Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Take Command of Windows File Copying

Back in the DOS days, one of Jack's favorite utilities was Norton Commander. This was back in the days when Norton software was worth more than it cost. Today you wouldn't catch Jack spending a single penny for any of Symantec's crapware. (In case you didn't know, Symantec is now the company that owns and maintains all of the Norton software.) Norton Commander was the earliest file manager that has been somewhat duplicated by Windows Explorer (not Internet Explorer, but the File Manager, Explorer). It had two 'panes' and using the function keys - you know those keys at the top of your keyboard you rarely use), you could do a myriad of standard file functions (View, Edit, Copy, Rename, Delete, etc.). It was also easy to start, just type 'nc' at the DOS prompt to start it.

As of Windows 95 Norton basically turned NC into another version of Windows Explorer, which means you might as well use Windows Explorer itself.

A client of Jack's had committed the coffee backflip into the keyboard of his Dell notebook computer and watched it slowly die. The screen slowly dimmed until the Dell fell into a forever electronic slumber, never to awaken. Luckily for the client, the hard drive is rarely damaged in these cases.

After procuring a new desktop for the client, Jack was for the umpteenth time copying the files from the clients old hard drive to the new one, running it through a virus scanner on the way. I was using Windows Explorer

The many problems with Windows Explorer is that it: 1. Stops on all errors, meaning you have to figure out where it left off and painstakingly go through the file list and select the remaining files to copy, or start over, which is a pain because...; 2. On the new Windows OS's, it 'scans' over the files to be copied to make a determination of several factors and settings to be used in copying, so for a large number of files, it can be minutes before the files start copying; and 3. It takes forever to do copies across the network or even from hard drive to hard drive.

On Linux, I use "Midnight Commander", which is Norton Commander for *nix. Works almost exactly like the old Norton Commander. It doesn't work well under OS X without disabling some Function keys that have useful operations on the Mac. Besides, you really don't need it on OS X. Luckily, someone ported Midnight Commander to Windows.

Midnight Commander does stop on errors, but it gives you the options to skip the error and proceed, abort the operation, or retry. The 'skip' is the most useful. Its easier to jot down a few skipped files or directories than to have to start all over again. That and it is much, much faster. It only took it 10 minutes to copy an amount of data that would have taken Windows Explorer 30 minutes.

You can find links to other 'Commander' type programs at rmonet.com as well as more information on this type of program.

Jack Heartily Recommends it.

UPDATE: A new "Best 46 Freeware Utilities" list is up. Check it out for other good stuff.