Nice article SB! While I strive for a lightweight desktop, it is only so I can reallocate those CPU cycles to the most feature-rich and versatile applications. And the file manager is at the hub of my workflow. So while I'm always looking for a way to "lighten the load" of a desktop OS GUI, I always have preferred the most feature-rich file manager I can find, tweaking it up as much as practical.
I have tried most of these file managers at one point (Marlin is conspicuously absent from the list, but it'sa fork of the Nautilus/Files/Nemo/Caja tree) and found them all to be lacking something. Fortunately, Linux allows us to tweak things! Admittedly, I haven't tried many of these in the past couple years, so maybe my opinions are dated and no longer supported. I always liked the KDE-based file managers...very flexible, functional, and extremely tweakable...but they pull in KDE libraries. I'm not opposed to KDE libs (in fact, I have often installed Okular and K3B in place of Gnome counterparts), but I've always felt that the file manager is the center piece of your OS, and if you're using a KDE-based file manager, you might as well be using a KDE-based operating system. KDE is just too darn tweakable for me. I like choices and tweaks, but KDE has options for their options. Besides, I cut my Linux teeth on Gnome, so that's where the majority of my tastes are.
Nautilus was an excellent file manager until the Gnome team started removing features to improve design aesthetics. I could probably live with that if they had left me the OPTION to restore the features I wanted. But they didnt, which spawned Nemo, Marlin, and Caja. Nemo, Marlin & Caja restored some of the features I wanted, but they also became "integrated" to their desktop environments, much like KDE-based file managers. Of those 3, I prefer Caja. In fact, if I could install Caja without pulling in so many Mate meta-packages, I'd probably be using Caja. It checks off all my criteria boxes, except for the Mate dependencies.
I've also tried Thunar in XFCE distros and PCManFM in LXDE distros. Both are lightweight and responsive, but seem quite spartan in their utility. However, Thunar allows for customizable "actions" and PCManFM recently added tthis feature in the last year or 2. In all fairness to Thunar, I haven't explored it as much as PCManFM, so maybe it would've been sufficient for my needs. But if 2 softwares are nearly identical feature-wise, but one has a lighter footprint, I'm going with that one. So I landed on PCManFM. SpaceFM is a fork of PCManFM with custom actions, but it just didn't suit my needs. But then I found a "customized actions" package with several bash scripts for various custom actions:
This package puts PCManFM nearly on par with old Nautilus for me! The only actions missing were "Compress-PDF" (an old Zenity script that I still use EVERY day!) and "nautilus share" to create a shared file/directory over Samba. I was able to modify the Compress-PDF script to remove the Nautilus-specific verbage, making it usable in PCManFM (and presumably other FMs also?!) and added it to the Custom Actions folder. Simply right-click and "TA-DA"...there it is, just like I'm used to! I haven't been able to replicate the "nautilus-share" SMB function, but Gigolo or Samba-GUI provide the same function...more clicks and more steps, but this isn't a repetitive task, it's a "once & done" kind of thing. So I can live with that. In the meantime, I'll just keep my eyes peeled for someone smarter than me who has figured out a short script that can be executed as custom action in PCManFM.
The MadeBits scripts above were a game-changer for me that not only made PCManFM a functional alternative, but the CLEAR alternative. Posting the link in case anyone else is as interested as I was. Enjoy!