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(slightly skeptical) Educational society promoting "Back to basics" movement against IT overcomplexity and  bastardization of classic Unix

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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Total Commander -- the leading GUI-based OFM for Windows


Total Commander (formerly Windows Commander, the name was changed in 2003 at Microsoft's request, as they consider that it infringed their trademark) is Windows GUI based OFM written by Christian Ghisler (Switzerland). It is probably the most well known and the most popular GUI-based OFM for Windows. After FAR, Total Commander (TC) is the second major OFM implementation in Windows world. This is a true shareware without expiration date or limited functionality (un-registered version forces the users to press one random choice button at the beginning of the session).

This is one of the oldest GUI OFM implementations. As of late 2012 it is more then nineteen years old -- Windows Commander 1.0 was released in the autumn of 1993. In 2013 the program will be 20 years old, a remarkable achievement, and testament of the talent and persistence of the author, Christian Ghisler

I have tested several versions starting with the version 3.03 which was released in July 1997. The version that I tested for this edition of ebook was 8.01 (August, 2012). For more info about this version and issues of usage see special page Total Commander (with several subpages such as Total Commander Usage TipsTotal Commander Keyboard Map, Total Commander Show menu and Total Commander Start Menu).

TC is written in Delphi 2.0, so it is an interesting demonstration of the superiority of this previously famous, but now long forgotten Borland incarnation of  Pascal for this particular type of applications ;-). But while Delphi as an implementation language is definitely superior to C or C++ for this kind of applications, it's still much lower level language then say Python or Ruby. As a result TC still is a pretty large program (over 100K lines of source code). As such it is very difficult and expensive to maintain and enhance, so progress in implementation of new features is slow. The last significant update was adding plug-in capabilities in order to be able to compete with FAR (and actually reuse FAR know-how in this area).  Ports to Android and iPad exist. 

All-in-all this is one of the best GUI-based OFM implementation, althouth Ghisler never tried to follow Norton Commander interface guidelines too closely (and until probably 2003 this was dangerous as too close resemblance could bring a lawsuit from Symantec despite the fact the look&feel of software interface is not copyrightable).

Comparing Total Commander with FAR it's instantly clear that true type fonts provide a lot more "real estate" then text mode and that shows. While FAR is still my primary OFM on Windows, I often use Total Commander instead of FAR because of larger "real estate" and because it its FTP client is better and more compatible with various FTP servers as well as with SecurID authentication on Solaris (in several cases I observed that FAR client cannot connect to the server, while TC FTP client can). Total Commander also has better search implementation then FAR, especially of data ranges where FAR is buggy.

The key deficiency of Total Commander is complete lack of understanding of semantic of the command line window. This area of functionality is limited to a command line and there is no way to expand it to see output of the script (althouth you can put pause statement at the end of the script and run it in full command window. Or pipe it into more command). 

Even more important omission is that there is no way to export value of interface variables to scripts that are invoked from the command line, so interface parameters can't be used as paramters by statements and scripts. Just try to type simple command line like

echo %P > test

to see results. Moreover, if you type

echo %P; pause

so that you can see output of the command that does not work properly.

Currently Total Commander treats the shell terminal window like red hair stepchild despite availability and great productivity enhancing potential of Powershell  on Windows. 

The same is true about integration of viewer and editor -- there is no export of "panel interface variables" to those environments.

Good thing is that more modern then in FAR set of context macrovariables was adopted by Ghisler (and is used in User menu, which is aptly renamed to Start menu). It is close to one implemented in Midnight Commander, so there is a hope:


Total Commander supports hotkey remapping (see Configuration/Misc). For example, if the menu item doesn't have a shortcut key, you can assign one. This was you can map to, say Ctrl-O a very useful command that makes the directory in the passive directory equal to directory in the active panel (Commands/Target=Source). Go to the Configuration dialog, and open the Misc  tab. On the bottom, you'll see the Redefine hotkeys area. To remap a key you need to choose the key combination by selecting the Control, Alt, and/or Shift  buttons first, and then selecting the key. After that select the command you wish to map the key to and click on the check button. The keyboard binding capabilities are pretty useful too. Another example is to bind Ctrl+J to invocation of the shell.

Some typical OFM functions are implemented in is a slightly different way, or are using different default hotkeys (F2 key functionality is present as the Start menu; Shift-F2 is used instead of F9-C-C for the directory comparison, etc).

Althouth Total Commander got plug-in functionality much later then FAR and it was based of FAR achievements, the current versions of Total Commander has functional plug-in API and a rich plug-in library second only to FAR. For example, there is a plug-in that allows users to access both EXT2/EXT3 partitions. That means that for dual-boot machines with Windows and Linux, Total Commander allows access to files stored on the Linux partition, while running Windows (truth be told there is a driver that provide access to Ext2 partition for Windows that can just be installed on the system). There is also a valuable plug-in which permits reading ISO files. See Total Commander - Plugins for the some examples (there are more on the Internet, not listed on the site).

As for most GUI applications a lot of efforts went to polishing GUI and some functionality can definitely be enhanced. Among possible avenue of enhancements which I would like to mention are the following:

An interesting feature of TC similar to Microsoft File Explorer is that you can drag-and-drop file (or group of files) from and to TC as well as the ability to work with the Windows clipboard. It can copy files from and to any Windows applications, supporting clipboard (such as Windows Explorer):

You can bind, for example, F12 and Shift+F12 to copy current file name(s)/current path  to the Windows clipboard. After that you paste them in any text application, including external editor used as well as PowerShell terminal window.

Compatibility with OFM1999 standard and shortcomings

Overall compatibility with OFM1999 standard is fair. Recent (November 2012) compatibility testing using OFM1999 v3 gives  Total Commander compatibility score around 63% which is less then FAR(88%), but higher then Midnight Commander(61%).

OFM1999 score (average of all 21 tests)   NC VC DN FAR Total
Scores   58 63 64 87 63 62 61 68

As you can see from detailed test results, in  many places Total Commander cuts corners creating difficulties for long time OFM users, especially those who are coming from Norton Commander, Volkov Commander,  FAR or File Commander background.  The major deficiency is absence of internal editor and absence of shell terminal windows functionality. Also attempts by  Christian Ghisler to extend and enhance classic Norton Commander interface, while commendable, were mostly not very successful. For example misunderstand (and "misunderimplementation" (borrowing from lexicon of unforgettable George W Bush  ;-) of information line at the bottom of the panel as shell prompt is definitely a deficiency, not an achievement. Using a single top menu entry for active panel also create difficulties as in some cases (quick view mode) it is not clear which panel is active and which is passive.  Moreover,  in quick view executables are not analyzed for typical strings and information about executables is not shown properly.  There is no way to specify "dirinfo" file for the directory which should be shown in quick view, so only statistics is shown (which is good nut not sufficient).  Information mode implementation (Ctrl-L) is also problematic. See below test-by-test discussion.

Interface look & feel

  1. Total Commander provides classic OFM interface with two symmetrical panels and command line at the bottom. Command line is not expandable to command screen. Symmetrical panels provide user definable fields and ability to switch to one of several predefined templates including horizontal panels. 
  2. Unfortunately there is no information line under each panel
  3. Both bottom and top menu are present. Top menu provides access to configuration and commands without shortcuts.  Bottom menu does not changes is you press and hold Ctrl, Alt, Shift and there is no "rolodex buttons" to see what operation are provided by F-keys with Alt, Ctrl and Shift prefixes. 
  4. There is a capability to position both panels horizontally
  5. No capability to expand command line to half screen or full screen.
  6. There is no separate menu for setting in left and right panels and this is a design blunder as it created plenty of  "Alice in Wonderland" behavior in complex situation, for example when tree panel is visible or if quick view is enabled.

Navigational and basic hot keys compatibility: 

  1. Enter key compatibility is weak. It is generally compatible as it allow to execute a command, but results of execution are no visible anywhere unless you pipe them into more (that trick does work, I checked) Also you can't enter multiple commands separated with semicolon. This is a blunder.
  2. The Tab key behavior is compatible
  3. Ctrl-\ is compatible (goes to the root of logical drive)
  4. Ctrl-PgDn and Ctrl-PgUp are compatible (move to the upper (current subdirectory) and lower level directory respectivly). The importance of this feature is that it permit exit from several level of directories without changing the command line that might contain partially typed command. This way you can assemble command line while traversing directory for its components, for example file names.
  5. Ctrl-R -- rereads the directory; works for virtual filesystems for example FTP VFS as well.
  6. Ctrl-U -- swap panels; Ctrl-U does not switch panels if one panel contains the tree view.
  7. Alt-F1 and Alt-F2 (Ctrl_Alt-F1/F2 In Windows) produces the list of logical disks.
  8. Ctrl-L switches to the information panel. Information panel should provide at least statistics about the current directory and current drive. If directory description file (by default file dirinfo in Windows implementations) is available it should be displayed as well. This part is not compatible and there is no way to define the dirinfo file.  The file that serve as dirinfo file should be user-definable with the possibility to define it with regular expression (this way multiple files can be defined, if desirable).
  9. Ctrl-Q should switch to quick view in which movement of cursor on the active panel changes the view of the file in the passive panel.

Shell Windows compatibility

Shell window is not implemented

Compatibility of F1..F12 and other F-keys operations

Tree View Panel compatibility

  1. Ctrl-F8 is used to invoke tree panel. You can to copy files to the tree target but target of passive tree is not highlighted (it is still visible in the information line).  This mode in tree part should have look& feel of Microsoft File Explorer. 
  2. Movement of cursor does not affect passive panel. Enter should change directory of the passive panel and Total Commander does exactly this
  3. Quick search in tree view works and is compatible -- you type letters and search using prefix is performed. Search should be activated. Jump to directories with the same prefix down the tree is implemented and works.  In quick search mode Ctrl-Enter should jump to the next directory with the same prefix (If no prefix is specified it find the next directory with the same name, if any). Note: search should be activated
  4. F5/F6 compatibility from tree view to passive panel.  -- compatible
  5. Noncompatible: Same nesting level navigation is not implemented
  6. Noncompatible: Quick view mode is not implmented properly. Should list content of each directory in info panel (Like In Microsoft File Explorer)
  7. Pressing Ctrl-Enter copy directory to the command line
  8. Noncompatible: F4 in treeview mode does not allow to edit directory attributes
  9. Navigation keys  Home/End and PgUp/PgDown work as expected.

Directory search panel (NCD panel or Quick CD panel)

Files Selection/Deselection

  1. Ins  behavior is compatible. It select a single file. Cursor moves one line down on selection; If Ins is pressed on already selected file it is deselected (toggle).
  2. Gray+ and Gray-  behavior is compatible. They  select and deselect file using a regular expressions (as a minimum, shell basic regular expressions). Basic regular expressions are supported, for example the expression *a*.*  selects files like my_bak.tmp and my_bat.txt, not all files). No support for Perl regular expressions
  3. Gray+/Gray- operations are persistent (second selection operation adds to existing selection);
  4. Gray *  inverts the current selection
  5. Named (savable/restorable) selection patterns are implemented
  6. Select by file type, date range or custom script (FindFile-style selection) is implemented
  7. Noncompatible: Selections history is not implemented.
  8. Ability to separate individual regex with ";" or "|" 
  9. Extended or Perl-style regular expressions support as an option not implemented.

Quick view compatibility

  1. Panelized Build-in viewer should be invoked for all files.-- Compatible.   Depending of type files are displayed either in text view or hex view.  Moves of the cursor up and down in the current panel in quick view mode should change the content of the current file in the passive panel with the viewer ( Infopanel)
  2. For archive content of the information files should be shown (list of information files should be customizable with a regular expressions (or a set of regular expressions), but default should include  File_id.diz, README,, readme.1st). In case no description is available the top part of the toc of the archive should be shown.
  3. For directories basic stats and dirinfo file should be displayed. Here is an example from FAR:
  4. For executables the header should be shown. In windows typical ownership info should be displayed, if it is present.
  5. If there are selected files exit from internal viewer in info panel should display the next highlighted file, not the next file
  6. In tree view Windows File Explorer mode should be implemented

Macro recorder compatibility

FindFile compatibility

Command line execution compatibility

Sorting and filtering file and directories in panel

User Menu

Additional file commands compatibility

Association management compatibility (extensions menu)

Compare directories

Good, well thought out implementation. The best I saw. Two commands are provided: classic OFM "compare attributes" command and synchronize command that provided additional comparison capabilities generally equivalent in flexibility with search. This is the only OFM in OFM1999 standard comparison test that got 100% in this particular test category:

Built-in viewer:

Built-in view in Total Commander is a very weak, in places sloppy implementation. This important part of Total Commander definitely did not get proper attention. Some details of implementation are simply wrong.

Built-in Editor

Archive virtual file system 

History and favorites compatibility

Advanced and interesting implementation features

Total Commander implements several useful extensions, which while not are in OFM standard  and might be better ways to accomplish things that those recommended in the standard:

Selected plugins

SFTP 1.04 by Hans Petrich

Sftp Plugin for Total Commander. Makes possible to connect to FTP servers via SSH.
332 KB - Updated: 12.11.2003

Virtual Disk 1.30 Final - Total Commander by Konstantin Vlasov

This plugin allows to mount disk images as additional drives. It works only under systems Windows 2000 and Windows XP/2003 32/64-bit.
One can mount ISO- and some of BIN- and NRG-images of CD, and arbitrary image files that are recognised by Windows (FAT and NTFS), including IMG-files - floppy images. When an image is mounted, there is a new drive appears in the system. Its letter is specified earlier, and the new drive contains all the content of the image file. Three modes
are available:
HDD - emulation of local hard disk drive.
FDD - emulation of floppy drive.
CD/DVD - CD-drive emulation (there is no difference between CD and DVD in the system).
Also there is the "Read only" modifier that allows to disable modifying of the image mounted. CD-drive emulation is always performed in Read-Only mode.

For the plugin to work it is needed to install the driver of the virtual drives (the "Install" command from the context menu of the file VD_Driver\vd_filedisk.inf).
In 64-bit Windows versions the driver installation must be performed from Windows Explorer only!

ISO 1.7.4 beta 1 - Total Commander by Sergey Oblomov

iso plugin for Total Commander (read CD-ROM images)

Complex TC burner 3.65

Complex TC Burner - magnificent addition for program Total Commander. Plug-ins are intended for recording CD – R, CD – RW, DVD+R/W, DVD+R, DVD-R, DVD-R/W, and DVD-RAM. Never before has process of recording of disks been accomplished with convenience such simple. Now Total Commander can do it all!
500 KB - Updated: 11.06.2007

Open File shell for TC 1.7c

Open File shell For TC is a utility for Total Commander that opens specific executable for each file extension when pressing F4 to edit selected file. E.g. pressing F4 on text files will launch selected text editor, on graphic files - graphic editor, on office documents - word proccessor, etc.
Category: TC Utilities
509 KB - Updated: 15.07.2007

WebDAV 1.2 by Christian Ghisler

Access to Web servers (read+write) via the WebDAV protocol over HTTP and HTTPS, also known as Web Folders. The Web server needs to have WebDAV services installed, which are available for Microsoft IIS, Apache, and many others
80 KB - Updated: 29.12.2005

Ext2fs+Reiser 1.3

Plugin to open Ext2 and Reiser file systems on your own machine! This is useful when you have Linux installed on the same machine (multi-boot) and want to access your files. For security reasons, this plugin is read-only. It combines two open source projects to access Ext2 partitions and Reiser partitions. This plugin is Open-Source (GPL). Sources included.
133 KB - Updated: 29.12.2005

ExeFormat 0.6a by Sergey Urbanovich

This plugin can show information about executable file. Currently supported are MZ, NE, LE/LX, PE(PE32/PE32+).
68 KB - Updated: 25.09.2006

(PDF)filter 1.05.51 by Vladimir L. Olovyannikov

The (PDF)filter plugin allows converting arbitrary file from one format to text, picture (BMP or GIF), and HTML, via appropriate converter and display it within the TC's Lister.
Besides, it allows opening of a PDF file by Adobe Acrobat ActiveX control
(if Adobe Acrobat is installed) wuthin the Lister. Multiple instances of Lister windows using the
Adobe ActiveX control are supported as well. However, Adobe Acrobat itself is not mandatory to be installed in order to view PDFs.
From my point of view, the best PDF-TEXT or PDF-HTML converter which can be used with the plugin is XPDF along with pdftotext and pdftohtml.
A buglist to discuss the plugin, to provide bugreports as well as wishes/wishlist has been created at
If youo wish to participate, please send an e-mail to [email protected] indicating your intention. The login for the buglist is [email protected]
Password: 12345678
Please note that [email protected] itself is a mailing list, therefore, as soon as you send a message, mentioned above, your e-mail will be added to that mailing list allowing you receiving posts by any users.
240 KB - Updated: 11.07.2006

SynPlus 2.7.3 - Total Commander by Sergey Chernyh, Vitaly Lyapota

AceHelper 0.3.4

Works on Windows 2000/XP and later

- Display of almost full information on working process.
- Opportunity change of process priority.
- Opportunity removal from performance of the chosen process (down to compulsory system removal).
- Display of information on loaded modules (used) by these process.
- Opportunity injecting modules to the chosen process.
- Display of information on threads started by these process.
- Opportunity of suspend/resume/terminate of threads
- Display of information about opened by this process of events/files/registry keys/drivers/etc.
- Opportunity of sorting and display on the chosen filter.
- Display of information on memory used by this process.
- Display of information on windows created by these process and their properties.
- Graphic displays of statistics of runned process (both real-time, and history modes).
- Display of information on opened ports and the established connections (only XP and later).
540 KB - Updated: 30.09.2006


Startup Guard 0.5.1

This plugin shows files, executed on Windows startup.
There are several places, where this files can be places to run:
Startup folder:
96 KB - Updated: 13.11.2003


Total Commander -

Windows Commander 1.12E (0.194 MB)
Windows Commander 1.50 (0.355 MB)
Windows Commander 1.61R (0.7 MB)
Windows Commander 2.11 (0.6 MB)
Windows Commander 3.03 (0.8 MB)
Windows Commander 4.51 (1 MB)
Windows Commander 5.00 (1 MB)
Windows Commander 5.10 (1 MB)
Windows Commander 5.11 (1 MB)
Windows Commander 3.53 (1 MB)
Windows Commander 4.01 (0.3 MB)
Windows Commander 4.03 (1 MB)
Windows Commander 4.50 (1 MB)
Windows Commander 4.52 (1 MB)
Windows Commander 4.53 (1 MB)
Windows Commander 4.54 (3 MB)
Windows Commander 5.00 (1 MB)
Total Commander 5.50 (1 MB)
Total Commander 5.51 (1 MB)
Total Commander 6.00 (1 MB)
Total Commander 6.01 (1 MB)
Total Commander 6.01 Beta 2 (1 MB)
Total Commander 6.02 (1 MB)
Total Commander 6.02 Beta 3 (1 MB)
Total Commander 6.02 Beta 3 (1 MB)
Total Commander 6.02 Beta 3 (1 MB)
Total Commander 6.03 (1 MB)
Total Commander 6.03a (1 MB)
Total Commander 6.50 (2 MB)
Total Commander 6.51 (2 MB)
Total Commander 6.52 (2 MB)
Total Commander 6.53 (2 MB)
Total Commander 6.54 (2 MB)
Total Commander 6.54a (2 MB)
Total Commander 6.55 (2 MB)
Total Commander 6.55 Beta 3 (2 MB)
Total Commander 6.55a (2 MB)
Total Commander 6.56 (2 MB)



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