"Linux Gazette...making Linux just a little more fun! "

FileRunner: A New Tk/Tcl File Manager

by Larry Ayers

Copyright (c) 1996

Published in Issue 9 of the Linux Gazette


Recently I happened upon a new Tk-based filemanager, written by Henrik Harmsen, who evidently lives in Sweden. I've been using TkDesk quite a lot lately (see my review in LG #8) so at first I was struck by the resemblance, but the program upon further exploration comes from a different philosophy of file-management and fills a different niche in the Linux software world.

Amigan Origins

I'll let Henrik Harmsen relate to you FileRunner's origins:
On my good old Amiga, there were a few great file managers called things like DirMaster and Directory Opus. They were very simple (in concept) but highly usable. Especially I came to love the two-filelistings-and-command-buttons concept which is what I've done in FileRunner. It's a fast and intuitive way of doing file handling commands as very many file commands (mv, ln, cp etc) are happy with a source and a destination argument. It also works great for commands that only take a list of source files, like an image viewer and an editor. I was considering the way the FileManager in Windows displays directory trees, but I came to the conclusion that those tree views are more often than not a nuisance to navigate. Instead I implemented the cool Directory menu that can take you anywhere in the file system by mapping directories to sub-menus (even the ".." directory :-). So, basically I just wanted to get back the high usability I had with the old file managers on the Amiga (plus add my own stuff like FTP browsing, the history and hotlist etc).

I had a look at a few other file managers for Unix/X11 but none of them were even close to the convenient two-filelistings-and-command-buttons concept. Some were bloated, some wouldn't compile, some needed Motif etc, and none were intuitive (to me :-). So I set out to create my own. Why am I just not a happy TkDesk user? Well I started working on FileRunner long before TkDesk came out and TkDesk wasn't quite what I was shooting for so I continued on FileRunner. That also gave me exactly the file manager I wanted, of course :-)

After I read the above explanation, I realized what FileRunner reminds me of: I used to use a Norwegian OS/2 filemanager called Dirmaster, which was also inspired by the Amiga filemanagers of yore. It had a layout similar to FileRunner's, with programmable function buttons and twin directory panes.

It's interesting that software has been around long enough that traditions have evolved. In the text editor world there are emacs, vi, and "windows/CUA" strains of editors, while many filemanagers have followed either a "Norton Commander" tradition, an Amiga tradition, or a mouse-based iconic tradition, with various hybrid strains emerging and recombining.


FileRunner will inevitably be compared to TkDesk, as they share many features and are both Tk-based. The two programs aren't really designed for the same purposes, though. TkDesk is more of a desktop manager combined with a filemanager, as it has an integral icon-bar which can serve the same purpose as Fvwm's buttonbar, or several other similar utilities. It's best used as an app you would open when starting an X-window session and leave open for the duration.

FileRunner is a much less resource-hungry application which starts quickly and lends itself to quick tasks followed by dismissal. It uses around one-third the memory TkDesk uses. It is probably a more appropriate choice for a slower, memory-constrained machine, whereas if you have a fast CPU with plenty of RAM TkDesk or Moxfm will run well without using a disproportionate amount of your system resources.

Among the many thoughtfully designed features in FileRunner, the following I found to be particularly useful:

Here's a screenshot of a Filerunner window:

FileRunner also has a feature which has become fashionable lately in many of the newer apps: quick rereading of the configuration file(s), allowing customization to be done quickly. I first saw this in Fvwm; it's a real time-saver.


FileRunner is almost entirely mouse-based in this first release. I like to use a mouse, but I'm fond of arrow-keys and page-up and page-down keys as well. Henrik Harmsen mentioned in an email message that keyboard support is in the works.

When using the FTP function, any downloading activity prevents you from doing anything else until its done. A separate process or thread would be nice for this. One way around this limitation is to open another instance of FileRunner. The program is small and fast enough that this is feasible.

Aside from these two minor complaints, I found the program to be stable and reliable. It's a relatively small download; why not give it a try?


As of August 15, 1996, FileRunner can be found in the /pub/Linux/Incoming directory of ftp://sunsite.unc.edu and its mirrors. I imagine that it will eventually be moved to /pub/Linux/X11/xutils/managers.
Larry Ayers<layers@vax2.rain.gen.mo.us>