Servant Salamander v2.5 (beta) File Manager

Reviewed by: Howard Carson, April 2006
Published by: Altap, Ltd.
Requires: Windows 95 through Vista
MSRP: US$24.00 (includes the PictView Screen Capture & Scanning utility plug-in)

Every time we review a high-end file manager, we fall all over ourselves offering thanks and happy joy-joy. Re-reading past reviews is sometimes embarrassing therefore because of the effusive praise we've heaped on some of these products. But there's no escaping the fact that several of the file managers on the market today are genuinely special products. So how on earth are we going to deal with this review of Servant Salamander? First off, we're going to ignore the product name because it just doesn't do justice to a powerful and classy piece of utility software.

The mundane, inherently boring and vacantly powerless nature of the Windows Explorer file manager (aka "My Computer") is never more obvious than when it's placed next to something like Servant Salamander. Where Windows Explorer spawns either multiple single-pane windows (shudder) or a single pane window which updates with each successive directory click (groan), Servant Salamander provides a dual-pane view, separate drive selectors for each pane and the ability to navigate different drives in each pane, copying or moving or performing other file functions independently in each pane. Use Servant Salamander for as little as five minutes of copy/move & paste or drag & drop file management or manual backup tasks and you'll wonder why Microsoft has allowed Windows Explorer to languish in its lame and severely limited state for so many years.


What sets all the competing file managers apart are the little things that make (computing) life easier. One of Servant Salamander's unique claims to fame is its extensive use of plugins. The software is built to allow third-party developers, as well as Altap, to create all kinds of useful utilities which function inside Servant Salamander. For example, the PictView plugin functions as a useful little screen capture utility which can be called from almost any other application as long as Servant Salamander is up and running. PictView is also capable of displaying over 60 different file formats. There's a handy File Undelete plugin which is more than sufficient for accidental deletions which bypassed the Recycle Bin. The WinSCP file transfer protocol (FTP) plugin is a rock-solid file transfer utility. All in all, well over two dozen plugins are currently available for Servant Salamander.

Even if plugins aren't your cup of tea, Servant Salamander has other features in reserve which help to set it apart from the competition. First and foremost, its windows refresh on the fly. That means forced or manual refreshes are largely a thing of the past. This feature amounts to a significant time saver especially when copying, pasting, moving and generally performing a lot of different file management functions. The directory you happen to be working in is continually updated as you make changes and do general file housekeeping and maintenance tasks. Very nice, and a pointed lesson for other developers. It's this feature in particular, which has forced me to reassess Total Commander (which has always had a problem with directory refreshes).

Servant Salamander is supplied with a full set of file archivers covering every compression and encryption routine you can imagine. Of course ZIP is available as well and includes all the usual features such as full paths, password protection, package encryption and so on.

Power users will revel in the Commands menu. You'll find a complete set of power tools for everything from creating Make File Lists (in preparation for compiling a set of files into an executable for example), programming custom user menus, access to the Windows command shell, open folder lists, drive and directory statistics and about a dozen other housekeeping functions, as well as network file association and directory tools. It's a lot to take in a first glance, but the software is well organized and well laid out, making it relatively easy to learn. I've been using Servant Salamander exclusively for file management over the past month and I'm still discovering new uses for it.

Cons: PictView is a fast file viewer and quite useful, but unfortunately loses track of the directory it's reading if you change directories in the active pane. Other than that, Servant Salamander functions as advertised.

Pros: My all-time favorite file manager up until recently was Total Commander. It has traditionally battled three competitors: PowerDesk, Explorer Plus and xplorer2 Professional. There is now a fourth contender—Servant Salamander. I'm probably going to kick creaky old PowerDesk off the list because V-COM is doing a terrible job of supporting and developing the program. In any case, I like Servant Salamander for all the right reasons: extensive functionality, excellent workflow and usability, and above all else, separate drive selectors for each file pane. I may be somewhat easy to please, but a drive selector for each window pane dramatically shortens path and drive selection time, copy & paste activities, and many other tasks. Continuous directory refreshes make manual file management a breeze—this feature alone helps place Servant Salamander above a number of its competitors. Although the look and feel of Servant Salamander is completely different from PentaWare's unique PentaSuite software, I can't help but note that, like PentaSuite, Servant Salamander is more like a comprehensive system utility rather than just a file management tool. Unlike PentaSuite however, Servant Salamander is a file manager front & center, hanging all its peripheral (plugin) functionality on an extremely well designed and solid framework of robust file management tools. Easy to understand and use. Fast operation. Unique to Servant Salamander is a User Skill Level setting in the Options menu, which allows you to adjust the complexity and availability of menu commands from Beginning (very few menu commands) to Intermediate to Advanced (full set of menu commands and functions). It's a thoughtful approach (Microsoft take note please) that can make it quite easy to get started with file maintenance and management if you're unfamiliar with the process (or if, like most people, you avoid the effort even at the potential cost of lost data). It's also an easy way to gradually learn how to get the most out of the program. Servant Salamander is a wonderful, well supported file management utility. I give Servant Salamander the edge as top file dog for now. Highly recommended.

KSN Product Rating:





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