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Swapping File Managers in Mint 20

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This article discusses swapping file managers in Mint 20. Especially for the xcfe release of Mint 20 this is recommended, but all releases are discussed, with a variety of file managers available for selection!

What Is a File Manager?

If you are used to using Microsoft Windows operating systems, you likely know about explorer.exe, that process which sometimes crashes and then most of your desktop icons, toolbar etc. are gone until you restart the process or restart your computer. Explorer.exe is the default file manager/explorer in Windows, and changing it is fairly challenging and best reserved to professional users only.

On Linux, there is much more freedom. The file explorer does not have as tight a connection with the desktop/GUI as Windows does, and you can even install two or more different file mangers at the same time and use them interchangeably in a way that works for you.

Mint 20 is a great Linux operating system, and a worthy alternative to using Microsoft Windows. Having all the advantages of a modern Ubuntu based distribution, and a smoother user experience all around, it may however lack one thing, and especially so if you are using the xcfe release: a better file manager!

Mint 20 Cinnamon is released with the nemo file manager. This file manager is based on the popular Nautilus file manager which is in turn the default in Ubuntu. Mint 20 Mate on the other hand uses the Caja file manager. And finally Mint 20 xcfe uses thunar. The xcfe release is a more lightweight release, which a snappy response and minimal non-cluttered user interface.

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Each of these file managers can be installed and uninstalled at will, and you can for example install Nautilus (native) besides thunar in xcfe. You can then use both, alike to other programs; they have their own icon (which looks somewhat similar in color but not in design), and each file manager (each program) has their own features which may be of interest.

In principle, you can also uninstall thunar and just use Nautilus, or Nemo and so on.

However, one cautionary warning here is that uninstalling the default file manager (for example thunar on Linux Mint) may leave your desktop partially inoperable after a reboot (missing icon associations etc.). It is thus recommend to leave the default file manager installed with your operating system in-place even if you install another secondary file manager.

Still, results will depend on the specific file managers installed or uninstalled, the operating system in use and the capabilities of the file manager chosen as replacement for the operating system default one. If you run into issues, checking the contents of ~/.xsession-errors may help.

Let’s have a look at how each file manager can be installed and uninstalled:

Installing Nemo

To install Nemo on your Mint Linux distribution, execute the following command in your terminal:

sudo apt install nemo

Installing Nautilus

To install Nautilus on your Mint Linux distribution, execute the following command in your terminal:

sudo apt install nautilus

Installing Caja

To install Caja on your Mint Linux distribution, execute the following command in your terminal:

sudo apt install caja

Uninstalling a File Manager

To uninstall any of these, simply use the same command as given in the respective installation sections, but swap the word install with purge (which will completely purge that file manager from your system), or uninstall which will remove the file manager but leave the configuration for the same on your system.

I personally like and prefer the nemo file manager. It is an advanced and highly configurable (have a look through the menus) file manager. I personally dislike the thunar file manager, and do not mind Nautilus. Caja also has many features, but less so then nemo which is also more configurable, and takes up less screen real estate (screen real estate is a term which indicates how optimally a program’s screen is designed).

If you are ever not sure which file manager you are using at a given moment (it can get confusing if you installed a few), simply click Help > About in the file manager. You will see a dialog popup similar to the following:

Nemo Help About Screen

Reconfiguring Mint Towards Another File Manager

Once you have played around with a few file managers and tested their options, menus, and operation, you will likely be favorite of one and dislike most others.

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If you did decide to go ahead and uninstall the file manager that came with your operating system (note the cautionary warning above), then you can click on the Mint icon in your taskbar and start typing file manager. Very soon the following will appear (depending on your Mint release, color selection and desktop settings this may look somewhat different):

The File Manager Icon in Mint 20

This ‘File Manager’ icon is linked towards the default file manager on your system. You will likely (unless you kept the previous default file manager on your system) see the following dialog:

Configuring the file manager in Linux Mint 20

This is because Mint now no longer knows which file manager to use. Not to worry, this is easy to set. Click the dropdown icon (the upside down triangle on the right). If you desired choice of file manager is present, simply select that one and confirm with “OK”. If your preferred file manager is not present, click ‘Other…’, and you should now see this dialog box:

Specifying the default file manager to use in Mint 20

This will be usually the case for the nemo file manager. The Nautilus and Caja file managers installation process usually creates a pre-selectable option here.

In here, you can simply type the name of your file manager (like nemo or nautilus, though with caja this does not work, use the preinstalled selection for that one). If you click OK after doing so, and go back in, you will see that the software has automatically added an option "%s":

Auto setup of variable necessary for linking between file manager and opening entity

Handy! Click two times OK and you are all set. If you go back to the Mint icon > File Manager, you will now find that your favorite file manager opens (which can be confirmed by clicking Help > About)

Wrapping up

Mint is a great operating system, though it may lack a handy file manager by default, especially in it’s xcfe release. The Mint 20 MATE release also features Caja as a file manager, which you may find less handy then the full-blown file manager installed by default in Mint 20 Cinnamon; nemo.

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Installing, swapping, uninstalling and purging file managers were all discussed and are easy to do even for a novice user. One can even use two file managers at once and use the best of both worlds. Enjoy!

If you are interested in learning more about Linux, please see the articles linked under Linux articles by David McKay and Linux articles by Roel Van de Paar.

Roel Van de Paar Roel Van de Paar
Roel has 25 years of experience in IT & business, 9 years of leading teams, and 5 years in hiring & building teams. He worked for companies like Oracle, Volvo, Sun, Percona, Siemens, Karat, and now MariaDB in various senior, principal, lead, and managerial roles. Read Full Bio »

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