Saturday, June 02, 2007

Forklift: Norton Commander for OS X

I've never used a file management tool on any OS as good as John Socha's Norton Commander for DOS. Nothing in OS/2, GeoWorks, Commodore, Windows 3, 95/98, NT, 2K, XP, MacOS, OS X, Palm etc. Others must agree, there've been clones for years, including clones of clones by people who don't remember the original (FileCommander for OS/2 came closest to the original).

Norton Commander was like Symantec's MORE 3.1 or GrandView -- software so good it cannot be adequately replicated. NC even has a fan pages and an official history. It was the progenitor of what's now called an "orthodox file manager" (OFM).

So when TUAW wrote about a "dual pane" file manager for OS X I had to investigate. TUAW's writers are too young to recall NC, so they didn't mention it, but indeed ForkLift ($30) is an NC clone for OS X. They even use tabs to switch panes. There's no command line (odd omission really), but the Spotlight integration is well done and substitutes for NC's marvelous NCD command, no tree views, and sadly there's no real equivalent to the NC Alt-F10/NCD functionality (see below). (Now if only Microsoft would remember that search strings need to execute against folders...)

Will I get it? $30 is quite a bit for something like this, I think they should have gone for $20. It feels like a starting point rather than a finished solution -- there are no tree views for example. Still, I'll try it for a week and see ...

Update 6/3/07
: Alt-F10. That's what they're missing. That would make this worth $30, its absence makes this worth $10. Sometime in the evolution of NC, perhaps even NC 5, Symantec integrated NCD/Norton Change Directory (esp. see WCD) into Norton Commander. Tap Alt-F10, and the currently active pane was replaced with a tree view of the disk directory structure. Type a few characters and the view switched to the first match. Tap a quick key to move to the next match, always in the context of the tree. Hit Enter to switch the pane to the selected directory.

Brilliant. Nobody has done it better. This was post John Socha I believe; true genius in software requires multiple contributors working around a shared theme and vision.

The Forklift team ought to be able to leverage Spotlight and Cocoa to provide the indices and tree views, so much of the heavy lifting would be done for them.

I doubt they'll do it, but I'll send them a comment.

Incidentally, speaking of parts of the later NC that everyone's forgotten, there's NC Mail/NCMail. Symantec bundled the most efficient email app I've ever used with NC in the waning days of DOS. It was plain, but it was hyper-efficient.

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