Hi again and welcome to another chapter of the Foss Archeologist. My apologies for the delay in posting this but I was away for a death in the family and took some time off from blogging afterward. Now it's time to get back into it and finish this series.
Midnight Commander (or 'mc' as the program launcher was called) was one of the first truly modern file-managers in the free software world – all the more spectacular because it was a console app, not a graphical one. The two-pane interface with hotkey control was copied from the old Dos program Norton Commander (hence the name) but midnight commander would come to be far more powerful than it's ancestor in many ways.
MC had it's own built in shell which was compatible with bash though it didn't support tab-completion (because tab was the hotkey for switching between panes), it could mass-select, copy, paste, rename and delete – all the standard functions you want in a file manager – but it went further. It implemented the first filemanager virtual filesystem on a Unix-like platform allowing you to work directly with the contents of tarballs or browse and manage files on samba and ftp servers. In fact when working on the console MC provided one of the best ways to transfer files to and from network servers, including automatic support for resumes, full and proper handling of Unix permissions and more.
The brains behind MC was Miguel De Icaza – nowadays better known as the head of the Gnome project – this was before he became "the great pragmatist" and was one of the most hardcore believers in the ethics of free-software. De Icaza of course was not alone, and many other programmers worked on, and expanded, MC over the years – it was after all, a tool they loved as much as their sys-admin brethren.
One of those programmers is worthy of a special mention. Paul Sheer developed midnight commander's builtin text-editor mcedit. It could also run standalone and was in many was the most userfriendly text editor available on the Linux console – and still is. Unlike the other programmer's editors it eschewed dual-mode editing and power-features for a simple arrow-controlled editing environment reminiscent of the editors popular in the dos world at the time.
It is quite a surprise to me that mcedit is not the editor by default suggested in Ubuntu documentation for system text editing, preferring nano instead as nano is a much harder editor to use with much more difficult key-stroke controls and an interface that is, unintuitive to say the least. I can only surmise that mcedit fell out of favor because it depends on mc itself which is a bit of a bulky program and these days with our graphical file managers and graphical editors no longer generally included in a distribution's default packages (though it's almost always available in the repositories since so many older users still love it).
Part of why I wanted to mention mcedit is because Paul Sheer is a South African, one of the founding members of Obsidian systems (and he was the first trainer in their then newly-opened training department) and mcedit counts as one of the very first (if not the first) major contributions to a (then) incredibly important free software project to come out of Africa at all.
Midnight Commander's look and feel has been replicated by numerous graphical file managers but for the most part none of them are very popular and non have ever become a user default. The two-pane view which is so incredibly useful on the console is cumbersome to work with in a world controlled by a mouse. Nevertheless it's legacy lives on, the gtk-view of mc (which was never it's default) was the first official file manager of the gnome project and some of it's code directly inspired early code in nautilus.
When you browse an sftp server, or deep into a tarball in nautilus today (or for that matter in a KDE file manager) this is done using virtual-fileystem support, a concept that was largely pioneered by mc and which lives on as a lasting legacy on the free software world even when we don't use it anymore.
Having said that, unlike most of the other projects in this series mc is very much alive and well and I highly recommend every Linux user installs it. Even if you never work on the console, the one time you have to – it could make your life a million times simpler and (in a major break with tradition) it could do so while increasing rather than decreasing your productivity.