Nautilus is the default file manager coming with GNOME, the popular desktop environment shipped by default in distributions like Ubuntu, Fedora or Debian. Nautilus has a clean and easy to use interface, and its functionality can be expanded using scripts. It features tabs, three view modes (icon view, list view and compact view), the possibility to sort items by name, size, type, modification date or even emblems (a feature specific to Nautilus), bookmarks, file previews, possibility to browse the network, and media devices support. However, the media support will only detect GNOME players like Rhythmbox or Totem, so you will also need to have those installed in order to use it.
Dolphin is now the default file manager in KDE4, and it definitely does a good job for an application which was designed with simplicity and usability in mind. It supports tabs, service menus, sorting by many rules, including permissions, ownership or modification date; it provides a modern KDE4 interface with the possibility to preview images, video files or documents; it supports splitting tabs vertically and browse the network. A few days ago I put up a full Dolphin review here, and I must say I was really impressed by this nice file manager.
I think that, at least for KDE users, Konqueror needs no introduction. Back in KDE3 it was the default file manager, web browser, image, document and man page viewer, and could even embed movies using kaffeine-part or songs through the Amarok 1.4 sidebar. Konqueror did not lose its features in KDE4, so it is still a powerful application and it offers every feature Dolphin comes with, plus several more. One of the big advantages Konqueror has over other file managers is its flexibility and the ability to integrate well with a lot of applications, not to mention the powerful tab handling by opening images, documents or archives in new tabs or splitting them. Just from a file managing point of view, and Konqueror is heck of a tool.
If Dolphin and Nautilus are default file managers in KDE and, respectively, GNOME, Thunar is the same for Xfce, the lighter desktop environment of those three. Thunar comes with a basic interface and features similar with the ones Nautilus has. Designed to be fast, Thunar's minuses are lack of tabs or local network browsing support, and the access to the location bar is done via a new window, which won't allow the main window to be focused. Nevertheless, Thunar may fit very well those users who need basic file management.
Yet another popular file manager written in GTK, PCManFM is probably the preferred alternative to Nautilus for GNOME users, especially that it is reported to be faster. The interface is clean and easy to use, the configuration options are kept to a minimum, it features three view modes (icons, compact list, detailed list) and it also has tab support. Promoted under the slogan 'Speed is a virtue!', PCManFM is definitely a fine piece.
Krusader is a powerful, feature-complete, twin-panel file manager for KDE. The first time you launch Krusader it will search for external applications needed for the various functions this application offers, and then you will be prompted with the configuration dialogue. Krusader offers plenty configuration options, and you can change the look and feel, the way it handles sessions, colors, archives, general file management, user actions and many more. Krusader is definitely one of the most complete file manager regarding features available for the Linux platform.
Krusader 2.0.0 Beta
If I was to describe Xfe in one word, that word would be awesome. Xfe (X File Explorer) is built using the lightweight FOX toolkit and it comes with a pretty solid interface, with a tree view to the left and the file browser occupying the remaining space. Although it does not look too 'modern', it supports various themes (like GNOME2, Xfce4 or KDE3 to mention a few) and it allows the user to change the colours and the fonts used by its interface. The default text editor is Xfw (X File Write) while the image viewer is Xfi (X File Image), but you can change those in the Preferences window. There are four modes for arranging the widgets (panel, panel with tree, two panels and two panels with tree), but instead it has no support for tabs. The items can be sorted by name, type, size, extension and modification date, and it also provides the option to view files as thumbnails. Xfe is definitely worth a try if you haven't already.
Although the first impression can deceive a user and make him think ROX-Filer is just a basic file manager, this is not true. In fact, it's true that the interface is the one which is basic, but ROX-Filer offers plenty features and configuration settings using right-click anywhere in the browser and going to Options. The way ROX-Filer is organised is simple: it has only a toolbar at the top (no menus) and the files area occupying the rest of the window. The view modes are icon view or list view, the files can be sorted by name, date, type, size and ownership. You can configure the icon sizes, make it show image and video thumbnails (for which you will also need the zeroinstall-injector package). Maybe the interface is not the best idea for a file manager, but ROX-Filer is pretty complete even so.
This is definitely one of the consecrated file managers on Linux. Midnight Commander is a terminal-based (it uses a text user interface), twin-panel file manager with powerful features and ease of use, and it still is one of the popular file managers out there, especially that it can be successfully used on a system which does not have the X Window System installed.
Official website 1
Official website 2
Midnight Commander 4.6.2
Vifm is a twin-panel, ncurses-based file manager which uses the keyboard shortcuts from Vim, the powerful text editor for Linux. If you are used to Vim, Vifm may be just the right choice for a terminal-based file manager.
Addition: GNOME Commander
GNOME Commander is yet another powerful twin-panel file manager for the GNOME desktop environment, with support for Samba networks and FTP. It also has an option to start it as root (the same as gnome-commander or gksu gnome-commander, not recommended though).
Built in GTK+2, emelFM2 features a simple, two-pane interface with easy access to mostly all the important functions and an integrated terminal. Most of its functionality lies in the available plugins which come bundled by default with it.
As a conclusion, some say that ls and cd make up a file manager too, and I certainly won't argue against that ;-)
Updated: September 26, 2010