Windows' built-in Explorer file manager has seen many improvements over the years. It now has features thumbnails, multiple folder views, and lots of other goodies. But it still lacks basic functionality, such as tabbed windows and a dual-pane view. If you occasionally feel the need for a file manager with a bit more oomph--but find Total Commander to be overkill--the free Q-Dir might pique your interest.
Q-Dir is a tiny application: Its executable weighs in at only 783KB, and in portable mode it uses just that single executable plus two setting files. You could literally fit it onto an old floppy, if you still have one of those lying around.
Q-Dir's initial display may seem a bit overwhelming: It features four equally-sized panes, each with an Explorer view of your file system. It's very much like taking four Explorer windows and gluing them together.
If four isn't your magic number, you can switch to a three-pane layout with a single click. In fact, Q-Dir offers no less than twelve different layouts, each accessible via a tiny (yet clearly illustrated) toolbar button. If you've always wanted a multiple-column layout similar to the Mac's Finder app, Q-Dir can easily accommodate that with a triple-pane vertical layout.
Q-Dir ships with multiple color schemes, with names like "I like Barbie" and "The Black is my color" (the author's native tongue is German). But when applying a scheme, not all window elements are affected and some retain their default system colors. The result looks like an odd potpourri of colors thrown together.
For added power (or complexity), every pane can contain multiple tabs. Simply hit Ctrl+T to open a new tab, and then Ctrl+Tab to switch over to it. If the idea of four Explorer panes, each with multiple tabs, is making you dizzy--I tend to agree. This complexity is exacerbated by the fact Q-Dir doesn't have keyboard shortcuts for switching to specific panes. So if I'm in the top-left pane and I wish to switch over to the bottom-right pane, I need to either click it with the mouse, or hit Tab six times (I counted) while carefully watching the screen to see what element now has focus.
The fact Q-Dir uses vanilla Explorer panes to display your files can either be an advantage or an annoyance, depending on your personal preference. Explorer was made to be as simple as possible, so operations such as selecting all EXE files in a folder (as you can with Total Commander) are too much for Q-Dir's humble capabilities. On the other hand, if you're very much used to explorer and just require a bit of extra power every now and then, you might feel right at home with Q-Dir.