prices jumped tenfold and Weimar Republic inflation replay was in full swing.  It was not a good time to write free software or even shareware. The country lost substantial number of  programmers in just three years and turned into a Latin American country just on a different continent. So what he accomplished was really amazing...  

Until almost mid 1997 it was my main and later secondary OFM. It was extremely convenient for troubleshooting (nothing, believe me, simply nothing can compete with VC in this role in old DOS/Windows 3.1 days).

Level of compatibility

We will discuss version 5. It's still in alpha(4.99.07), but the alpha is amazingly bug free and pretty much usable. Despite absence of several features (FindFile, Quick View, built-in editor) this alpha version is more powerful than 4.0. It supports long file names and the archive VFS. And it still is the smallest OFM among the leading OFM implementations (it is just a 78K zip archive ! Again, it's really refreshing to see that program under 100K can perform more that a just "Hello world" with a couple of options ;-).

This version corrects a major problem in the previous version. Pressing Alt-F10 in VC 4.0 often initiated time consuming rescan of the whole drive without the reason, and that made this feature almost unusable.  In this version a file TREEINFO.VCD is used as a cache for the drive directory info.

VC contributions

VC version 4.xx was a milestone in OFMs. It make a lot of important contributions to the OFM1999 standard, like "Ctrl-[", "Ctrl-]",  generation of the selected file list to the command line (Ctrl-I), enhanced attribute command that can change timestamp of the file as well as attributes, etc.  Most of them are now firmly incorporated in the both OFM1999 and OFM2004 standards (BTW Ctrl-I, Ctrl-[ and Ctrl-] functionality was recommended by the Softpanorama Bulletin).

VC tiny size makes VC an excellent troubleshooting tool and the best OFM to carry with when servicing customer PCs. There are more that a dozen of various add-ons for VC 4.01 (see for example ftp://ftp.elf.stuba.sk/pub/pc/utilfile/ in the USA the best is to use its Walnut CD-ROM mirror ftp://ftp.cdrom.com/pub/sac/). This attests the popularity and the value for the programming community of  this OFM implementation.   Good collection of add-ons exist also on the Polish Official Volkov Commander site: http://www.kki.net.pl/~volkov .

Version 5 preserve VC 4.xx unique advantages as it is still the smallest and the fastest of the of leading OFM implementations.  Unlike Far, it is usable in DOS which used to be important in early nineties for  troubleshooting. It provides several contributions to the orthodox doctrine:

VC deviations from OFM paradigm

Quick view was not available in 4.0. It is still absent from the alpha, but is present in the panel menu, so it will probably be implemented in the final version. Xtree VFS currently is not supported.  FindFile operation is still not implemented. History is present in only small number of menus. WWW browser style enhancements like Back and forward button, favorite menu, etc. are not supported.

Like in v.4.0 file operations using the passive panel tree view are impossible. For example there is no possibility to copy file from one directory into another directory using the tree representation of the disk on the second panel.

Navigating the tree in one panel will make the current (highlighted) directory current on the second (passive) panel. This is an interesting kind of quick view function for the tree representation and although useful in its own way it does not substitute the functionality of selecting the target directory on the tree representation.

Clicking on Name, Size, Date and Time options does not resort the directory with this key.

As of 2012 some people still remember Volkov Commander. Here is the exchange from 2009 that I have found in Slashdot discussion Midnight Commander Development Revived - Slashdot

Re:"let's hope revival is both healthy and lengthy (Score:2)

by jellomizer (103300) writes: on Monday January 26 2009, @06:49PM (#26614485)

I remember before Linux my first hint at this was Volvalk|sp?| Commander, that some Russian uploaded on my BBS. It was great when I got Linux in 1994 messing with the commands I did a MC and I was quite happy to see it.
Yes I am sure people will point out all of those are based on Norton Commander, but still, I lay out my windows like in MC for me to work.

Re:"let's hope revival is both healthy and lengthy (Score:2, Informative)

by X3J11 (791922) writes: on Monday January 26 2009, @07:25PM (#26614921) Journal

I remember before Linux my first hint at this was Volvalk|sp?| Commander,

Volkov Commander [egner-online.de]? (Warning: The URL given links to a page that may cause uncontrollable flashbacks to the Web circa 1995. Proceed with caution.)

Recommended sites

Links to hiew -- a great utility by Eugene Suslikov that is often used (and should be used ;-) with VC

The other site with a lot of add-ons for VC 4.01 is; ftp://ftp.elf.stuba.sk/pub/pc/utilfile/ (There used to be Walnut CdRom mirror ftp://ftp.cdrom.com/pub/sac/).

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Etc

The Last but not Least Technology is dominated by two types of people: those who understand what they do not manage and those who manage what they do not understand ~Archibald Putt. Ph.D


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Last modified: March, 12, 2019