Computer users nostalgic for the good ol' days of Windows 3.x and Windows NT can now relive their misspent youth thanks to Microsoft's unexpected decision to release the source code of WinFile, the Windows File Manager, under an open source licence.

Developed by Ian Ellison-Taylor and first found in Windows 3.0, released in May 1990 and the catalyst for Microsoft becoming the de facto operating system provider on the desktop, the Windows File Manager - WinFile to its friends - is a simple file management utility inspired by the DOS shell applications which preceded it. The basic 16-bit Windows 3.x version gave way to a 32-bit Windows NT 3.1 release with advanced functionality including permission and compression management, and shipped as a default inclusion as recently as the ill-received Windows Millennium Edition (Windows ME). Its replacement by the more capable Windows Explorer, though, saw the tool retired - until now.

Microsoft's official GitHub repository is now host to the full WinFile source code, updated and modified from the Windows NT 4 release for compatibility with more recent Windows releases - including the ability to compile and execute the tool on 64-bit Windows installations for the first time.

A single-person effort by Microsoft's Craig Wittenberg, the release brings the software out of retirement and adds compatibility with Microsoft's latest Windows 10 operating system - at least, so long as you don't try to view the help file. 'The master branch contains changes I have made since 2007. The changes have been solely determined by my needs and personal use,' Wittenberg explains of his efforts. 'Some of the changes have limitations that fit the way I use the tool. For example, the path index which supports the new goto command only contains information for the c: drive. I have also not redesigned or restructured WinFile in any major way.'

The use of the permissive MIT Licence, however, means that modifications to the source code are now permitted - meaning that it's entirely possible that WinFile could be reborn with more modern features, or even ported to third-party operating systems. Wittenberg has also indicated that Microsoft is not averse to accepting code contributions, despite the fact WinFile is no longer a commercially shipping utility, providing a Contributor Licence Agreement (CLA) is provided.

The full source, which can be compiled for Windows 10 or older, is available from the official Microsoft GitHub repository.


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