The XTree Alternative

To Filer, X-Finder, Norton Commander, Stereo Shell, add one more file manager program. A veteran user of XTreeGold extols its benefits.

By Robin Clarke

I have used the XTree file manager program for as long as I can remember; yet I have seen little reference to it in Palmtop literature. I hope that my enthusiasm for the program will come across in this article and encourage you to recover a copy of XTreeGold 3.01 from your DOS archives and try it on the Palmtop. If you don't have a copy of XTree, skim this article to see if the program does something that you like. Then add an item to your ToDo list to look for a copy of XTreeGold on the World Wide Web. The program occasionally will come up for sale. However the "for sale" sign turns to "sold" usually within a couple of days. It's still a popular application.

The Symantec Corporation holds the rights to XTreeGold, but no longer sells or supports it.

A Little Background

In 1985 Executive Systems introduced the first version of XTree. The file manager program used a new, for that time, "graphical" directory tree presentation. It was one of the first programs that tried to save computer users from the dreaded DOS prompt.

Over the next eight years, Executive Systems added more and more features to XTree and changed the name to XTreeGold 3.01. In 1993 the parent company merged with Central Point Software which, in turn, was gobbled up by Symantec.

In 1994 Symantec introduced XTreeGold, version 4.0 but that version was only for Windows. Since then, there have been no new versions. However, the XTree style still lives on in Windows 95/NT where Norton Navigator and Norton NT Tools File managers can be configured to run in "XTreeGold mode".

In essence, XTreeGold (XTG) is a powerful and easy to use file manager with a multi-window display. XTG lets you create, view, edit files and run programs. It also lets you extract and view files from compressed archive files.

Like Lotus's Magellan, XTG has a lot of "viewers" for looking at documents from various word processors. Also like Magellan, most of these viewers are out of date and not very useful. However, the default, generic viewer is quite capable and can be configured to make almost any file viewable. The viewer can enforce word-wrap and filter out high-order (garbage) characters. You can also set up the program not only to view but also edit both text and binary files with the built-in hex editor.

File-list and view windows may be simultaneously displayed for rapid search through the contents of numerous files. It has an undelete function and can use its own or an external file editor. For example, I have PalEdit set up as my preferred editor.

One of the best features of XTG is its application launcher. This operates through a menu system that lets you perform any number of different operations on a file.

Although a complete installation of XTree is quite large in Palmtop terms, you can get by with about 300 Kbytes and still have 90% of all the functions of the program.

XTree will run under System Manager, however, it will only perform the simplest of tasks when used this way. If you ask it to do more than the memory of the computer will allow, XTree will gracefully advise you that it doesn't have enough memory to do what you want. A simple solution is to use XTreeGold in conjunction with MaxDOS or in a separate Software Carousel session.

XTree Lets You Have It Your Way

XTree is highly configurable. However, the default, basic screen will look somewhat like Screen 1.

Screen 1: XTreeGold's default opening screen shows a directory and a whole lot more.

The largest window is a directory tree. In this configuration you can view only the root directory and its subdirectories. The window at the bottom of the screen shows the names of the files in this directory. There are only four files shown since the option to show all the files' details is in effect. You can change this to show more file names with fewer details.

The window on the right gives disk statistics. This introduces the first XTree curiosity. Only files which have been "logged" are part of the statistics data. In this case the logged files are those in the root directory. This screen shows the pull-down menu having been activated revealing the options under "Volume".

If the pull-down menu is not activated, file management options are displayed at the bottom of the screen, as in Screen 2.

Screen 2: File management options appear either at the top or the bottom of the screen in XTreeGold.

The options presented with these commands represent the heart of XTree's personality. They allow single-letter commands, visible as the capitalized, first letter. Different shading reinforces this but the shades of grey did not survive the screen capture process. Screen 2 demonstrates much more about XTree. It shows the optional split view of two different directories. On the right is a fully recursed view of the directory tree along with the files in one directory. Since the files show no additional data you can squeeze eight file names into the window. On the left is a "large" file view. This shows the full contents of the XTree directory that fortunately just fits here. Another personality feature of XTree is that successive pressing of the Enter key cycles between


cursor-in-a-small-file-window and

cursor-in-a-large-file-window, as in the left-hand screen.

This may take some getting used to, but it constitutes a very quick and convenient way of navigating about. You can change or eliminate this feature if you don't like it.

XTree uses the Alt and Ctrl keys to expand the number of options that are accessible with single-letter commands. Pressing the Alt key brings up the options shown in Screen 3. Actions such as Copy and Move appear to be duplicated on both screens but there are differences. On the main screen, these operations apply to the highlighted file only. With Ctrl they apply to all tagged files and with Alt they also apply to all tagged files, but will copy/move the path as well. XTree is interactive. It describes what it is about to do and asks for confirmation. If you don't like this, you can change it.

Screen 3: XTree uses ALT and CTRL keys for various types of copying and moving of files.

The operational focus of XTree is on files. Operations on directories, for example trying to preserve a directory structure as you move and copy files, is not an XTree specialty. If XTree has an Achilles heel, this is it. For these operations, Filer in System Manager is a better choice.

Screen 3 also demonstrates the "Branch" command that displays all logged files in a branch. In this case I've selected the root directory and told XTree to show a two-column display with the file sizes and to sort the list on the size from the largest to the smallest file. This is a quick way to find any unwanted, space-hogging files!

Screen 4 is an example of the XTree full-screen view. It shows part of the README file for GEMCAP, the program that I used to capture these screen images. The text in this screen serves as a useful illustration of the power of the alternative hex view/edit, which is presented in Screen 5. It shows displayed as hex on the left and ASCII on the right. The README file describes a tricky process for changing the "hot-key" in the GEMCAP program. Typically you'd have to use the DEBUG program, but with XTree I only had to locate the relevant bytes in GEMCAP (42 followed by 00 on the first line) and edit them as hex values. The Tab key toggles the cursor between the hex and the ASCII work areas. You can use this editor to write ASCII text if you like, but it is not recommended!

Screen 4: An example of a full screen view in XTreeGold

Screen 5: XTree comes with a hex editor built in.

Screen 6 shows the XTree menu system, accessed by the F9 key. The menu presents a list of the available operations, each of which has an associated script of up to 17 lines. The scripts are essentially DOS batch commands. However, XTree uses its own interpretation of the batch language's "%1" parameter. In XTree "%1" represents the current file, "%2" stands for the directory and "%3" stands for the path. With this interpretation, you can, for example, select the image viewers PICEM and LXPIC to display a file or to open in file-list mode in the chosen directory. In addition to the menu, every file extension can be associated with a particular batch file. This lets you select a file with a .DOC extension and call the PalEdit program whenever you issue the "Open" command in XTree.

Screen 6: XTree also has a very customizable menu system for launching applications.

The utility of the XTree application menu is evident from the range of applications listed in Screen 6. Apart from opening Word, HV or the Palmtop icon editor (ICON200), you can run compression programs like Diet and XINE on chosen files. The XTree menu allows you to Diet and UnDIET in seconds. XINE is on the Palmtop's D: drive. HP chose it to expand other files on the D: drive such as the KEYBEZ "kit" files. XINE is bi-directional and recognizes whether the file on which it is to operate is normal or already compressed. It also achieves a quite reasonable compression, though not competitive with PKZip, and is incredibly small at less than 2 Kbytes. However, it is slow!

XTree also handles existing ZIP archives. When a selected ZIP archive contains directory information, the contents are initially presented in a Zip-version of the usual XTree dual-window display with fully recursed subdirectories above the small file window. If no directory or path information is present in the archive, zip-file contents simply come up in the large file window. Creation of (or addition to) existing ZIP archives is handled separately within the standard XTree windows. XTree does not directly support any other compression formats but most operations with these could easily be written into application menu scripts. Earlier versions of XTree could handle PKZip 2 files in a similar way.


Several people have petitioned Symantec to offer XTreeGold as "giveaware" as Lotus has done with Magellan. Pending a reply from Symantec, you can try an evaluation copy of the earlier XTree 2.0 program, available on the XTree Fan Page on the World Wide Web. Let me mention, however, that version 2.0 is not the same as XTreeGold 3.01. It is limited, not configurable and does not handle the standard PKZIP 2.04g files. (In this regard it is very much like Magellan.) Furthermore, the color enhancements in version 2.0 can't be changed which makes it difficult to use on the Palmtop. I recommend that you use a program, CGAHELP to convert the colors to grey or black when you run XTree 2.0 otherwise you'll wear out the [ON] [/] keys trying to adjust the colors. Also without CGAHELP you might miss the exit prompt that asks you to press Y to leave the program. If you can't see the prompt, you might think that the Palmtop has frozen.

Applications such as XTree, Magellan, Stereo Shell, and System Manager's Filer provide an enormous enhancement to DOS which otherwise is a bare-bones command language. Each program has similarities but they each do things in their own unique way. My preference for XTree is partly historical and partly due to the fact that it offers a continuity of approach with my preferred NT Tools File Manager on the desktop. By all means consider alternatives which suit your own style.

Helpful Add-ons to XTree

Shareware/Freeware mentioned in this article