In the world of electronic user productivity and consumption devices like mobile phones, tablets, laptops and desktop workstations, everything is about using and managing files. The operating system is based on system files, your movies and music are all files, and the content you create, like letters, presentations, drawings and administration, are stored as files. In this article as part of my free Zorin OS beginner tutorial series I will discuss how to manage your files and folder structures in Zorin OS with the included Gnome Files file manager.
Distro version: Zorin OS 16 Core
Tutorial series: Zorin OS Tutorial Series
Note: This tutorial series is still in progress, so not all chapters are finished yet.
Why do we need to manage files
Like in the real world metaphor in which we talk about a physical folder, binder, or box for holding individual pieces of papers in a specific order to make it easy to find things in a later stage, for computer files we use the same principle. For computer files that were created today or in the past, that we want to find back at a later moment in time in an easy way, we should organize these files directly in a thoughtful way. When done properly we will later, maybe next week, next month, or next year, still be able to find these files without too much hassle. But there is no single perfect file managing system that suits everyone. Some people are structured and need a structured file organization system to feel at ease. Other people are messy in nature and find their way easily in a chaotic environment. And there are people who know they are chaotic so they know they need to compensate for that with an organized filing approach. Myself, I am relatively structured and I love order and overview, so I value a well-structured file management approach. For example, for my former photography business, next to my regular daytime job as a software engineer, I created a lot of wedding and family related image files. And because the starting point were the raw photo files I created,I had to create and share JPG files as an end result, so these raw files had to be stored, organized, rated and edited in darktable and saved separately as final files for my clients. Next to that I also made plans of approach, took care of my administration, wrote blogs for my websites and much more. In that whole process you collect and create so many files of different types for different clients, that you can no longer survive without a properly designed file organization system. And everyone has its own personal use cases and ways of file organization.
The tools to manage your files
There is a large group of Linux users who don’t use file management tools based on a graphical interface, because for many the Linux command line is almost a religion. And although I must admit that sometimes working with the command line has some advantages because of the really powerful options that make some unique complex file handling situations possible, for regular users of whatever distribution of Linux who just want to be productive and don’t want to remember all command line options, working with the graphical user interface is the way to go. As I made clear in previous tutorials, I will stay away as much as possible from all command line actions, if there are good graphical alternatives available that allow us to reach the same goal. For Zorin OS that is the included Flies application, but installing alternative tools is possible as well.
Files have different reasons for existence
To continue our discussion on files and how to use and manage them, we must make a distinction between system files, application related files and user files. In my article ” Simple explanation of the Linux file structure”
I already discussed the basic file and folder structure of most Linux distributions. Most of these system files and folders are of no interest for a normal Linux user, but some of these file locations actually are, like all your folders in your home folder, for example the folders Downloads, Documents and Pictures. But you also need to be aware about how to find your external drives in the media folder when you want to store your data from within a specific application on one of these drives, Or find an application file to start a specific tool if there hasn’t been a launcher icon automatically created for it in your application overview. So you have different reasons to be able to efficiently find files and folders.
The Gnome Files file manager
Like the Finder in macOS and the File Explorer in Windows, Gnome Files (further: Files) is the standard file manager available in Zorin OS. Files is a very robust and complete, but also simple to use file manager, which of course enables all basic required functionalities like browsing your folder structure, creating, moving and deleting of folders and files, but also offers for example highlighting a file by giving it a star so it can be found more easily on a later moment. Files enables us to manage files and folders on internal drives on your computer, your external drives and USB memory sticks, on your Network Attached Storage and even on your cloud storage.
In my opinion the developers of Files have thought a lot about what this Files application should and should not be able to do. Files is not the most extensive or comprehensive file manager. There are other file managers, which I will discuss later in this article, that can do much more and have much more specialized functions. But it is the balance between effectiveness and simplicity that makes Files powerful in a beginner friendly Linux distribution like Zorin OS, as it is easy to understand and use for novice Linux users.
Using the Files file manager
Because Zorin OS is a very flexible Linux distribution it is possible and simple to install other file managers as well. This willl be described later in this article, but for now let’s have a look at the standard Files file manager as included in the Zorin OS distribution. Keep in mind that I use Zorin OS 16 with Files version 3.36.3 at the time of writing, so when you read this post later in time things could have been changed a bit.
You can open the Files application in different ways:
- Super key (Windows button) + E
- Click on the Zorin OS Menu button and look in the Accessories group for Files.
- Click on the Zorin OS Menu button and type Files in the application search field.
Files has some standard sections, as depicted in the overview below.
2) Location manager
3) Folder and file manager
The tool bar
The tool bar offers some standard components like the window activity (minimize, maximize and close), and some Files specific buttons.
The tool bar contains a navigation section (step backwards, step forwards), and an address section that shows the location in bread crumb style.
Further a search button, an option to toggle the view (list vs icon view), view options and a hamburger menu for specific settings and preferences.
Via the button with the magnifier icon you can activate the search functionality. First of all you can type the name of the file you want to find in the search area and the search instantly starts. You can also use search criteria like .jpg or .txt to find all files with a specific extension. When you hit the button next to the search area you can open some search specific options like When and What. Here you can also toggle between Full Text and File Name.
Via the View Options button you can change the zoom level, so you can show smaller or larger icons. It also offers Undo and redo functionality, for example when you created a text file that you don’t need or when you removed a file too soon and want to revert. Further you can select all the column types to show different meta information on your files, like Size, Type, Owner, permissions, Accessed, Star and Location. This is on folder level, so the Files generic settings you can make in Preferences / List Columns (to be discussed later) can be overruled on specific folder level.
The location manager / Sidebar
The location manager gives a simple overview of all available locations, like some shortcuts to important folders on your computer (like your Home folder, Downloads and Desktop), the trash, starred files and folders and your connected devices.
Via the Other Locations options you can find This Computer, network locations and the option to connect to a specific server.
The folder and file manager
In this section of the Files application the actual folders and files will be presented. Here you can open sub folders, open files, rename files, etc. When you right click on a file or folder you will get a pop up menu with options like open, open with, create link, compress, send to, cut, copy, rename, move to trash and delete. Also you can give colors and emblems to folders and emblems to files to highlight importance or status.
The main menu
You can open the main menu by clicking on the hamburger icon.
The main menu offers different options. With the top icons you can open an extra Files window, open a new tab, or create a new folder.
Next you find the options to cut, copy and paste files and folders and to select all folders and / or files in the current folder. With the option Show Hidden Files you can toggle between showing or not showing the hidden files. With Show Sidebar you can choose to show or not to show the Sidebar which contains all locations and options to quickly navigate.
Via Preferences you open a new pop up screen with 4 tabs: Views, Behavior, List Columns.
In the Views tab you can change settings related to what is visible and not. Again, with Show Sidebar you can choose to show or not to show the Sidebar which contains all locations and options to quickly navigate. With the Sort option you can set your preference for how the order is between folders and files. With List View you will be able to expand folders, like shown below.
With Icon View Captions you can set up up to 3 layers of file information, like in the below example Size, Type and date last Accessed, but you have other options as well like Modified, Detailed Type, Owner and Star.
In the Behavior tab you can choose between Single click and Double click to open items. The default is Single click, but I personally think, from an old-skool perspective, double click is more logical on a non-touch PC. On a touch screen, single click is maybe a bit more convenient.
Further we see the option to show an action in the right click menu to be able to create a symbolic link. A symbolic link is a reference from a file to another file, like a shortcut. Further you can set up the default behavior for how to deal with executable text files (display, run, or ask what to do). And also your preference for the behavior of how to deal with the trash can be selected, so you have the option to directly delete files and folders permanently.
List Columns tab
In the List Columns tab you can select all the column types to show different meta information on your files, like Size, Type, Owner, permissions, Accessed, Star and Location. This will only reflect in the list view as it is a column based view. Also you have the option with an arrow up and down to change the order of these columns.
Search & Preview tab
In the Search & Preview tab you have options to set how widespread your search will be, on your computer only or in all locations. As already mentioned Files can show small lifelike thumbnails of for example your jpg files and here you can choose if you want to see those or not and where. Showing thumbnails can be slow if you have folders with thousands of images for example, so you can also set the maximum file size for which thumbnails will be shown. Further you can choose if you want to see the count of the number of files in a folder.
Via the menu option Keyboard Shortcuts you get an overview of all the available shortcuts to control your Files application via the keyboard. Here you find shortcuts in the categories General, Opening, Tabs, Navigation, View and Editing.
Some functionalities explained
Files has a simple option to preview a file without the need to open the actual application it was created in or is normally assigned for. You can just select a file and then press the space bar on your keyboard. Now a simple preview screen will open. Hit the space bar again and it will be closed. You can use this powerful option for all kinds of file types.
In Files you have the option to split the view, so it is possible to compare two folder structures or the content of two folders. While it is easy to activate via the New Tab option, I must admit that I always start two instances of Files to achieve the same. There is no discussion of better here, it has all to do with your own preferences.
In the search functionality you also find the When and What options. With the When option you can set up a more detailed search based on days, weeks, last modified, or last used.
With the What option you can set up a more detailed search based on the type of files, like Documents, Illustrations, Music, or Spreadsheets.
You can further adapt your search preferences by opening the Zorin OS Settings. In Settings go to Search and click on Search Locations.
Here you can select or deselect the folders which are used in the search by the Files application.
Disconnecting external drives
If you want to disconnect an external hard disk or USB memory stick from your computer, you should never do that without unmounting first. You do this by clicking on the eject symbol next to the device. If this symbol has disappeared you can safely disconnect your device.
In Files you can sort your files and folders on for example file name, size, type and modification date, by simply clicking on the column header. You can add extra information columns by going to Menu / Preferences and then selecting the List Columns tab.
You can share a file or multiple files via email directly from the Files application. Just right click the file you want to share and select the Send to… option in the popup menu. From here an empty mail within the standard mail application will be opened with the file already attached in it.
Directly from the Files application you can create archive files, or more common, a zipped file. Select one or more files, right click and select Compress… From here you can select .zip, .tar.xz or .7z as format. Give a name and click Create to create an archive.
You can create your own template files, next to those that already are available. When you right click in the Files application on an empty spot, you can select the option New Document. Here all templates will be shown. In this list you can also show your own templates. To make this possible create for example in LibreOffice Impress a presentation file with your standard layout, header, colors, etc. Save this file in the Home/Templates folder. Now open for example the Documents folder, right click on an empty location and select New Document. Now you see your own template as an extra option.
Alternative file managers
Although Files is the standard file manager in Zorin OS, it is not the only application you can use to manage your files. There are many more file managers that you can simply install in Zorin OS. If you want a file manager with much more options than what Files has to offer you can try out Dolphin, Krusader or Nemo. To install Krusader, just open the Software center application and search for Krusader. Click Install.
Krusader is an application from the developers of the KDE Plasma desktop environment. This desktop environment is well known for its flexibility to change everything to your liking. Also in Krusader you see more fine grained options compared to the Files application. It all depends on preference. Use Files if you like simplicity. Use an application like Krusader if you want to have more options.
Files, the standard file manager in Zorin OS, maybe looks simple but is a very powerful tool available for you to fulfill all your basic file management needs. It offers a stable foundation, nice user interface, speedy performance and good basic search functionality. In this tutorial I showed most functionality that Files has to offer. But of course if Files is not your cup of tea, you can download and install other available file managers as well, like Konqueror, Nautilus, Dolphin, Nemo or Krusader.