Windows 3.0 File Manager is now open source after almost 30 years

The 90s called and want their file manager back. File managers have become de-emphasized thanks to the more app-centric world of mobile devices, but once upon a time, they were pretty much the center of a user's computing world. Perhaps timed to commemorate the Windows 10 Spring Creators Update and it's "uncluttered" File Explorer, Microsoft has just released Windows 3.0's File Manager as open source software for both developers and users to look at. And, yes, it runs on Windows 10 too.

The release of the Windows File Manager is more than just a trip down memory lane. At least for those old enough to have such memories. It's pretty much also a short history in computing, especially when it comes to graphical users interfaces (GUI).

File Manager, for example, operated based on a multiple document interface (MDI) paradigm, where an application would treat each object, like a word document or, in this case, a folder, as a separate document that can be displayed in mini-windows inside the main application window. These days, the MDI paradigm has been supplanted with the use of tabs, like in web browsers. Ironically, the current File Explorer, File Manager's descendant, has neither.

The open source File Manager comes in two flavors. One is mostly pristine, with just enough changes to actually make the software compile and run on recent versions of Microsoft Visual Studio and Windows 10. The other version, on the other hand, has a lot more changes that make the software actually usable, like adding keyboard shortcuts for copy (Ctrl+C) and paste (Ctrl+V).

Windows 3.0's File Manager could also serve as a lesson and a seedbed for ideas on what and what not do with Windows File Explorer. While File Manager naturally looks terribly dated and cluttered by today's standards, some features, like split panes or MDI could still be useful in the modern computing age of phones and tablets.