xfm 1.3

xfm converted this file manager skeptic. After reading this review, you too may be swayed.

Using a file manager is a matter of personal taste. Some of the hard core Unix users prefer to type their Unix commands (probably not even using a GUI), while others click away at a file manager, which takes over some of the mundane file operations. As one of those people in the first category, I had avoided the use of a file manager until I saw the utility and the flexibility of xfm, which is one of the file managers supplied with the Slackware distribution of Linux (but you probably haven't configured it yet).

Not only does xfm provide the usual services of a file manager—allowing the insertion, deletion, copying and movement of files and directories, but, in addition, its Applications window allows you to start programs by clicking their icons à la Windows.

Figure 1 shows a sample File Manager window, with some of its many pixmap icons (that make it look a lot better than Xfilemanager, the other manager that comes with Slackware). The two yellow folder icons denote directories. The directory folder on the upper left with the arrow heads can be double clicked to go up a directory. The other directory folder (nextdir) shows there is one directory below the present one. Double clicking on it opens that directory. The other icons are for different types of files (there are about 35 different file icons to distinguish between files ending in such things as ps, gz, tar, gif, etc). Double clicking a regular file—the one in white—brings it up in your editor, while other actions are associated with the other file types: double-clicking a PostScript (PS) file brings it up in ghostview, and clicking a gif file displays it. Pushing the right mouse button on an file icon brings up a menu of edit, move, delete, information, and permissions, each or which then causes a dialog box to open for (or with) more information. These menu options are all self-explanatory.

The three the buttons, File, Folder, and View, at the top of the File Manager window have drag down menus. For the File button there are numerous options, including select all and delete, a combination that would empty a directory. Under Folder are the options make a new directory or go directly to a new directory, so that you don't have to click through the entire directory tree to go from top to bottom, chasing folder icons. Home is a convenient option as well. View changes the file display in the File Manager—files can be listed by name (much like an ls -l listing) rather than with icons. A portion of the directory tree can be shown instead or you may elect to show the hidden files.

To move files between directories, it is convenient to open several File Manager windows—one for each directory you are using—by clicking the right button on a folder—this time we get a new menu allowing open, move, delete, information, and permissions, so we chose open. Or we can drag a directory folder out of the File Manager onto the root window and release. The moving process is simply done by selecting a file with the left mouse button and then dragging the file from one directory window to the other. To copy files, you do the same using the middle mouse button. (Note: files must be copied, not moved, between different file systems, otherwise you get a cross-device error.)

The Applications Manager that comes along with the File Manager window can be configured with the applications that you use frequently—and it's not just one windowfull, you change to different configurations by using the toolkit approach. More about this later.

Some of the icons in my Applications window (see Figure 2) do the following: Double clicking the Xterm icon brings up a color_xterm with a scroll bar and tcsh, while dragging an executable program from the File Manager window and dropping it on the Xterm icon executes that program. Every icon can have two actions—one for double clicking, one for drag and drop. Dropping files onto the trash can moves them to a directory called .trash for later disposal. Dropping PostScript files on the PSPrinter icon prints them out.


Type xfm.install (a program included with xfm) will add the directories .xfm and .trash in your root directory and place several configuration files in .xfm. You may then modify these files to optimize the program for yourself. These configuration files include xfmrc, a file that associates file types to icons and actions, and xfm-apps that lists the applications and icons that appear in the Application Manager and the associated double click and drag and drop actions. xfmdev is a listing of devices (disk drives/CD) and the mount and umount commands (see “Linux Tips”, Linux Journal, April 1995 page 41). Finally there is a file for each of the additional “tool boxes” that you wish to add.

The man page that comes with xfm is very well written and explicit on its use. Be sure to read it before doing any changes.