XTree for Windows: popular file manager gets GUI
by Alan Zisman (c) 1992. Originally published in Our Computer Player,
November 20, 1992
Windows comes with a collection of basic utilities and
programs -- enough to get you going, but all in all, pretty basic
stuff. Very few Windows users are satisfies for long word processing
with Write, or (yucch!) telecommunicating with Terminal.
Even though version 3.1's File Manager is much
improved over the slow, feeble program that accompanied version 3.0,
there's still a lot missing. Enter XTREE. Their DOS-based products have
a long, solid reputation for power and ease of use. Now they've entered
the hot Windows market with (what else?) XTree for Windows.
XTreeWin is an interesting product. It's powerful, but
sometimes awkward. It's packed with features -- there are over 50 file
viewers. You can easily view word processor, spreadsheet, database, and
even graphics documents without opening them. It has the best archive
management I've ever seen (ZIP format only, though). It even lets you
transfer files between computers connected by serial or parallel
Despite all these features, it is sometimes difficult
to use, and confusing to configure. Old-time XTree users are unhappy
because it doesn't support XTree (DOS) command keys. But it's not
entirely at home with the Windows interface, either. Take deleting a
few files, for example. Select the files, press delete (or choose
delete from a menu, or click on the trash icon--- so far so good). Up
pops a dialogue box. By default, a box labelled "ask before each
deletion" is checked. You have to stop and uncheck it if you want all
your files to go... and each time you repeat the process, you have to
do it again. There's no way to uncheck this by default. Okay, maybe
that's a handy safety feature. So now you press Enter, right? Well
pressing Enter cancels the process... the opposite of every other
dialogue box in the Windows environment. Again, you have to click on
the Okay button. Another safety feature? Maybe. But do we all need this
much hand-holding? I'd like the option to configure it to my needs.
Similarly, creating a new directory is too difficult.
If my C:\DOS directory is the active window, I'm only allowed to make
subdirectories of C:\DOS... there's no way to create a C:\UTIL
directory without fiddling with the open windows on screen first.
Silly. File Manager, and even the DOS command line let me create a new
directory anywhere, even on another drive, as long as I type the full
It is easy to set yp XTW so that it will seem to take
forever to load. It is tempting to create one large tree, combining all
your drives, and have the program read all your directories every time
it loads up. Understandably, this will take a while. Resist temptation,
and set it up so that opens with a few directory windows open, and
doesn't need to determine the size of a directory until you actually
work with it. If you do that, you will find it a quick performer.
I'd like to see drive icons along the top to speed up
opening a directory window on a new drive (like File Manager or Norton
desktop), and I'm still sometimes unsure whether to use the left or
right mouse button.
Despite the version 1.0 awkwardness, what XTreeWin
does well, it does very well.
If you often work with ZIP files, its features in this
area may make it worth the price. It treats ZIP files as a directory, a
very simple, but very powerful idea. Double click on a *.ZIP filename,
and a directory window opens up. You can view files from that window,
just like any unarchived file. You can copy files from that window to
another location, and the files are copied, automatically unarchiving
along the way. If you copy files into a ZIP file, they are
automatically zipped up... select a group of files, choose copy, select
a filename ending in ZIP as the target, and they're automatically
compressed. No command line to remember, and you don't even need a copy
of PKZIP/UNZIP to use it. Very slick.
The file viewers are equally well implimented. You can
select a file and click on view, or you can keep an automatic view
window open. If you do, any file that you select will be automatically,
and quickly viewed. Spreadsheets will appear in spreadsheet format,
word processors as text. Graphics appear as (surprise !) pictures. Over
50 file formats are supported, including most popular formats. You
don't need to have the application that created the file in order to
Tie two computers together with a cable, run a small
DOS TSR on each, and open XTree-Win on one of them. (You don't need XTW
or even Windows on the other). The drives on the second computer will
appear as drives on the first (as long as you've set the LASTDRIVE=
command in config.sys to provide enough letters). Copying files between
the two computers is as easy as copying files between two drives on a
single machine (though a bit slower).
XTree for Windows is a partial competitor to the
popular Norton Desktop for Windows. Both provide an alternative to File
Manager, both include file viewers. XTW is less ambitious, however. It
doesn't provide a wide range of utilities, or attempt to replace
Program Manager as a way to launch programs. Unlike NDW, it doesn't
want to be your Windows 'shell'. For many users, this modesty is a
blessing. XTW is cheaper, faster, and takes much less hard drive space.
Its strengths... ZIP support, file viewers, and file
transfer between computers are extremely well implimented. Put its
sometimes awkward moments down to adolescence, and you've got a
contender-- a strong program that still has room to grow.
from XTREE Company
4115 Broad Street, Bldg. 1
San Luis Obispo, CA
Requires Windows3.x compatible
computer (286 or better) with
at least 2 meg RAM, 4 meg free
hard drive space.
Cost $49.95 (will soon rise to $99)
(Note from the year 2003): The above
article was originally published in 1992, as a review of XTree for
Windows. A decade and more later, I've gotten a series of emails from
XTree fans hoping that I could sell them a copy of XTreeWin or direct
them to a place where it is still available. While I have reviewed
software since 1991, I am not a vendor of XTree or any other product. I
suggest to everyone looking for copies of older software to check at eBay
or at OldSoftware.com. If
checking to buy a copy of XTreeWin, you may also want to look for PC
Tools File Manager for Windows. Central Point, who produced PC Tools
purchased XTree shortly before being themselves purchased by Symantec,
and the PC Tools File Manager was really a renamed version of XTreeWin
(with an interface more similar to the Windows 3.1 File Manager than to
the classic XTree). Here's a link to my 1994 review
of PC Tools File Manager. The XTree Fan Page website is a
worthwhile resource for any fans of XTree (DOS or Win versions) and
includes download links for a number of modern programs designed to
appeal to XTree fans.
-- AZ (September 15, 2003)