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Dialog Extenders

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Best Open/Save Dialog Box Extenders

Most people don't know about open/save dialog box extenders, which is shame since these little programs can make your life a lot easier.  They work in the background and improve the functionality of the common Microsoft Windows open and save dialog boxes that are used from nearly every program.  You might not have given much thought to those built in dialogs, but the simple truth is that they suck.  After spending a few days with the programs below we think you'll probably agree with us that you couldn't live without one.

The main thing a dialog box extender does is let you expand the size of the dialogs, change to a different view mode (like details mode), and keep a list of favorite and recent folders you can easily navigate to.

This is not a category where one single program stands out clearly above the rest, and we recommend you try out any that sound appealing to you - this is probably one of those categories where you may viscerally respond well to some better than others.  However we did identify three utilities that we thought had the best combination of features:

  • Direct Folders (some nice special features)

  • Filebox Extender (very clean and simple and stable)

  • File-Ex (different approach using combo boxes, great file finder)

  • XFilesDialog (lots of buttons if that suits you; great per-application settings)

We think that the open source program DM2 has great potential to in this category in the long term, but is currently not suitable as an alternative to the shareware programs.

We are pleased to announce a 50% discount for members of DonationCoder.com who purchase Direct Folders, an almost 50% discount of the purchase of Quick Folders, a 30% discount on Filebox Extender, and a 25% discount on XFilesDialog and File-Ex..

Discounts have expired.

Review by mouser

WHAT IS AN OPEN/SAVE DIALOG EXTENDER?

In nearly every program you use on your computer, when you save and open a file, you encounter the Microsoft Open/Save Dialog.  You may not have given this dialog much thought, but that the fact that you interact with it so often means that even the minor inconveniences can add up over time to major annoyances.

Over the years a number of special utilities have emerged that run in the background (usually living in your system tray), and when they see an open/save/browse dialog pop up, they quickly hook into it and "extend" or "improve it" in a variety of ways.

The most common things done are to enlarge the dialog, sort the entries, and switch into an alternate display mode (many of us like details mode).

Perhaps most importantly, these dialogs can also keep track of recent folders and a list of your favorite folders, and make these available from an easy menu, letting you jump directly to these folders from the open/save dialogs.

This ability, to quickly navigate to recent and favorite folders, can be a life saver if you are the kind of person who keeps their files organized into nice hierarchies.

Some of the tools are minimalist in terms of what they add to the dialogs, and some are more elaborate; which you prefer may depend on your aesthetic preferences.

 

original vs. extended (sample using filebox extender)

 

FEATURES WE CARE ABOUT

Here are the features we consider most important for a good open/save dialog extender

 

THE AWARD WINNERS

Click on the thumbnails below for larger pictures:


Direct Folders

Cost: $25

Enhances folder browse dialog YES
Separate favorites for specific applications yes
Appearance buttons added to captionbar and option for overlay (see image on left)
Changes dialog size yes
Changes dialog view mode yes
Offers recent file/folder history unknown
Extras rollup, alwaysontop, adds folders to sendto menu, can change keyboard focus, info window around dialog (see pic on left); great goto application folder feature, filters
Customize favorites custom icons
Easy to add current file/folder yes
Exclusions yes
General customizability ok
Custom sorting yes
Works on MS Office dialogs yes
Last release Sep 2005, v2.42
Support forum available yes (here)
Lists available unknown
Access folders from tray icon yes
Memory for last file/folder no

Comments:

Unusual "overlayed" appearance - may be too over the top and obtrusive; does show free space and other drive info; can be disabled We loved the "go to application directory" feature.

Discount:

A 50% discount to members of DonationCoder.com is available; members redeem your discounts here.


Filebox eXtender

Cost: $20

Enhances folder browse dialog YES
Separate favorites for specific applications no
Appearance small button(s) on captionbar
Changes dialog size yes
Changes dialog view mode yes
Offers recent file/folder history yes both
Extras rollup windows, window ontop
Customize favorites yes, good, can custom name them too
Easy to add current file/folder yes
Exclusions yes
General customizability good, can shift captionbar buttons a bit
Custom sorting yes
Works on MS Office dialogs yes
Last release June 2005, v1.90.05
Support forum available yes (here)
Lists available recent, favorites
Access folders from tray icon yes
Memory for last file/folder no

Comments:

Nice subtle one-button appearance. Easy to add current folder. Works well on a range of dialogs and is very stable.

A 30% discount to members of DonationCoder.com is available; members redeem your discounts here.


File-Ex

Cost: $20

Enhances folder browse dialog NO
Separate favorites for specific applications yes
Appearance adds a lot of options to bottom of dialog
Changes dialog size yes; good options
Changes dialog view mode yes (details mode only?)
Offers recent file/folder history yes file and folder histories; per application too
Extras nice built in file finder
Customize favorites minimal
Easy to add current file/folder yes very good
Exclusions yes
General customizability very good
Custom sorting yes
Works on MS Office dialogs YES (a bit tricky, see instructions for importing templates - but works well)
Last release v3, date unknown
Support forum available no
Lists available recent files, recent folders, favorite files, favorite folders
Access folders from tray icon NO
Memory for last file/folder can reopen last folder used from an application

Comments:
Great feature set. Lots of options added to open/save dialogs providing. We especially liked the built-in file finder. After some struggle the makers of file-ex showed us that MS Office is indeed supported, it just requires a little extra work to import the right template; but once configured it worked well.  The drop down boxes are a bit ugly and it may be a bit overwhelming and obtrusive for some, but others may find them very useful and perfect for their tastes - definitely worth a try.

A 25% discount to members of DonationCoder.com is available; members redeem your discounts here.


XFilesDialog

Cost: $26

Enhances folder browse dialog YES
Separate favorites for specific applications yes
Appearance tons of little buttons to caption bar (can be hard to identify)
Changes dialog size yes
Changes dialog view mode yes
Offers recent file/folder history yes
Extras adds free space to caption, some interesting options for remembering dialog options/focus and more (see pic)
Customize favorites yes, per application
Easy to add current file/folder yes
Exclusions yes, good
General customizability very nice customizable settings for different applications (see pic)
Custom sorting yes
Works on MS Office dialogs YES
Last release v3.20 (date unknown)
Support forum available no
Lists available favorite files, favorite folders
Access folders from tray icon no
Memory for last file/folder yes, per application (nice)

Comments:

The multitude of nondescript caption bar buttons was hard for us to get used to, but the feature set is great.

A 25% discount to members of DonationCoder.com is available; members redeem your discounts here.


DM2

Cost: Free / Open Source

Enhances folder browse dialog NO
Separate favorites for specific applications yes
Appearance small button at top of dialog
Changes dialog size NO
Changes dialog view mode NO
Offers recent file/folder history NO
Extras tons of window management extras but very short on open/save dialog features
Customize favorites yes (nice)
Easy to add current file/folder no
Exclusions yes
General customizability good in general, but very minimal open/save dialog options
Custom sorting NO
Works on MS Office dialogs NO
Last release November 2005
Support forum available sourceforge forum, not active
Lists available favorite folders
Access folders from tray icon no
Memory for last file/folder no

Comments:

Very actively developed.  Support for plugins and some interesting plugins already developed (virtual desktop, window rollup and minimize stuff).  Major focus is not on open/save dialog boxes, and may not be the most reliable at modifying them. It's currently missing a lot of open/save dialog options and so is not yet a good solution for those wanting mainly good open/save dialog features.

 

OTHER PROGRAMS

 


Dialog Box Assistant

Cost: $20

Enhances folder browse dialog YES
Separate favorites for specific applications yes very good
Appearance button on top of dialog
Changes dialog size yes, remembers
Changes dialog view mode yes, remembers
Offers recent file/folder history yes (but mixes in with favorites)
Extras n/a
Customize favorites yes
Easy to add current file/folder no (a big drawback in our mind)
Exclusions yes
General customizability ok
Custom sorting no
Works on MS Office dialogs YES
Last release Jan 16, 2005, v2.1
Support forum available no
Lists available favorite files, favorite folders, recent files, recent folders (but favorites mixes with history)
Access folders from tray icon yes
Memory for last file/folder yes, folder

Comments:
We didn't like how favorite and recent lists were combined in view, but otherwise very nice simple and effective. Inability to add current folder to favorites is a big drawback, but otherwise we were surprised by how good it was.


Doc Commander

Cost: $20

Enhances folder browse dialog NO
Separate favorites for specific applications no
Appearance adds location bar to left hand side
Changes dialog size yes
Changes dialog view mode no
Offers recent file/folder history minimal
Extras n/a
Customize favorites not clear
Easy to add current file/folder no
Exclusions no
General customizability minimal
Custom sorting no
Works on MS Office dialogs NO
Last release March 2004, v1.20.14
Support forum available no
Lists available unclear
Access folders from tray icon sort of
Memory for last file/folder yes

Comments:

Add some nice functionality like search button, but its a bit awkward to use.  We found the interface a bit uncomfortable and confusing. Wouldn't exit from tray sometimes for us - test on your machine.


OpenWide

Cost: Free

Enhances folder browse dialog NO
Separate favorites for specific applications NO
Appearance nothing added to dialog
Changes dialog size yes
Changes dialog view mode yes
Offers recent file/folder history no
Extras can set focus on a particular edit box
Customize favorites no favorites at all
Easy to add current file/folder n/a
Exclusions yes
General customizability n/a
Custom sorting n/a
Works on MS Office dialogs no
Last release October 2005?
Support forum available no
Lists available n/a
Access folders from tray icon n/a
Memory for last file/folder n/a

Comments:

Just resizes and changes default view; does not track history or keep favorites. Not suitable as a complete solution. 


Ps Hot Folders

Cost: $20

Enhances folder browse dialog YES (nice)
Separate favorites for specific applications no
Appearance nice small button in titlebar
Changes dialog size yes
Changes dialog view mode yes
Offers recent file/folder history yes files and folders
Extras n/a
Customize favorites yes, very good
Easy to add current file/folder only through right-click in folder (sometimes good, sometimes bad)
Exclusions n/a
General customizability some
Custom sorting yes
Works on MS Office dialogs YES
Last release November 2004
Support forum available no
Lists available folders history, file history, favorites folders
Access folders from tray icon yes
Memory for last file/folder no

Comments:

Nice subtle one-button appearance.  Tray menu acted up sometimes (wouldn't display properly) - try on your machine. Has problem on multimonitor setups(!)


Folder Express

Cost: $20

Enhances folder browse dialog YES
Separate favorites for specific applications no
Appearance invisible (right click on close button; strange)
Changes dialog size no
Changes dialog view mode no
Offers recent file/folder history yes
Extras can add filters, assignable hotkeys, map folder to drive
Customize favorites yes
Easy to add current file/folder through right click
Exclusions no
General customizability ok
Custom sorting no
Works on MS Office dialogs yes
Last release April 2004, v2.01
Support forum available no
Lists available favorites, recent folders, recent files
Access folders from tray icon yes
Memory for last file/folder no

Comments:

Free life-time upgrades.  The triggering is a bit strange, but does work (right click on close button)


Folder Cache

Cost: $19

Enhances folder browse dialog NO
Separate favorites for specific applications no
Appearance button at top of dialog
Changes dialog size no
Changes dialog view mode no
Offers recent file/folder history yes
Extras n/a
Customize favorites yes, ability to customize display name
Easy to add current file/folder yes (didn't work with MS Office dialog)
Exclusions yes
General customizability good
Custom sorting no
Works on MS Office dialogs yes (but see above)
Last release Dec 2003, v2.6
Support forum available no
Lists available favorite folders, recent folders
Access folders from tray icon yes
Memory for last file/folder no

Comments:

Nice subtle one-button appearance. Easy to add current folder.


DialogXRsizer

Cost: Discontinued.

Enhances folder browse dialog unknown
Separate favorites for specific applications yes
Appearance either invisible (right click on captionbar - nice), or captionbar option
Changes dialog size yes
Changes dialog view mode yes
Offers recent file/folder history yes
Extras can kill some popups, can move windows which extend offscreen
Customize favorites no
Easy to add current file/folder no
Exclusions yes
General customizability lots
Custom sorting yes
Works on MS Office dialogs NO
Last release unknown (discontinued)
Support forum available no
Lists available unknown
Access folders from tray icon no
Memory for last file/folder no

Comments:

A favorite of many, the company just disappeared one day; offers some nice extra functionality.  We liked the different options for display (including cool invisible mode). We can't recommend a discontinued product for this category because with changes in dialogs you need a product that will be updated. Also, folder favorites are added to ie favorites directory, which is a horrible solution since it clutters up your ie favorites directories.


QuickFolders

Cost: $20

Enhances folder browse dialog NO
Separate favorites for specific applications no
Appearance nice button at top of dialog
Changes dialog size no
Changes dialog view mode no
Offers recent file/folder history yes
Extras map folders to drives, edit folder icons, adds favorites to sendto menu, set keyboard focus, edit places bar, can use hotkey to bring up files/folders
Customize favorites yes
Easy to add current file/folder yes
Exclusions undocumented; edit registry manually
General customizability good
Custom sorting no
Works on MS Office dialogs YES
Last release Sep 2005, v3.5
Support forum available no
Lists available recent files, recent folders, favorite folders (options for which to display)
Access folders from tray icon yes
Memory for last file/folder no

Comments:

No ability to resize dialog or change default view.  Nice extras.

Discount:

A 50% discount to members of DonationCoder.com is available; members redeem your discounts here.


FolderView

Cost: free

Enhances folder browse dialog NO
Separate favorites for specific applications no
Appearance button at top of dialog
Changes dialog size no
Changes dialog view mode no
Offers recent file/folder history no
Extras button on toolbar in windows explorer
Customize favorites somewhat
Easy to add current file/folder no
Exclusions none
General customizability minimal
Custom sorting no
Works on MS Office dialogs no
Last release unknown
Support forum available no
Lists available list of button
Access folders from tray icon yes
Memory for last file/folder no

Comments:

No ability to resize dialog or change default view.  This is a program which is probably only suitable for people who use windows explorer and want to add buttons to it for their favorite places; it's not a full open/save dialog extender.  It does support a button that can be added to open/save dialogs, though we had a little bit of trouble getting it to work.


Auto Dialogs

Cost: $20

Enhances folder browse dialog Maybe
Separate favorites for specific applications no
Appearance button at top of dialog
Changes dialog size no
Changes dialog view mode no
Offers recent file/folder history yes
Extras button on toolbar in windows explorer
Customize favorites yes but somewhat buggy
Easy to add current file/folder no
Exclusions none
General customizability minimal
Custom sorting no
Works on MS Office dialogs yes
Last release unknown
Support forum available no
Lists available list of button
Access folders from tray icon yes
Memory for last file/folder no

Comments:

More screenshots: here
May have trouble working on secondary monitor.

 

CONCLUSION

The most important information you should take from this review of open/save dialog extenders is that if you aren't currently using one, you need one.  They can significantly improve your workflow in any program, and after a few weeks you won't know how you lived without it.

The different programs have various bells and whistles, and they are all approximately the same price (barring any discounts).  Depending on your needs you may find one more appealing then another.

We identified a few core features that we thought were most important:

  With this feature list, the following programs seem to us to be at the top of the list:

But remember that this category is wide open, and you really need to try the various programs for a while before you settle on one that suits your way of working; your choice of best app may differ from ours. Some of them have better aesthetics than others and some more functionality.  And with such close functionality, a big discount might be a deciding factor.  Modifying the open/save dialogs is also something prone to some subtle issues - and we recommend you take advantage of any trial period to see how well the programs work over an extended period of time with your applications.

The programs that we've listed that tied for best-in-class each look and feel a little differently, so we can't emphasize enough the need to try them out to find the one that best suits the way you worked.

We did experience some issues with Microsoft Office - if you use Office a lot you may have to try different programs until you find one that works best for you.

There currently is no sufficiently good freeware tool in this category.  DM2, an actively developed open source alternative, with much larger ambitions than simply enhancing open/save dialogs, does not yet offer enough functionality to be used for this task.  However, we would not be surprised if this review and some prodding might convince someone to add such functionality to DM2.  Their support of plugins should make it fairly easy, and DM2 has the great potential to not only be competetive in this category but dominate it with a little effort.  So the possibility of a free contender in this category in the near future is great.

We are pleased to announce a 50% discount for members of DonationCoder.com who purchase Direct Folders, an almost 50% discount of the purchase of Quick Folders, a 30% discount on Filebox Extender, and a 25% discount on XFilesDialog and File-Ex.

Discounts have expired.

 

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