New Projects - Fresh from the Labs

Sunflower—Twin-Pane File Management (

Anyone chasing a lightweight file manager is pretty spoiled for choice when it comes to Linux. However, lightweight usually brings along with it some nasty compromises—perhaps an awkward interface, hideous grayness, bad design or a total lack of aesthetics. Not so with Sunflower. To quote the Web site:

Sunflower is an open-source, small and highly customizable twin-panel file manager for Linux. It supports plugins. It is possible to run this application on other systems (Mac OS, Windows), but you will have to install necessary libraries (Python, GTK 2.0+ and PyGTK).

Currently, this program is still in the heavy development phase and is open for testing. I plan on releasing versions often during development.

Keyboard-driven twin-pane file management in glorious full screen—it's lovely!

As these blank options show, Sunflower is at a rather early stage in life.


Installing Sunflower actually went off without a hitch. I just downloaded it and it worked. The hardest part was finding it on the Web site, but that shouldn't be hard for smart LJ readers! Head to the Download Section, click on Sunflower, and at the bottom is a download link where you can grab the latest tarball. Download and extract the tarball, and open a terminal where you extracted the contents.

As far as library requirements go, I didn't have to install anything, but anyone with a minimalist system may have to. As stated above, you'll need Python, GTK 2.0+ and PyGTK. Once you're ready to go, run Sunflower by entering:

$ ./


Inside the Sunflower window, things feel like a cross between Norton Commander (hereby referred to as NC, along with its subsequent clones) and newer file managers, such as Nautilus, Konqueror and so on. Now I must say that this definitely is early alpha stuff, and as such, a great deal of features that most people take for granted are still missing, which is evident when you click on Tools, only to be greeted with nothing.

This current sparseness extends to the Options list where every tab also is empty (at least it was at the time of this writing). As a result of this, I recommend clicking on Settings→Show command bar, so basic functions, such as copying, moving, editing and others, at least will be provided for you at the bottom of the screen.

Nevertheless, don't let what I've just said put you off, because Sunflower has one supreme strength: it's delightfully keyboard-driven! It takes me back to the days of lazily browsing around inside the NC with only the arrow and Enter keys, without all of the comparatively headache-inducing GUI elements that were about to come, competing for your attention and getting in the way. As the keyboard is so essential to Sunflower, Here's a guide for your reference:

  • Ctrl-T: duplicate tab.

  • Ctrl-W: close tab.

  • Ctrl-Tab: next tab.

  • Ctrl-Shift-Tab: previous tab.

  • Ctrl-Z: open terminal tab.

  • Ctrl-R: reload list.

  • Backspace: go to parent directory.

  • F4: open text editor.

  • Alt-Letter: quick search.

  • Menu: open file/directory menu.

  • Ctrl-Menu: open with menu.

  • F7: create directory.

  • F8/Delete: delete selection.

  • F11: full screen.

  • Ctrl-F7: create empty file.

One of the first things you should try is pressing F11, which makes Sunflower go full screen, giving you that old NC feel but with modern GUI elements. You can open files and folders by double-clicking, but I recommend skipping the mouse entirely and just using the keyboard, with the well-known combo of the arrow keys for navigating up and down and Enter for opening or executing something.

Pressing Tab changes between the left and right panes, but unlike NC and its clones, each pane can have another tab added onto it, bringing this style of design ethic firmly into the 21st century. Something that seems to be missing in the Midnight Commander that I took for granted in NC is the ability to jump between the starting letters of filenames with two keystrokes (this saved untold amounts of time). Thankfully, this is featured early on and works well. Just press and hold Alt followed by whichever letter you're searching for, and you quickly can navigate inside huge lists of filenames with ease.

Sunflower may be a very early alpha, but it already feels pretty solid in parts and looks very promising. My apologies go out to developer MeanEYE for my constant Norton Commander references, but this old design ethic features here so prominently, and it's refreshing not only to see and feel it again, but also to have it re-interpreted in a way that fits 21st-century computing habits so well. Sunflower seems bent on keeping only what is necessary. And for those who keep stripping away, often to the extent where features and functionality are laughable, Sunflower retains what is genuinely useful over the last decade of computing, minus the bulk. Although this early Sunflower currently is far from what most people will be expecting from a file manager, as time goes by, expected elements (especially more mouse functionality) will make their way into the interface, and the beautiful design ethic behind Sunflower will really shine.


John Knight is the New Projects columnist for Linux Journal.