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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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Light-weight Unix OFMs


deco -- the UNIX OFM pioneer

OFM - The open filemanager


In a sense, original Norton commander line up to version 3.0 was small, elegantly written masterpieces of C+assember language programming. They were not open source, but they have the spirit of simplicity and power typical for top open source applications. So light-weight OFM represent the most interesting part of open source development, projects when you still might be able to understand and modify the source. We will discuss two such project: deco and ofm. None of them can compete with Volkov Commander as for the size of executable, but deco with proper compiler flags comes close.

deco -- the UNIX OFM pioneer

deco is one of the first attempt to create an OFM. It was written by Serge Vakulenko in 1989 (he was at a time in DEMOS one of the first and most influential Russian ISPs and that is reflected in the name - Demos Commander) and as of this writing it is still used and maintained. It definitely has historical value because it's more than 10 years old, which makes it the first OFM for UNIX. There is now a small Wikipedia article about this OFM: Demos Commander - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

But due to its simplicity and small codebase it has more than historical value. The only dependency of the codebase in on ncurses, so deco is immensely portable and can be used as a troubleshooting tool on rescue CD and similar collection of tools where space is premium. 

Although not that powerful deco is lightweight (about 100K tar.gz source archive of version 3.9 versus 350K for MC) and feels faster than MC. As MC gets more bloated that importance of Deco increases.  Here is one email message from DSL Linux minidistribution group that confirms that MC is over the dangerous line (DSL Ideas and Suggestions :: Is mc a must... or any "Commander ...):

I just don't use any file manager, but I saw how passionately Midnight Commander was defended in the RC1 forum. I have a personal taste for text based applications over X only apps, a matter of pragmatism in case X doesn't start for whatever the reason.

At the same time, even as it was assured that MC will be in the next release, there was at least an intent of dropping it in favour of emelFM. Googling around (well, "Aptituding") I found deco, Demos Commander.

My question is: is it just a matter of having a text based file manager whatever it is, or is it that MC is badly needed for unique features not reproducible or attainable even in other "Commander" clones?

If we are going to need a text-based file manager (which I will because I break things all the time  :-) why not just leave MC and emelfm alone? Is deco smaller? I think it's better to stick with stuff we know because that makes life easier for newbs like me. I had never used Linux in my life until I installed DSL a month ago. Have mercy on us!  

Yeah, deco seems significantly smaller (twentyfold smaller?).

But I don't know to what extent mc 5MB figure have been tuned down in DSL compared to deco 250KB figure. Dependencies seems to put deco in an even more favourable position.

That is why I am asking if 5MB are really needed to do the job a tiny deco seems to do.

As there is a great difference in size, I assume mc is plentiful of features that deco has not, but I don't know what are those or if those would be really missed in DSL.

I don't know where you got the 5mb figure for's grossly inaccurate.  I'm not in DSL at the moment to see what the actual size is for DSL's stripped-down version of mc, but when i compiled the most recent version of mc it came out to be less than 500k without the syntax and extfs files (which i know are not a part of DSL's version)
On the previous DSL version, mc.bin was 432.7KB uncompressed.  Even smaller when compressed into the filesystem.

The latest version also uses GNU configure which makes it easy to port (esp. in comparison to 4 years old version). In other words deco is a kind of VC in UNIX environment -- small, fast flexible, portable and extremely useful for troubleshooting.

IMHO deco still is a valuable tool that is very useful if one does not has a root access to the system and thus cannot install MC (with its libraries) or if one maintains the system but cannot install anything on it (firewall, DNS server, etc). Among advanced features worth mentioning I would like to single out support of preformatted text in internal viewer (manual pages with bold/underline made by backspace-overstrike, etc.).

Deco can be downloaded from Project Info - Demos Commander.

As of 2010 it is still used in FreeBSD environment as an essential tool. See, for example demos-commander-deco-pod-freebsd (in Russian). Version 3.9_4 is available from Freshports and

Later Sergey Vakulenko  was probably the first OFM author who tried to integrate OFM into bash. See Bash Commander.

OFM - The open filemanager

The Open File Manager is a project by Raphael Bugajewski and is a C-written a console-based Unix file manager with a Norton Commander look&feel. Tared/gziped archive of source is 34K. It is really multiplatform and that fact represents huge advantage for system administrators. 

OFM is very good code base for somebody who wants to write a non-bloated but functional console based orthodox file manager. License is GPL.

The author states the following:

It is based on ncurses, and it is very flexible.

OFM was tested on You can get the source of OFM as well as Debian packages from two sites:


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Groupthink : Two Party System as Polyarchy : Corruption of Regulators : Bureaucracies : Understanding Micromanagers and Control Freaks : Toxic Managers :   Harvard Mafia : Diplomatic Communication : Surviving a Bad Performance Review : Insufficient Retirement Funds as Immanent Problem of Neoliberal Regime : PseudoScience : Who Rules America : Neoliberalism  : The Iron Law of Oligarchy : Libertarian Philosophy


War and Peace : Skeptical Finance : John Kenneth Galbraith :Talleyrand : Oscar Wilde : Otto Von Bismarck : Keynes : George Carlin : Skeptics : Propaganda  : SE quotes : Language Design and Programming Quotes : Random IT-related quotesSomerset Maugham : Marcus Aurelius : Kurt Vonnegut : Eric Hoffer : Winston Churchill : Napoleon Bonaparte : Ambrose BierceBernard Shaw : Mark Twain Quotes


Vol 25, No.12 (December, 2013) Rational Fools vs. Efficient Crooks The efficient markets hypothesis : Political Skeptic Bulletin, 2013 : Unemployment Bulletin, 2010 :  Vol 23, No.10 (October, 2011) An observation about corporate security departments : Slightly Skeptical Euromaydan Chronicles, June 2014 : Greenspan legacy bulletin, 2008 : Vol 25, No.10 (October, 2013) Cryptolocker Trojan (Win32/Crilock.A) : Vol 25, No.08 (August, 2013) Cloud providers as intelligence collection hubs : Financial Humor Bulletin, 2010 : Inequality Bulletin, 2009 : Financial Humor Bulletin, 2008 : Copyleft Problems Bulletin, 2004 : Financial Humor Bulletin, 2011 : Energy Bulletin, 2010 : Malware Protection Bulletin, 2010 : Vol 26, No.1 (January, 2013) Object-Oriented Cult : Political Skeptic Bulletin, 2011 : Vol 23, No.11 (November, 2011) Softpanorama classification of sysadmin horror stories : Vol 25, No.05 (May, 2013) Corporate bullshit as a communication method  : Vol 25, No.06 (June, 2013) A Note on the Relationship of Brooks Law and Conway Law


Fifty glorious years (1950-2000): the triumph of the US computer engineering : Donald Knuth : TAoCP and its Influence of Computer Science : Richard Stallman : Linus Torvalds  : Larry Wall  : John K. Ousterhout : CTSS : Multix OS Unix History : Unix shell history : VI editor : History of pipes concept : Solaris : MS DOSProgramming Languages History : PL/1 : Simula 67 : C : History of GCC developmentScripting Languages : Perl history   : OS History : Mail : DNS : SSH : CPU Instruction Sets : SPARC systems 1987-2006 : Norton Commander : Norton Utilities : Norton Ghost : Frontpage history : Malware Defense History : GNU Screen : OSS early history

Classic books:

The Peter Principle : Parkinson Law : 1984 : The Mythical Man-MonthHow to Solve It by George Polya : The Art of Computer Programming : The Elements of Programming Style : The Unix Haterís Handbook : The Jargon file : The True Believer : Programming Pearls : The Good Soldier Svejk : The Power Elite

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