Even to ardent Microsoft fans, Windows has rarely seemed the most logical of operating systems. The Windows Explorer interface in particular can be hard to grasp.
When you think about it, it makes sense for all of your pictures to be in one directory, and all of your MP3s in another. In practice, locating the correct file can be a protracted process, particularly if you use a large number of applications. FileCenter is a sound alternative, making the whole idea of storing and locating files far more intuitive.
FileCenter allows you to create 'cabinets'. Each one can hold any number of folders, into which you slip relevant files. If you're a business, for example, you could create a cabinet called 'Clients'. Each of the folders could be named after a customer, and you could store all relevant files (letters, pdfs of photocopies, bills and so on) in the client's folder. Home users might wish to have folders called 'Pictures', 'Emails' and 'MP3 files', for instance.
The real genius of FileCenter is that when you save or load a file in a Windows application, the FileCenter interface automatically pops up in place of the standard Windows box – although you can go straight into the traditional Explorer interface at the touch of a button. If you're working with a photograph, for example, your central image store is never more than a click away, regardless of which application you're using.
It really is a very sensible approach that makes it far easier to keep track of files. FileCenter doesn't change the organisational structure on your hard drive: it simply alters the way files are presented to you.
This alone would make FileCenter worthy of a recommendation, but there's far more. For a start, the search options are comprehensive. You can now look for content as well as simple file names. 'Fuzzy searching' means you don't even need to get the file name precisely right.
Windows Explorer's image preview feature can be useful when sifting through image files, of course, allowing you to see a snapshot without having to load up the file. But FileCenter's alternative is far more powerful, letting you preview files such as PDFs or text documents.
Extra tools enable you to quickly encrypt files or convert them to PDFs or ZIP files. You can get third-party software to perform such facilities, of course, but FileCenter's simplicity and speed makes these features indispensable. Indeed, the PDF-conversion utility alone would make FileCenter a worthwhile purchase.
You can even email files and have FileCenter encrypt, ZIP or convert them to a PDF at the same time. Should you wish to delete files safely and permanently, an easy-to-use Shred tool is included.
FileCenter Professional, which costs an extra £94, introduces additional network facilities and scanning features. By creating a series of separators, you can tell the program exactly where to store a finished file once it's been scanned.
This way you can take a stack of documents and slip in separators at certain places. This may be when one client's paperwork finishes and another one starts. Then you can have all the documents scanned and the results sent to a variety of locations.
Available as a standalone product, but also designed to fit in beautifully with FileCenter, Lucion's FileBackup is an excellent way of keeping your files safe. Scheduled backups are performed automatically, and the backed-up data is transferred to the security giant Iron Mountain's data-centre facilities. So whatever happens to your PC, your files are kept securely offsite and can always be retrieved.
Files are always encrypted (128bit key) before being transferred, and you can access your library from any computer with an internet connection. In use, the software is small, unobtrusive and an easy means of keeping your valuable data safe. This is an excellent solution.
A year of backup costs only £35 for 2GB of storage.