Directory Opus 8 review

£85
Price when reviewed

Ever wish Windows would preview a photo when you hover your mouse on its icon? We do. Do you miss having a proper file browser by default, such as the one in Windows 3.1? Want to do command-line tasks without actually using the command line? Join the club. Fortunately, though, now you can.

Directory Opus 8 review

We last looked at Directory Opus a few months ago (see issue 121, p101), when it was still at version 6 and felt more like an add-on to Windows Explorer than a worthy replacement. It’s since reached version 8 and things have come on in leaps and bounds. Now you really can hover over an image and see a preview – complete with all the attached EXIF data. Better still, you can right-click it and convert it. This isn’t a simple JPEG-to-GIF job; it handles PNG and Windows Bitmap too, and will compress JPEGs for use on the Web. Bye-bye Fireworks. So long Adobe Image Ready.

Last time round, we criticised Directory Opus for not previewing all available file types, but after some swift retooling it can now display and interact with Microsoft Office documents. Change a set of numbers on a previewed Excel spreadsheet and your calculations will update inside the Opus window. The only reason you’d need to open it in Excel itself would be if you wanted to save the results.

But this isn’t a dumb rendition restricted to the cells themselves. Smart Excel features such as expandable columns and draggable sliders remain active, which is more than can be said for some full-blown Excel wannabes, as our office suites group test revealed (see issue 122, p142).

There are some thoughtful touches too. Connecting to a network share, particularly when it’s located off-site – or overseas, as is the case with our test setup – can hang Windows for several seconds while it makes the connection. If you’re running Opus, though, you get a dedicated Abort button that will immediately cut the link if it looks like you’re making no progress. The same button appears when you navigate into a remote directory.

Other touches include colour-coding hidden files so you don’t delete them, and thumbnailing absolutely everything – including text files – so you can see what they might be without having to open them up.

But in spite of this, the software runs smoothly and feels fast. Image previews open far quicker than they do in the Windows viewer, although PDFs are appreciably slower as it must invoke Adobe Reader before it can draw them in. Movies start almost immediately, and we found ourselves navigating folders full of WMV files using Opus far quicker than when doing the same with Windows Media Player.

Upping the version count two stops has seen the introduction of Flash playback, but the movies don’t respect the boundaries of the file stage, and so while they play correctly you also see hidden elements as they scroll off the edge of the frame, which rather spoils the effect.

We were more impressed by the concept of File Collections. If you collapse everything in the folder tree, only your Desktop and the Collections folder remain visible. ‘Collections’ is a place for organising a disparate set of files spread across several folders, drives, computers or remote servers. Organising them into subfolders within File Collections creates a set of easily located links, which should save you from scouring every drive at your disposal for the data you’re after. It isn’t an entirely transparent endeavour, as opening one of the linked files dumps you into its original folder, and deleting the link rather than ‘removing’ it from the collection zaps the original (first-timers beware), but as a proof of concept it’s an excellent add-on.

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