Use Visual Explorer to get your files in order—almost

Pros and cons:
+        Easy file manipulation and visual
–        Weak network interface
–        Manual setting required for each folder

Real-life requirements:
Windows 9x, 16M RAM, CD-ROM drive, 35M free on hard drive

Putting Visual Explorer on your computer is like flipping on a light in a dark room,
even if the bulb is a little dim.

Visioneer Inc., which made its name in desktop scanning, invented the useful desktop
navigation tool.

It shows thumbnails of all the graphics and text files on your hard drive.

Instead of having to launch several applications to open a bunch of files with mystery
names such as 124.gif, you can spot that budget chart or digital photo you’re

Visual Explorer is similar in many ways to the company’s earlier PaperPort Deluxe
software, which manages scanned images. But Visual Explorer is more expansive and easier
to use than Microsoft Windows’ standard text directories.

Heavy graphics users, Web programmers and multimedia producers will get the most out of
Visual Explorer, although anyone with lots of files to shuffle ought to try it.

Visual Explorer displays thumbnails of .bmp, .gif, .jpg, .max, .pcx, .png and .tif
files. Once you see the one you want, you have several easy file management options.

Double-clicking on a file opens whichever program is the default viewer for that file
type, showing the full-sized version. Or you can drag and drop the file directly into a
new folder, as with Microsoft Windows Explorer.

Visual Explorer’s built-in viewer is simple but good. Its zoom feature works more
smoothly than that of many dedicated paint programs. You can even change an image slightly
using the draw component.

For pixel smoothing and color manipulation, however, you’ll still need a separate
paint program.

Some minor problems hinder full navigation. When you initially load Visual Explorer, it
recognizes only the directories that came with the program. You must manually set up a
master list of each folder that you want to track.

This is easy but time-consuming. I wish Visual Explorer defaulted to track all folders
on a hard drive.

A more serious limitation is the interface with network drives. On the GCN Lab network,
I could not get Visual Explorer to show any shared drives. My personal network folders and
even shared folders were invisible.

The package’s online help did not cover network drives. After reading the
documentation, I found a way to view files that are not on a local disk.

You must open Windows Explorer and drag and drop into Visual Explorer the folders you
want to view.

But instead of tracking the folders that were off the network, Visual Explorer copied
the entire contents of the network files to my test system’s hard drive.

For users with huge graphics libraries, that is unacceptable. It defeats the purpose of
having a network for file storage.

Another annoyance was that the program defaults to not showing thumbnails whenever a
new directory is opened.

The files are represented as icons, but there are no pictures to help identify them.
You must either select each file you want to view and right-click to have Visual Explorer
draw a thumbnail or select an option to render every item in the folder at once.

I cannot imagine anyone installing Visual Explorer and then deciding not to use the
thumbnails. Turning them off as a default makes little sense.

Other features help make up for the shortfalls, although they seem targeted more to the
casual user than to the heavy graphics user for whom the program is intended.

For example, Visual Explorer can make thumbnails of text files from most word
processors. The text is difficult to read, but it’s easy to distinguish one type of
form from another.

Another powerful tool lets you capture and store Web pages, just like graphics files,
in whatever folder you designate.

When you click on a stored Web page, Visual Explorer shows the image and even links you
to the live page if it’s still active.

A final perk worth noting is Visual Explorer’s ability to color code folders on a
directory tree.

It can be extremely helpful. A user could drop private or encrypted files into red
folders and budget charts into green ones, for example.

Unfortunately, you can only view the color from within Visual Explorer. The color does
not appear on folders in the main directory tree.

Visual Explorer has quite a few quirks that take getting used to, but it’s
certainly a step in the right direction. At the very least, it will help you see your
files more clearly. 

About the Author

John Breeden II is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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