Review: Commander One Finder Alternative

For all of the strengths of OS X, two of the complaints recycled year after year are the aged filesystem, HFS+, with its lack of file integrity, and the file manager, the Finder. While replacing HFS+ remains out of our reach, an alternative to the Finder for day-to-day tasks has been achievable for some time. Enter “Commander One,” a dual-pane file manager that seeks to fill in the holes that the Finder has famously left. Let’s dig in and see what Commander One has to offer.

Power users across the world celebrate and vilify the Finder, both for being a flexible file manger and for being needlessly cut off at the knees. Those comfortable at the terminal know that OS X, with its UNIX underpinnings, is much more powerful than its GUI cousin the Finder would have you believe. Commander One is an attempt to address those missing features. And it does an admirable job at that. Along with those options, of course, comes increased UI complexity. Here’s why I think that’s okay: Commander One is already targeting a subset of OS X users: if you’re looking for a file manager alternative, you’re probably not someone who is going to obsess about the numerous options or the use of ‘advanced’ terms like symlink or source/target. Given that, I think we should view Commander One as a software aimed at the already skilled user. And in that view, it’s a great tool.

Commander One is also written entirely in Swift, Apple’s new development language. Swift is still young, so it’s exciting to see a production quality application written in language not only because of its speed, but also because it serves as a proof of concept: real apps can be written in Swift.

The first thing you’ll notice when you launch Commander One is that it’s is a Finder “alternative,” not a Finder “replacement.” That’s because the Finder cannot be fully replaced anymore than Windows Explorer can be: it’s a low level system component, integrated into virtually every aspect of OS X. The file picker from “Open” and “Save As” dialogs? The box that opens when you mount a disk image or another volume? That’s Finder. What you can do, and I have done, is set Commander One to launch as a Login Item.

Login ItemsLogin Items

With 10.9 Mavericks, OS X introduced Finder tabs. These tabs, like a browser, enable you to run multiple Finder “views” at once. But their limit, obviously, is that they aren’t side by side for comparison, and they don’t make the draggability of files obvious. Commander One, conversely, is “dual paned,” which means that rather than tabs, you can actually see multiple folders side by side. Each of those views can also have tabs. Managing files is significantly easier when, rather than using separate windows which can easily lose their way in the active stack, folders are locked side-by-side.

You can perform a mass rename when you move files. You can queue large, disk-intensive operations for delayed execution, which can be critical, especially if you’re still using a platter hard drive. You can even use regular expressions for file selection.

You can search with regexesYou can search with regexes

The biggest challenge with Commander One is the learning curve of just how much can be done with it. It can do so much that it’s almost overwhelming, and in many cases, I found myself awing at the power without a specific use case in mind. I don’t know when I’d need to search for files in a directory using a regular expression. When I need to select all JPGs in a folder in the past, I just sorted by “Kind” and grabbed them all. In fact, the best reason not to use Commander One is that you’ve probably learned to live with all the limitations of your existing file manager.

On the other hand, the best reason to use it is that there may be a better workflow just clicks away. For example, if you find yourself often toggling hidden files, or copying file paths, or frequently performing operations on multiple files, you may be in for a treat. You can arbitrarily select files with the spacebar for a mass operation, but it’s a less finicky and less likely-to-lose-state solution than the current “hold Command” mass selection of the Finder.

That’s not all it can do: there’s native compression support (zip, rar, tgz, 7z, etc), view support for hex and binary files, a more robust network browser, root access, customizable hotkeys, and a history tool. Commander One is sometimes an embarrassment of options.

Hotkeys means total control over shortcutsHotkeys means total control over shortcuts

It’s not without fault. I did run into an error when I tried to remove a file that required elevated permissions. Unlike typical sudo prompting in OS X, I simply got an error refusing me access. While Commander One does support a “root” mode, the user mode simply threw an error.

An error with sudo operationsAn error with sudo operations

Commander One has tons of other goodies baked in: iOS and MTP management, terminal emulation, native mounting of FTP/SFTP/Dropbox, and network browsing, the list goes on.

So, the question is, will I be keeping Commander One as my file manager? Absolutely. And you should too, because it’s free! Although some features are stowed away in the “PRO Pack,” the majority are available to you right now. Your muscle memory may not allow you to replace all basic file management actions, but there are certainly times when the convenience of Commander One will win out, and you’ll find those fringe scenarios where the powerful commands of Commander One will come in useful.

You can find Commander One at Commander One supports OS X 10.11 El Capitan.


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