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What's the Best Software for Tagging Files?

Simon has been involved in software development since the days of paper tape. He has developed niche software for information management.

Introduction

Finding electronic documents and emails can be a problem. The conventional approach has been to put them into a hierarchical folder structure, but with the advent of mobile devices with small screens and the requirement for minimal user cognitive load, the filesystem has become completely hidden and file managers are not part of the main operating system.

Historically, a hierarchical folder structure is easier to implement than a tag retrieval system and much more suited to fixed structures such as computer operating systems. This may explain its historic dominance. A study was conducted in 2008 compared tag and folder-based retrieval on email messages with two clients, one labeling messages with tags and the other grouping them into folders. The authors concluded that neither tagging nor folders was superior to the other for information retrieval: best results were achieved by combining their use. They also observed that users had a much richer concept of information than folders or tags or a combination of them could represent.

Image analysis and search, often using cloud resources, has been stimulated by the massive growth of image storage. Individual users may have tens of thousands of images stored and locating desired ones using criteria other than date taken or possibly location is very difficult. Image analysis by products such as Google Photos or Microsoft Photos allows search by image content, but the current performance may not be adequate. This area is the subject of intensive development and performance will undoubedly improve.

File Tagging Software

The creation and application of tags and retrieval of tagged documents from a folder-based structure can be achieved by a very wide range of software. Windows has native features for tagging some document types and for retrieving them via search, The management requirement for large digital photo collections has spawned many different applications, mainly tailored to use the extensive metadata options available for digital image files. Some applications primarily intended for images, such as Daminion Free, hydrus and Stagsi can also manage a range of non-image files. With the exception of Google Photos, XnView MP, and Eagle, these photo management applications are not reviewed, as the complexity of their interfaces makes them unsuitable for general use. There are also some specialized tagging applications for audio files only, such as the Web-based Tag Manager.

Social media applications such as Facebook and Instagram support the addition of captions or tags to images, but only by creating a web page including the image and the caption/tag. If the image is downloaded, the caption/tag information is not present.

All the software reviewed has the ability to provide a different view of collections of documents based on user-generated information, with the potential of improving information retrieval. However, there is great variation in interface design, terminology, functionality and support level. Many software products are available for download or purchase long after support or development has ceased, so consulting a review may help to avoid disappointment.

Many of the products implement a file manager, which runs over a single database rather than a filesystem, with elements of a folder hierarchy optionally treated as tags. The database contains links to the files in the filesystem location. Renaming or moving files or folders outside the application requires some method of updating the database if database links are to remain functional. This can be achieved by a continuously running monitoring component (as used by Tabbles) or by using distributed databases with very close integration with File Explorer to detect moves, copies or renames (Tagging for Windows).

XYplorer is actually a file manager closely resembling File Explorer, but with additional tagging functionality. It represents what File (once Windows) Explorer could have been.

Searching replaces folder browsing in the database architecture. Database performance becomes a critical factor if many thousands of file links are stored. As free versions of software frequently limit the number of files stored or the number of tags applied, it is difficult to test performance in this situation.

Another approach to tagging is to embed the tags into the file or folder name. This is more robust than the database approach and allows tagged items to be retrieved on any platform using only native search, but changing the names of folders and files will result in files that are linked by paths (such as linked Excel spreadsheets) having their links broken. SetTags and TagSpaces use this approach, with SetTags additionally using the target tracking property of Windows shortcuts to allow files to be retrieved by tag after moves or renames.

Defunct Applications

The demand for an improvement on Windows tagging facilities has been present for a long time, and a number of 32-bit applications appeared to meet this need. These include Tag2Find and TagTool. Although these stopped being developed many years years ago, downloads are still available for Tag2Find but the product does not run in Windows 10. TagTool downloads do not seem to be available from software libraries and the most recent update was in 2012.

What about Help?

Most users dislike accessing application help documentation. "Operation should be self-evident" they often say. Whilst simple tasks (such as adding tags or retrieving documents by tag) can be made self-evident, the nature of document management using tags is such that less common tasks, such as deleting, merging, or changing existing tags invariably become necessary and making these self-evident is much harder. For this reason, good help functionality is particularly important in tagging applications.

Applications Compared at a Glance

Tagging can be performed by a multitude of applications. In some cases, the facility is part of a broader capability (such as that provided by document management systems and many Microsoft Office applications). Other applications are more specialized. The table below gives a quick comparison of the leading specialized offerings, with links to the product home page. More detailed descriptions of these and other applications follow. To locate these in this article type Ctrl-F and enter the name of the product.

Note: Australian vendor Aleka Consulting is donating 50% of license fees for SetTags to bushfire relief.

Product    O/S   Best      Tag    Tag  Mult. Track  Cloud   Rating 
                 For       Emails URLS Users Moves  Support (Stars)
Tabbles    Win   Any File  Yes    Yes  Yes   Yes    Yes     4.5
SetTags    Win   Any File  Yes    Yes  Yes   Yes    Yes     4.5
Tagging    Win   Any File  No     No   No    Yes    Yes     4
for Windows
XnView MP  Any   Images    No     No   No    No     No      4
Stagsi     Win   Images    No     No   Yes   No     No      3.5
TagSpaces  Any   Any File  No     No   No    Yes    No      3.5
Elyse      Win   Any File  No     No   Yes   Yes    No      3

Other applications included in this review are listed below. Type Ctr-F and enter the product name to see more details.

General Tagging

Windows
Office
OneNote
Tag Explorer
Confidential
AllTags
TagFlow
Rummage
Tagg
Google Photos
File Juggler
OrganizerMax
TagTower
FileTag
Digitile
FenrirFS
RecentX
Eagle
TagsToo
Ritt
Taggr
XYplorer
hydrus

Email Tagging

Outlook
EmailTags
Gmail

Windows and FileMeta

Windows has included search by tag using the syntax tag:tagname in the search box since Windows 7. In Windows XP the term keyword was used rather than tag, and tags (or keywords) could be applied to any type of file, through the extensive metadata support provided by the NTFS filesystem. With Windows 7 and its successors the approach to file metadata changed, with native support for tagging only provided for Office and a few other file types (not including PDF). Property handlers now needed to be defined for each file type to be tagged. This gap in Windows functionality has been addressed in the free product FileMeta from developer Dijji. FileMeta is a light, simple product incorporating an extension to Explorer. It allows definition of a property handler for any file type stored in the registry HKCU\Software\Classes via the File Association Manager, as shown below. This can be run from the menu item File Metadata-> File Association Manager. The System.Keywords item is displayed as Tags in Windows 7 and later versions.

File Association Manager

File Association Manager

File Association Manager allows addition of a standard or custom set of metadata fields to any file type. For PDF files, the Details tab of file properties as as shown repeats the data shown in the General tab as shown below:

Detail tab of File Properties for PDF file without Property Handler (Native)

Detail tab of File Properties for PDF file without Property Handler (Native)

After addition of the Simple set of editable properties with FileMeta, the details tab of PDF file properties is as shown below, with a number of editable properties (including tags)

Details tab of file properties after creation of Simple set of editable properties

Details tab of file properties after creation of Simple set of editable properties

The FileMeta installer for version 1.6 is not signed, resulting in a warning message appearing in Windows 10, and the program does modify Windows (or File) Explorer, which may be the reason for it being flagged as dangerous software on installation. Extensive detail on operation and history is given in FileMeta readme file.

Summary

The Windows tagging functionality is basic - only single files can be tagged, there is no list of tags created - but FileMeta allows this functionality to be extended to any file type with minimal effort. If you missed the reduction of tagging capability when Windows 7 replaced Windows XP this is an easy way to get it back.

Office - Word, Excel and Powerpoint

The widely used Office applications Word, Excel and Powerpoint provide access to a Tags field, into which text can be inserted on the right-hand side of the screen shown by File-> Info. An example is below:

Word File Information tab showing tag entry field

Word File Information tab showing tag entry field

Windows Search can find documents with a particular string using the syntax Tag:keyword as shown below:

Finding Windows tags

Finding Windows tags

This approach does not place any restrictions on tags and may be useful for individual users working only with Office authoring documents. Multiple tags are separated by commas, but there is no warning if you duplicate tags. Retrieval is via an Explorer search using the syntax "Tag:Tagname" in the search box in File Explorer. As the tag metadata is stored with the file, tagged files can still be found as long as they are in a location which is indexed. However, as most users access files other than those created by Office, this functionality is not widely used.

Office - OneNote

The Office OneNote application provides facilities for storage of files, notes, and drawings within a single, unified application environment. Each group of stored entities is shown as a tab (or page) in the master environment as shown below. Pages may contain sub-pages, but sub-pages cannot contain sub-subpages, giving two levels of hierarchical storage.

OneNote tab structure

OneNote tab structure

Tag objects can be added to tabs via the Home Ribbon. They appear as icons on the page as shown below and text, drawings or other objects can be associated with them.

OneTag tab with Question tag applied

OneTag tab with Question tag applied

A Tag summary screen shows a list of all tags, together with any objects associated with them. Clicking on any item, shows the tab on which it has been placed.

OneNote Tag Summary screen

OneNote Tag Summary screen

The OneNote environment is designed to facilitate the storage and retrieval of all types of information object including notes, drawings, and files without using a hierarchical folder structure. It is strongly focussed on the business environment.

Despite its sophisticated information retrieval facilities (when compared to the veteran workhorse Office applications of Word, Outlook, Excel, and Powerpoint), OneNote is not yet commonly used within organizations with networked PCs. As users need have no interaction with an underlying filesystem, OneNote is much more suited to Web, mobile and tablet environments than the veteran Office applications and has had significant uptake in education for note-taking., which may presage wider adoption.

Document Management Systems

Most document management systems include search and tagging as well as hierarchical folder tree structuring of stored data. These systems are highly sophisticated, often including Web browser access, automated disposal, and elaborate permissions support. Some can be integrated with Microsoft Office, making the addition of tags or disposal classifications mandatory when saving a document. However, as document management systems commonly use a database rather than a filesystem to store data, performance may be considerably poorer than a filesystem, unless the hardware is upgraded substantially. Document management systems are also falling rapidly in price, with limited or “Community” versions of many systems available free. However, performance limitations and user preference for a familiar system often result in ‘off-system’ processing developing, with the document management system being reserved for the ‘good china’, working documents being kept on file shares. This may result in a poorer information retrieval overall, as documents may be found either in the document management system or on a shared filesystem.

Tag Explorer (ver 3.7.0.0)

Tag Explorer is a Windows 10 application from Dr. Cooper available from the Microsoft Store and CNET as a Universal Windows Program, making it particularly easy to download and install. However, the author's website cannot be accessed and support is via an email address, so it is not clear that the application is currently supported. The Help website cannot be accessed and support is via an email address, so it is not clear that the application is currently supported. However, the interface is simple enough to use without access to help:

whats-the-best-software-for-tagging-files-a-review

The Tags Folders button at top left toggles between viewing a set of folders in folder view or tag view:

whats-the-best-software-for-tagging-files-a-review

Clicking on a file or folder shows the tags already applied and allows for the addition of a new tag. Tagging a folder applies the tag to all files in the folder and subfolders.

whats-the-best-software-for-tagging-files-a-review

New tags can only be added if a folder or file is selected. There is no list of tags already added available. Double-byte language tags are supported. Long file names are truncated – screen width for file names is not adjustable.

If the files displayed are moved to a folder not scanned by Tag Explorer using File Explorer, then clicking the original entry will not result in the display of the file. Clicking Refresh will remove the file from the listing. Folders on network drives may be included.

When a new tag is added, no existing tags are shown. This can allow the creation of tags with singular and plural forms, which can be confusing.

Summary:

TagExplorer appears to have been incorporated into the BitQueues product OrganiserMaX, which is reviewed elsewhere in this document. It may be useful for individuals. It has no centralized control of tags or help but is quick to install.

Tag Spaces (ver 3.5.4)

TagSpaces is a heavyweight open source application (version 2.9 released in 2017), offering tag functionality on any platform (including Web browsers) and with a number of language options. The Windows application can be downloaded as an installer or as a Zip file containing a .exe file which can be run without installation. Voluminous help and support are available via GitHub. The forum-like nature of support allows potential users to see what kind of problems others have encountered and the quality and timeliness of any replies.

Unlike many other tagging applications, TagSpaces has no back-end database and stores tags by adding the tag text to the file name. The tags are added between square brackets just before the file extension. Different tags are separated by spaces – no spaces are allowed between tags, and tags cannot contain characters not allowed in file names. This approach is more robust – copying or moving files by any method moves the tags along with the file.

The TagSpaces file manager offers thumbnail views for images: the PRO version (costing €39 or US$45 per year) shows them for all files and offers other additional features, such as applying tags to folders. Enterprise and Web browser add-on versions are also available.

whats-the-best-software-for-tagging-files-a-review

Tags can be added by selecting a file and selecting Add/Remove tags from a context menu to show the Add/Remove tags screen:

whats-the-best-software-for-tagging-files-a-review

TagSpaces supports tag groups – groups of tags related to a particular topic as shown below:

whats-the-best-software-for-tagging-files-a-review

Tags and text can also be added as a translucent overlay to images viewed with the TagSpaces Image Viewer, and it can also work with objects stored in the cloud.

Summary

TagSpaces is a sophisticated product using a robust methodology. Paid Pro and Enterprise versions offer a number of additional features However, it is not clear if the Pro and Enterprise editions support any centralized control of tags. As shareware with an active developer base, it seems likely to be supported into the future, and has kept up a steady release of new versions.

Tabbles (ver 5.7.1)

Tabbles is another heavyweight tagging product from Tag Forge IVS (based in Denmark and Switzerland), with a 70 Mbyte installer. It only runs on Windows platforms. After a slow install, it offers a choice of individual, cloud or LAN versions with sharing of tags between users available in LAN and cloud versions, with permissions control applicable via policies on the underlying SQL Server database, and from a Users Control Center. The cloud version uses an external database hosted by Tag Forge. The free version is limited to tagging 5000 files (before nagging sets in), with the basic version limited to 20,000 files costing €18 (US$21) per year per user. The corporate version costs €72 (US$84) per user per year, but with substantial discounts for students and organizations deemed to be ‘doing good’. Tabbles claims 2000 organizational users, making it the probable brand leader in this domain. Reviews of the product date back to 2010. Very detailed help is available, together with training videos, a blog, and a forum. A pop-up offering chat support appears on the Tabbles web page, but users outside European time zones may find this difficult to use.

In order to download and install you have to subscribe to the Tag Forge newsletter and supply an email address. You are then confronted with a choice of downloading Tabbles or another product called Confidential (v 1.7.1). There is no indication of what Confidential is or how it differs from Tabbles.

Tabbles' implementation follows the standard model of a file manager running over a database. The file manager is sophisticated, using a tree to represent a folder structure, with tags being treated in the same way as folders. A hierarchical structure of tags can be created, but items with a child tag of a parent are not selected when the parent is selected - the parent tag has to be applied as well. URLs can also be tagged from web browsers and viewed and opened from the main Tabbles client.Tagged URLs are visible as bookmarks Tabbles is also available as a Web application, installable on an IIS web server, from which tags can be browsed and files downloaded. Using a Web application avoids the problems organizations often have in installing and updating applications for multiple users, and provides a simple way for users to locate and access tagged items.

When tagging folders, the options of tagging the folder only, the folder and files in it, or creating an auto-tag rule are created. Tagging can also be performed within the application, or by dragging file or folders on to tags within the application tag tree. This approach is good for adding single tags, but adding multiple tags is more complex.

There is very good integration with the underlying Windows operating system using a continuously running component called tagger. If a tagged file is moved or renamed using File Explorer, the Tabbles file manager screen is immediately updated with the new path, and if a tagged file is replaced the disappears from the files shown as using that tag. (If the file is then added with the original tag, Tabbles incorrectly warns you that it has already been tagged, but adds the tag correctly). If a tagged file is deleted, an option to delete the tag entry is shown. The file manager allows the addition of comments to files and many types of file can be previewed. File extensions are treated as a tag.

The downside of the continuously running component is that files may be opened without the user being aware of it and this may prevent other Windows actions (such as renaming folders) from completing. Messages about tag application for a file may be repeated each time the file is closed. Warning messages may also appear when external drives or devices are plugged in.

Tabbles File Manager Screen

Tabbles File Manager Screen

However, the file manager does not have the display options or display speed of File Explorer and the contents of a folder are displayed as a series of screens with Next Page and Previous Page, which can be a slow process for folders containing thousands of items. Files and folders are not grouped separately by default as they are in File Explorer, but folders as well as files can be tagged. The close integration with Windows means that tagging is available via a right-click context menu from File Explorer (three entries are added as shown below), but the Explorer view only indicates that a file has been tagged (via an addition to the icon), not what the tags are. The Confidential product from Tag Forge distinguishes tags indicating a level of confidentiality from others and provides a number of other features useful for data protection.

whats-the-best-software-for-tagging-files-a-review

Files, folders or emails sharing a tag (or tags) can be shown by clicking on the tag list shown in the file manager. If the item is not accessible, a red stop icon is shown.

whats-the-best-software-for-tagging-files-a-review

Tabbles also offers auto-tagging, allowing tags to be applied automatically on the basis of rules using file attributes including content, in a similar fashion to Microsoft Outlook rules. Rules can be applied to files on creation, or to already existing files in a folder by selecting the folder inside the file manager and selecting Apply Auto-tag rules from the right-click menu.

whats-the-best-software-for-tagging-files-a-review

Whilst auto-tagging based on words appearing in content is appealing from a theoretical viewpoint, the ambiguities of language are such that the simple appearance of word or combinations of words in a document is not usually sufficient to classify it correctly.

An Outlook add-in is included allowing tagging to be applied to emails viewed in Outlook.

whats-the-best-software-for-tagging-files-a-review

Clicking Tag brings up the tag selection screen.

whats-the-best-software-for-tagging-files-a-review

Tagged emails appear together with tagged files or folders with an envelope icon when selecting a tag. However, if multiple emails are selected, different tags cannot be applied to different emails.

Summary

Tabbles is a mature product with a multitude of appealing features, many based on its high level of integration with Windows, but it may be over-sophisticated for single users or small organizations. Its use of the file manager/database model means that tags are not attached to files. This means that tagging a file on a removable drive and then re-attaching with a different drive letter results in loss of the tag. Its preview facilities are limited - if you need more than a thumbnail view of Office files before tagging you'll need to open it. The auto-tagging rules are powerful, but the facility for auto-tagging existing files is not obviously accessible. Tabbles offers multi-user operation via the cloud or a Local Area Network and read-only access via the new Web application. Cloud versions support synchronization of local folders with tagged content between users using a remote SQL server database, or one accessible to users via a LAN. Permissions for users can be controlled using functionality only available to a network administrator.

Users will always know if they have Tabbles installed. Pop-up messages from it are frequent (although they can be turned off) and it overwrites hotkey combinations which other applications may be using.

Most individual users would find the free allowance of 5000 files tagged quite adequate, but if that is insufficient, the cost of €18 (US$21) per year for the basic version for individuals is reasonable. For organizations, the un-discounted cost of €72 (US$82) per user per year has attracted some negative comments on the Capterra B2B software site, but reviewers are generally very happy with the product.

Confidential (v 1.7.1)

Confidential is another product from Tag Forge IVS. It appears very similar to Tabbles, but claims to provide data loss prevention, and data compliance, on hard-disks, shared drives or the Cloud by mining sensitive data in files and assigning an appropriate confidentiality level tag. A user manual is not currently available (the user is referred to the Tabbles manual) and the instructions are simply to assign a confidentiality level tag to files or folders. At first inspection, there seems to be no functionality which is not available in Tabbles, except automatic sharing of confidentiality levels between multiple corporate users and the visibility of confidentiality level tags in Explorer. The automatic assignment of confidentiality levels based on text content and path name of documents is a challenging task but it is not obvious in the current release if this is even being attempted.

ThatFile

Like Tag Explorer, ThatFile is a Windows 10 Universal Windows Platform application from Ebey Tech, a Seattle company. It costs AS$4.95 (US$3.50) from the Windows Store. It is described by its creator as having a 'simplistic design allowing users to breeze through directories". Ebey Tech offer a number of games and productivity products. The ThatFile start screen is shown below:

ThatFile start screen

ThatFile start screen

The designers of ThatFile appear to be so confident of the usability of their product that they provide no help other than some videos on the Microsoft Store website. Hovering over the graphical entries on the control bar shows one or two words describing the functionality available. There is no hyperlink back to the author's website, to any online help or support or even any indication of what version of the software is being run.

ThatFile appears to use the file manager/database design of many tagging products and, like Tabbles, provides a list of tags in the same pane as the file manager, so that retrieval of the tagged files is achieved in the same way as opening a folder. Application of tags is achieved by clicking the tag icon after one or more files has been selected, but the tag icon remains greyed out after files have been selected. There is no preview of file content, such as is provided by SetTags and Tabbles, and no provision for multiple users.

There appear to be a considerable number of features in ThatFile, but finding out what they are and how to use them is a matter of trial and error.

Summary

ThatFile appear to be a fairly new product (the executable has a version number of 1.3.4, and is copyrighted 2018). Its light weight and speed of installation are commendable (for Windows 10 users), but it lacks maturity. The addition of help and support features would greatly improve it.

SetTags (ver 3.1.92)

Like TagSpaces, SetTags(from Aleka Consulting) does not use a back-end database for tagged file and folder paths. It uses Windows shortcuts in a dedicated folder structure to store tags and uses the shortcuts' ability to track moved or renamed files. Tags are also stored as text within file names, making it possible for any user without SetTags installed to find tagged files using the native operating system. Tagged email messages and contacts are stored in a database with tags applied and shown with the Outlook Desktop mail client, but this functionality requires additional installation. URL tags are stored in a shareable database. Descriptions can be added to tagged items.

SetTags is available with desktop, cloud or workgroup licenses. Workgroup and cloud licenses allow central control of tag names. A desktop license costs US$19 (A$27 )per year, with a free 30-day evaluation period. Workgroup and cloud license prices are A$69 per user per year (US$49), but the licensing model of limiting the number of users over a 24 hour period rather than the number of installations means a lower cost of ownership than licensing via the number of users.

SetTags can be launched by right-clicking on a file, a selection of files, or a folder and selecting Send To->SetTags. Files and folders can be loaded into SetTags by dragging from Explorer, as well as from within the application. The application shows a Hints selection screen on startup, allowing display of instructions for the commonly used functions of adding, viewing and editing tags. An Outlook Add-In (OutlookTag) allows single or multiple emails or contacts to be tagged from Outlook. Different tags can be applied to different emails in a multiple email selection. URLs can be tagged by dragging from a web browser as well by copying and pasting URLs. Descriptions (or comments) can be added to tagged items.

SetTags displays loaded or tagged items via a simple file manager. A tag description field allows a more detailed description of the tags or the use of characters not allowed in file or folder names to be displayed.

Tags can be applied by dragging from the tag list onto loaded items and a preview pane gives information about the item to be processed with a single click. It also has a slideshow mode, where the preview occupies the entire application screen. Tags can be automatically set using rules based on the file name, path or text content. The interface can be driven by right-clicking in the tag list, or by showing control buttons.

There is good context-sensitive help available beside most buttons and menu options.

Tagged files can be easily exported as a Zip archive, with tag name sub-folders containing copies each file with that tag. This makes the application particularly useful for providing a classified set of files (such as scanned documents) to an external organization. The tag list can also be copied to the Clipboard for use in other applications.

The main SetTags screen showing input items is shown below:

SetTags Input Data

SetTags Input Data

Single or multiple files, folder content or a single folder (or files) can be selected from the File menu items. The tags to be applied can be created (or edited) from the button below the main list. When a file (or files) or a folder are loaded, the Add from Slideshow button is enabled, allowing tags to be added from a slideshow view of any files loaded. When one or more tags are selected, the Add Tag(s) button in the Actions group is enabled and tags can be applied to all loaded by clicking it.

To add tags to a selection of loaded files, clicking one or more tags and then selecting some files from the grid enables the Add Tag(s) button in the Selected Files group above the grid.

Tags can be added or removed from a Slideshow view of loaded data.

whats-the-best-software-for-tagging-files-a-review

When operating in Workgroup license mode, the tag names are stored in a commonly accessible database which only one user may modify, although any user may read them. In Cloud license mode, all files tagged and the Facet folder must be stored in the cloud local folder which is synchronized with a Web master folder.

Summary

SetTags’ shortcut-based approach is attractive where files may be moved or where tagged files need to exported to users who may not have the program installed. It has comprehensive preview and help facilities, and inclusion of tags in file and folder names tags make them visible in File Explorer on Windows, in Outlook and in environments where SetTags is not installed, such as mobile devices. Its functionality is logically consistent and easily accessed. Its ability to auto-tag existing files makes it attractive to businesses wishing to organize collections of files by customer and interaction type (eg quotations, invoices and reminders). The ability to tag URLs allows tagging to be applied to cloud-only repositories. The individual license cost of US$29 per year is reasonable, and the concurrent user licensing model for workgroups and cloud may reduce costs for organizations.

As a lightweight application, it is well-suited to small organizations having difficulty in retrieving files and folders.

Elyse (ver 4.0.1)

Elyse, from Silkwood Software, describes itself as a cross-platform, tag-based file manager, operating over a database. After installation, a demo database loaded with tags and tagged images is opened to assist users in learning the software, which is very capable, but complex. The unlicensed version of Elyse can operate with up to 30 tags. A license to remove the tag limit costs US$10. The application has a detailed help file, but no link or email for support, although the Silkwood Software web page contains a contact email address.

The application screen is divided into four parts as shown below:

whats-the-best-software-for-tagging-files-a-review

No action can be taken until a new database is created via Database-> New Local Database. The screen is then as shown below, with menu items to load files and create tags available:

whats-the-best-software-for-tagging-files-a-review

After creating tags and loading files via the Tag and File menu items, files can be assigned to tags by dragging files onto tag lists with results as shown below:

whats-the-best-software-for-tagging-files-a-review

The browsing tree options can then be used to filter the database content. Files can be displayed by clicking on the thumbnail in the 3rd pane. Image files display a caption field. Tag Groups can be constructed by creating a group with the Edit->Tag Group option, and then selecting multiple tags, and adding to the tag group via a right-click option.

Folders may be added directly to the Browsing Tree pane by dragging, allowing access to files either by folder location or by tag.

As Elyse maintains all its information in a database, changing file names of location via another file manager (such as File Explorer for Windows) result in the links breaking, so that clicking on a file in the 3rd pane results in an error message.

Summary

Elyse is a very capable application aimed at individual users, but it comes with a substantial learning curve. It claims to be multi-user by using a public Postgres database, but whether it offers central control of tags (allowing only privileged users to edit, create or delete tags) is not clear. Without the tight integration with Windows offered by some other products, it is vulnerable to changes in file and folder structure by other file managers. However, its low cost (US$10 for more than 30 tags) is appealing.

XnView MP (0.93.1)

XnView MP is a mature donationware product from French developer Pierre-Emmanuel Gougelet. It is primarily intended for digital image management, but which includes tagging facilities which can be applied to any file type. It is based on the image organizer XnView, which was first released in 1998. XnView MP is available for Windows (which was used for evaluation), Mac and Linux platforms. As a free application (for non-commercial use) it has attracted assistance from many other developers for different language versions. It has forum support and an email address for the developer contact

It operates using the common database/file manager model, with SQLite databases stored in the <User>/AppData/Roaming/XnViewMP folder on Windows. In the absence of any help facilities other than a forum, the extensive functionality could mostly be accessed by trial and error.

Launching XnView MP, the content of the Pictures folder as shown below:

whats-the-best-software-for-tagging-files-a-review

The screen is divided into 6 panes, the upper left showing input folders or the category (tag) list according to the vertical tab , the upper right showing folders and files selected or having a particular category applied, with the same view options as File Explorer. Display of the details view mode is very fast even for folders containing many sub-folders and files. In the lower row, the Info and Preview panes show information about files. Previews are not shown for Word or Excel files, but most image formats and PDF files have previews available.

whats-the-best-software-for-tagging-files-a-review

Double-clicking on any file shown in the upper right pane opens files with the default parent application. Double-clicking on a folder shows the files and folders within it in the same pane.

If an image file is selected, a range of image manipulation functions are available including rotation, renaming, and format conversion.

The Categories pane contains a number of pre-defined entries as shown below:

whats-the-best-software-for-tagging-files-a-review

Additional categories (or tags) are automatically defined from file metadata if IPTC or XMP Subject metadata are present. New categories can be defined by right-clicking in this pane or added hierarchically to a category by right-clicking on it and selecting New Category from the context menu.

Categories can be grouped as Category Sets, although the addition of categories can only be done via Search – there is no support for creation by browsing and selecting. These sets allow categories to be grouped for ease of access when large numbers of categories have been created – clicking on the buttons shown in them puts the selected item into the Category.

whats-the-best-software-for-tagging-files-a-review

Items (single or multiple files or folders) are added to categories by selecting them and then checking the required category (or categories). If they are unselected and reselected the categories applied are checked.

Items in a category can be shown by selecting the Category filter tab and then selecting the desired category. The items in the category are then shown in the upper left pane.

Shift and ctrl-clicking allows selection of multiple categories. Tagging can also be performed by dragging files and folders from Explorer onto Categories icons.

If the path to an Item which has been placed in a category is changed (either through renaming or movement) the original path is shown if the category is selected, together with the item information, but double-clicking on the item does not open it, although the item appears with its new name in the display of items in the upper right pane.

Summary

XnView MP is a good example of successful free/donation-ware development over a long period of time. It is well-suited to individuals with reasonable computer application experience wishing to categorize image files, but categorized images cannot be viewed if the path of any categorized items is changed after categorization. It does not support multiple users with central control of categories. It provides extensive metadata information for images, as well as previews and some image processing, but its preview capability does not include Office files. It would be improved by the creation of an immediately accessible help file and/or some instructional videos but this perhaps reflects the fact that developers like writing code but generally dislike creating help facilities.

AllTags (v 2.2)

This free product, from Germany-based developer Gabriel Victor Herbert, offers tagging for individuals rather than organizations, using a file manager/database model. Its stated aim is to allow users to handle large numbers of files efficiently by replacing file and folder names with tags. The user interface requires some experimentation to perform the tasks of adding tags to files or a group of files, as no predefined tags are included. Tags are options are generated from the file name on loading a single file. The folder name is used as a tag when loading a group of files from a folder.

AllTags offers a search-based file management function, rather than a browser based on a hierarchical folder system. Opening a file results in it being saved to a local store with the tags included in the file name.

Tags are split at whitespace characters, which gives unexpected results, as does the presence of characters not allowed in file and folder names in tags.

The interface uses symbols rather than text for many functions, with text descriptions shown when the controls are hovered over. However, not all controls have text descriptions shown in this way and operation is often a matter of trial and error.

The help file is terse and only comprises answers to a number of questions.

Summary

AllTags’ mode of operation will be very unfamiliar to users of a conventional hierarchical filesystem and the unsigned installer results in a warning message appearing when the product is installed on Windows 10. These features may deter some users. AllTags may find a niche with power users, but its unfamiliar mode of operation will limit its popularity. Version 2.7 has added multi-user functionality, which is free for up to 3 users but costs 2€ per year per user for multiple users.

TagFlow (ver 0.5.1)

This is currently a beta shareware product, originating in France, with Windows and Mac versions. It is an ongoing project to “create a (free) complete solution to manage, sort, organize, save, share and archive digital documents with a concept of smart tags”. As a file manager, it needs a lot of development to be competitive with Windows File Explorer, although it does include integrate user-created tags with tags automatically generated by elements of the path to files added (in the same way as Elyse) and uses search in place of a hierarchical folder structure. Its main screen is shown below:

whats-the-best-software-for-tagging-files-a-review

Summary

TagFlow is a work in progress, with a worthy and ambitious aim, but it is not yet at the stage of being recommendable. At the moment it lacks the maturity to be very useful to anyone who is not a developer wanting to make a contribution, but in a few years’ time, it may be worth investigating.

Rummage

After installation and starting Rummage (from Computer ConQuest), a Page Not Found message does not inspire confidence, but the current version is described as an Alpha release. The product does not appear to have been updated since 2014. It requests access to Contacts, indexes files in any selected folders and generates tags based on file path elements, file type, date and size, and allows additional user tags to be created. The main screen is as shown below

whats-the-best-software-for-tagging-files-a-review

After uninstalling and re-installing, the program did not start.

Summary

Although it has ambitious aims, Rummage is not recommended through lack of robustness. As the Rummage installer appears not to have been updated since 2014, it is likely that development has been abandoned. The Computer ConQuest web site offers web and mobile application development services and lists a large number of UK clients, but does not mention Rummage.

Tagg

The installer for this product is blocked by Windows SmartScreen as being from an unknown publisher. Proceeding anyway and clicking on the web links in the Help menu items or Purchase details triggered a fraudulent web site message from an anti-malware program. The publisher web site Tagtool.com contains only advertisements for other products.

The program hung frequently during testing and could not be uninstalled.

Summary

Not recommended. Possibly a vector for malware.

Tagged Frog

This intriguingly named free application is from LunarFrog. It is a simple, light application which has the following main screen:

whats-the-best-software-for-tagging-files-a-review

The Help->Getting Started button shows the company website, but does not show any help. However, there is a small amount of operating information at http://lunarfrog.com/projects/taggedfrog/quickstart which indicates that the product supports automatic rule-based tag application. Tags can only be added to loaded files (or items). These can be selected by dragging files onto the light green part of the screen or clicking Add Items. However, the interface is complex enough to make it difficult to use effectively without help. As the executable is dated 2010, it is likely that the product is no longer being actively developed.

Summary

With adequate help, this could be a very competitive product, but as it is not provided the product cannot be recommended.

Google Photos

As ever, Google is the elephant in the room. Google Photos is a mainly automatic tagger operating on JPEG photos uploaded to Google servers. The service is free if you accept a slight resolution loss in your images from reducing the JPEG compression quality. Uploaded file size must be below 75 MBytes and image sizes below 100 MPixels. These limits comfortably include mobile phone photos, which typically have a file size of a few MBytes and an image size 12-20 MPixels.

With consumers now expected to take more than 1 trillion photos per year, mostly on mobile phones, the issue of effectively managing these is a now major one and represents possibly the biggest application of tagging. Google Photos has come up with a solution for making photos accessible from any device by storing them in the cloud and using auto-tagging based on time and location data, which are routinely captured. It also applies image analysis for face recognition and for coming up with tags describing the image content.

The results for auto-tagged time are impressive. The photos view shows photos listed beside a timeline on the right-hand side of the screen. Moving the slider shows images taken around the selected time:

whats-the-best-software-for-tagging-files-a-review

Other views of a photo collection group by people, places and things in the Albums view:

whats-the-best-software-for-tagging-files-a-review

Clicking on the People icon shows an index of all the different people found in the collection, with options to merge pairs of groups that Google thinks might be similar:

whats-the-best-software-for-tagging-files-a-review

Clicking on any one of the people then shows all the photos containing that person. The results are surprisingly good and improve with user feedback.

The Places display is more reliable, being based on GPS coordinates stored at the time the photo was taken. If these are not present, Google Photos uses any location data present in photos taken at a similar time uploaded by the same user, on the basis that people do not move very fast. It may also use text present in the photo as a location clue.

whats-the-best-software-for-tagging-files-a-review

However, the location may not be as precise as might be wished, as it is based on part of text string retrieved from a gazetteer using the GPS Latitude and Longitude as input. In the above example, Maldon, Essex, and Maldon, Victoria are separate groups but are given the same name.

The Things grouping is the least reliable. Being based on automated image analysis, it finds classifies images on the basis of objects which may not be the main subject of the photo. Additionally, its classes may not be the ones desired, but it still provides a useful level of performance.

If you want to create your own tags for images manually, then you can do this by placing the images into albums, whose names function as tag names. You can also add descriptions to individual images.

What Google gets out of this colossal store of images (they claim a billion photos are uploaded to Google Photos each day) is not clear. Dave Haynie speculates in a Quora post that it may make you more likely to use other Google products and thus deliver a larger audience for its ads. Google may be able to identify brands which are associated with you or people whom you photograph and use this to place certain ads before you through other channels. Perhaps the ads that have permeated into YouTube will eventually appear when you use it to upload or view your photos and you will have to pay not to see them.

All the image information added in Google Photos for single images is only accessible via Google Photos: if you download an image to which tags have been added, all you get back is what you uploaded - no data which you or Google have added is present, including the useful "Things", "Places" or "People" albums.

However, if you download all your Google Photos images in a 'takeout', the downloaded images are grouped into folders corresponding to albums which you have created and each image file in the album is accompanied by a .json file which includes much of the file metadata, including any description data you may have put in. If you share any of the automatically generated albums (not included in the takeout), these are included in the takeout file

Caption Pro is able to include this information in a caption placed below the image. If this data is uploaded again to Google Photos, slideshows can be created with description information visible, filling a frequently observed gap in Google Photos' capability.

Some reviewers have raised privacy concerns over the storage of personal images and videos on Google servers. It is certainly the case that you will have not have the degree of control over access to your photos and videos that you have if you store them on a local device.

Summary

Despite its limitations, Google Photos does a remarkably good job of tagging images with no user input, and its performance will certainly improve over time. For mobile phone users who have installed the Google Photos app, any photos or videos they take can be automatically uploaded. Google Photos also provides a backup for this data.

Manual classification can be achieved by creating albums (conceptually equivalent to tags) and dragging photos into them. They can then be easily shared by forwarding a link or downloaded as a takeout.


Tagging for Windows (1.0.1.23)

You have to be keen to install Tagging for Windows, a free application from Connect Software BV, a Dutch company, copyrighted in 2019, but it's worth the effort. First you have to verify your email address. Then, you are emailed a download link. After downloading the installer and running it, an error was flagged but the application ran anyway.

Tagging for Windows comprises a Windows Explorer extension providing tagging facilities, and an application called Search and Tag. Icons for tagging and Search and Tag are created on the desktop. The integration with Explorer simplifies the interface greatly, as shown below:

Explorer after installation of Tagging for Windows

Explorer after installation of Tagging for Windows

Tags are created by right-clicking Tag Group and then selecting New Tag from the context menu. Once created, they can be applied to files or folders applied by right-clicking the tag and selecting Connect from the context menu. This effectively loads the tag into the Clipboard and it can then be pasted onto any selected file(s) or folder via the Paste context menu. After tagging, the file icons have a small logo added to their bottom right-hand corner (in the same way as Tabbles does) to indicate that they have been tagged. Tagging of Internet locations is also possible by saving a shortcut or a link to the web site as a file and then copying and pasting the desired tag onto it.

Although Tagging for Windows stores the information connecting file and tags in a database, its close integration with Explorer allows the tag to be treated as part of the file. Tags are preserved if a file is moved, renamed or copied. Folders can also be tagged.

SmartView allows searching for different combinations of tags from Explorer.

The Search and Tag application (version 0.1.4.12) can be used to select files on the basis of file name and content by searching for a string within the file name or content within a specified path. Selected files can then be previewed and manually tagged by selecting the file and clicking the down arrow button to add it to the list of files sharing a tag.

Search and Tag Application interface

Search and Tag Application interface

Online help is available by right-clicking the Explorer Tags item, selecting About Tagging for Windows option and then "Connect Website" .

Summary

Tagging for Windows is an impressive application, providing a well thought out approach to a complex task, but the process of copying the tag to the clipboard and then pasting it onto a file is unfamiliar. A useful extension would be to support dragging of the file icon onto the desired tag. The close integration with Windows/File Explorer is a bonus. The application name is descriptive, but not distinctive, and search results for it do not easily lead to the download site. The use of the verb 'connect' instead of 'tag' is disconcerting at first but one soon gets used to it.

There is no facility for central control of tags for use within organizations, as provided by applications such as SetTags and Tabbles, but for individual Windows users, it represents a good choice.

File Juggler (2.0.15)

File Juggler from Danish company Bitvaerk describes itself as a file organizer rather than a tagging program, but its functionality is similar to a tagging program in that it can take action on the basis of rules operating on file metadata and content within specified folders. Actions include copying, moving, deleting, notifying. Command line actions are also available, providing a high degree of flexibility.

File Juggler Interface

File Juggler Interface

File Juggler only operates when files are created or modified in the specified folders - files which already exist and satisfy the rules are shown with status 'Pending' or 'Processed' and there does not seem to be an easy way of actioning these files on the basis of the rules. The distinction between 'Pending' and 'Processed' is not clear. Processed files are greyed out, but the right-click options are still available.

File content, as selected by right-clicking files listed in the 'If" box, shows the extracted text content rather than the file as opened by its parent application. The Open Preview button on the File Content screen requires the user to select the file to view from the parent folder.

The File Juggler interface is simple and intuitive, but rules are limited to and/or operations. Help facilities are limited to answers to 6 frequently asked questions, but some useful operation information is provided on the product home page. The product creator, Simon Hiort-Lorenzen, is refreshingly candid about his product on the purchase page. File Juggler offers a free 30-day evaluation and a permanent license costs US$40.

If you have a complex file organization task then File Juggler could well be useful. If you don't mind using a command-line interface, the free open-source product organize offers similar capabilities for any platform.

OrganizerMaX (v 1.12.5)

OrganizerMaX, a new product (2018) from US company Bitqueues is an ambitious product originating in the Mac world but also offering a Windows product which it claims is 'a perfect Windows Explorer Alternative [which] helps you with organizing the daily digital clutter'. It includes the ability to add tags to any type of file or folder and perform other useful organizational tasks. It incorporates Tag Explorer, which is reviewed earlier in this document, but OrganizerMaX is not a Universal Windows Program. Its major shortcoming is a complete lack of help for using what appear to be considerable capabilities. The only apparent guidance for using the program either from within the application or from the company web site is a link to a video presentation on the web site, which shows the message "Video Unavailable" when clicked on. Searching on YouTube does locate a video of the product in use but there is no soundtrack and any potential users will not be much the wiser after watching it. The BitQueues web site blog content does not appear to relate to the products sold by the company.

I was able to create and apply tags to files and folders, and view tagged entities by trial and error, but this capability alone does not justify the A$47 price tag. Operation speed was quite slow in a Windows environment as the application uses Java executables.

From inspection, OrganizerMaX has the potential to offer some useful extensions to File Explorer capabilities but until the product is better documented it cannot be recommended.


TagTower (v 1.8.3)

TagTower (from Plastiliq Software, who offer a number of image and video utilities) is a simple tagging program which can operate on files and folders. Tags are created only when a file or folder is loaded into the collection of tagged objects (known as a library). Loading can be performed via buttons, menu selection or by dragging onto the bottom half of the screen as shown below. Selection is via Windows/File Explorer - there is no preview. Pre-existing tags for the desktop and for recently accessed files are provided. Showing files tagged as recent may be slow as the list may include hundreds of shortcuts to files. There is no multi-user functionality.

TagTower screen with two  user-defined tags (Test1 and Test2) and no tag clicked.

TagTower screen with two user-defined tags (Test1 and Test2) and no tag clicked.

Clicking on a tag shows all the items with that tag in the bottom of the screen and the available tags appear in 2 rows, with the clicked tag in the top row as shown below. If any files have multiple tags including the selected tag, this tag also appears in the top row. Clicking on the tag again deselects the tag. Files with one tag or another may be shown by clicking multiple tags.

If a file or folder is moved or renamed, the original path is shown but the icon changes to an exclamation mark.

TagTower screen after clicking on a single tag

TagTower screen after clicking on a single tag

When a file or folder is added, the screen below is shown, allowing the user to add either an existing or a new tag. If a new tag is defined, the green + sign must be clicked to add it to the available list.

TagTower file or folder addition screen

TagTower file or folder addition screen

TagTower Summary

The simplicity of TagTower allows users to work out how to use it without any help facilities. It may have been a leading product in 2012, which is when the current version dates from, but it has been overtaken by many other products since then. Its presence in the list of Plastiliq products is probably due to a long-standing user base and the fact that the product is still functional in current Windows versions. The downloadable version is not licensed and it is not clear what limitations are placed on the unlicensed version. A license costs US$19.95.

TagTower's functionality is considerably less than other tagging software, including free products such as Tagging for Windows, and as such, it cannot be recommended.

FileTag (v 2.1.3)

FileTag is a Windows Universal Program available only from the Microsoft App Store, written by Italian developer Luca Lindholm, who offers a number of other Windows 10 utilities. The free version only allows the creation of a single tag, but unlimited tags can be created with the paid version, which costs US$0.99. File Tag's promotional material is intriguing, but after downloading, installing and running it I found that the program did not work was because I had not passed through the Settings screens, which are accessed by clicking the > symbol on the right-hand side of the first Settings screen. After doing this and using the default values I was able to access the main screen. However, the program still did not appear to work. Attempts to add tags to selected files by following the on-screen advice were unsuccessful. The Help facility contains only a short description of a few features. Referring again to the Settings screen I found that not selecting a folder under the Permissions tab within which all tagged files would be found, results in Permissions denied messages when opening a file, and the failure of all tagging operations.

Having rectified these problems, I was then able to create a series of tags and apply them to files and folders (collectively known as elements) by dragging them into the main area when the region containing a color corresponding to a particular tag was selected. Adding elements using the + buttons was not successful.

The icon-only main screen shown below has a highly contemporary appearance. However, not all icons have text display of what the icon does when hovering over the icon.

FileTag screen with several files and a folder tagged

FileTag screen with several files and a folder tagged

Selecting the various active areas around the icons on the LHS of the screen shows the list of tags, tagged elements or the elements containing a particular tag. There is also a search facility. Clicking on a tagged element shows the options below.

FileTag options after clicking on a tagged element

FileTag options after clicking on a tagged element

The nature of these options is only evident when the icons are clicked. The Delete option removes the tagged file as well as the tag. The text icon allows a reminder to be associated with an element.

FileTag Summary

Visually, FileTag is appealing in its use of Windows 10 interface features but its current design will result in many users thinking that it does not work at all. The process of applying tags to files or folders is not obvious and application by selection does not appear to work. A help facility, accessible from the first startup, which describes how to perform all the operations expected of such a program would be a great improvement.

Digitile

Digitile, a small startup based in Phoenix, Arizona, operates as a collaboration-oriented web application working only with files and emails stored in the cloud. Its stated aim is to be ‘a file productivity platform for the workforce that relieves everyday frustrations with file organization, version chaos, and accessibility’, and as such is intended for organizations rather than individuals. As a web application, it is accessible from any platform. It intends to have the capacity to access files and emails in a large range of cloud repositories, but the functionality is currently only available for major providers, including Google Drive, Dropbox, Gmail, OneDrive and SharePoint. It provides federated search over all repositories and a visual thumbnail of all files which it accesses irrespective of which repository they are in. Before it can operate, it needs access to these cloud repositories and users must supply credentials and agree to the Digitile app accessing their files. There appear to be problems scanning certain repositories: a OneDrive repository containing 6000 files was still running after many hours and was probably in an endless loop. However, Dropbox and Google Drive repositories containing fewer files were scanned quickly.

After scanning, the screen below appears when logging in to Digitile. The Popular tags are simply folder names within the different repositories.

Digitile Screen After Loading From Multiple Repositories

Digitile Screen After Loading From Multiple Repositories

Clicking on any of these tags shows files with the selected tag, and indicates which repository they are found in:

Display of Files Sharing Tag

Display of Files Sharing Tag

Clicking the Tag button allows descriptive text to be added to the file entry. New tags can then be added. The Information button displays a puzzling message, as there is no "green box above":

whats-the-best-software-for-tagging-files-a-review

After typing new tag text into the box labelled 2, the screen is as below:

whats-the-best-software-for-tagging-files-a-review

However, clicking the arrow to the right of the new tag box result in the tag disappearing and the defined tag is not added to the selected files.

The company boasts a very slick website, and the blog contains many interesting posts on information retrieval but has not been added to since September 2018.

Digitile has a free 7-day trial, and subscriptions cost $10 per user per month or $72 for an annual license.

Summary

Digitile is a product which promises much but seems to deliver little. Although well-conceived and filling an obvious need in organizations, it is immature. Loading files from OneDrive appeared to send the program into a loop. Whilst it provides unified search and access to multiple cloud repositories, the AI-based auto-tagging appears only to use the folder name as an automatically generated tag. It was not possible to create and apply new tags, making it of little interest as a tagging application.

FenrirFS (2.4.7)

FenrirFS is a free, file management program from a Japanese company Fenrir. The only English version downloadable is from 2013 and is not the most recent, which is only in Japanese at present. The Readme file recommends Windows XP as the preferred operating system.

FenrirFS is quick to install and the default display is shown below:

FenrirFS default screen

FenrirFS default screen

FenrirFS can select and preview files on the basis of labels. Selecting a folder icon in the Smart Folder part of the screen shows files in that folder. Each file in the selected folder is assigned color-coded labels comprising elements of the folder path, and the labels and file name are shown on the right-hand side of the screen. Files within a folder appearing in the Smart Folder box (such as Document) do not receive a label. Where there are a large number of files within a selected folder (eg 20,000 files in documents folder), the full list of files and labels is not shown. Moving the slider on the RHS to the bottom of the screen does not immediately move to the last file in the specified order Some of the folders in the Smart Folder box do not appear to work as expected. If any of these are selected, only files opened within FenrirFS are shown, not files opened by Explorer.

New labels can be created and added to the default labels list and then applied to selected files by dragging them onto the new label, thus providing a tagging facility. Comments about files can also be added.

Different view modes can be selected, including some which include file previews. New Smart Folders containing selected file can be created, but the user is expected to define these from a raw SQL query without any knowledge of the underlying table. Only files can have labels applied to them, not folders, mail messages or URLs.

There are no help facilities, only a Readme file describing changes to different versions.

Summary

FenrirFS may be useful as a file manager working on a group of files which have been organized into a complex folder structure with consistent naming, and for Japanese users. The automatic creation of labels from folder path elements results in a very long and cumbersome label list. The lack of any help facilities makes it difficult to use. For English language users, other free products such as Tagging for Windows offer more modern design and much easier tagging functionality.

RecentX (5.0.10)

RecentX is a Windows-only product from Indian company ConceptWorld whose primary purpose is to improve on the Windows support for viewing and opening objects (files, folders, web sites, and programs) which have been recently used. RecentX has a 30-day free evaluation period. A permanent license costs US$19.95.

RecentX has been very successful in streamlining access to previously opened objects, as a massive list of testimonials indicates. It also offers tagging facilities for recently used objects. The RecentX display of recently opened files (accessed via a floating toolbar) is shown below:

RecentX Files display

RecentX Files display

The list of available tags is shown above the list of files. Red labels indicate Smart Tags, which are automatically generated on the basis of file extension. Clicking any of them shows only those recently accessed files with extensions matching those defined in the Smart Tag as shown below:

RecentX Smart Tag definition

RecentX Smart Tag definition

Regular tags (shown in blue) can be created by right-clicking on any of the files shown and selecting Tags->Assign Tags... Tags can then be entered as a comma-separated string, or already-defined tags applied. The tag then appears in the Tags: row above the file list, and clicking on the tag shows only those files which have had the tag applied.

When viewing any of the other RecentX screens, showing recently used Folders, Web Sites, or Programs only regular tags are available, but tags created for one class of object are not visible for other classes.

RecentX has excellent on-line help available.

Summary

Tagging is very much an extra feature on top of the basic RecentX functionality: unless an object appears in the list of those recently opened, it cannot be tagged. This feature limits its usefulness as a tagging application, as does the fact that new tags must be defined for different classes of object. Whilst it cannot be recommended as a tagging application, its basic functionality of making recently opened objects easily accessible is extremely useful.


Eagle (v 1.9.2)

Eagle is a specialized Windows/Mac product aimed at designers wishing to organize image content and it includes a tagging capability. As such it does not function with any file type but does support most image formats as well as Word, PDF and PowerPoint files. Eagle costs US$29.95 for a perpetual license. All files are displayed graphically as shown below:


Eagle Interface

Eagle Interface

Tags can be added by clicking on an item loaded into the Eagle library and then the New Tag button as shown below. Suggested tags are derived from the space-separated elements of the file name. Tags are displayed as a list, which may become unwieldy if a large number of tags are required.

Adding new tag in Eagle

Adding new tag in Eagle

Help is available via the Eagle web site in the form of answers to commonly asked questions. Operation is reasonably self-explanatory. The product can operate as browser plug-in.The product has attracted positive reviews from Medium.com and Packt.

Summary

if you are only interested in tagging image files and a few other file types on a filesystem, and are not needing to create large and complex tag hierarchies, Eagle is a good and reasonably priced option. The ability to run on Macs will be attractive to graphics and design professionals using this platform.

TagsToo (v 1.12.0)

TagsToo is a free, open-source, multi-platform tagging program for files and folders from Spanish developer Pablo Andueza dating from 2017. The program is written in Javascript and the downloaded executable file runs the application rather than an installer. Like many tagging programs it uses a database/file manager format, with the file manager displaying tags applied in a dedicated column. TagsToo appears to be intended for individual use – there are no facilities for sharing tags between users. Application of tags and searching for tagged files and folders is performed on the Explorer and Search tabs respectively as shown below.

TagsToo Explore Tab

TagsToo Explore Tab

TagsToo Search Tab

TagsToo Search Tab

As a multi-platform application (Windows, Mac and Linux), the file manager differs from Windows Explorer, with click-and-hold replacing the double-click operation to open files found in Windows applications. Application of tags from a colorful interface is via drag and drop from a list of tags displayed at the bottom of the screen onto a file manager display above. The file manager display has 9 view modes, one of which resembles the Windows details view, but none provide previews of file content. Application of tags is only possible onto single files and folders, although the option to tag all files and folders within a folder is provided. Tags can be copied between files and folders. TagsToo requires a separate database for files and folders on different drives.

Help facilities are installed rather than web based, and the relatively recent release date makes it likely that support will be readily available.

For Windows users, any file or folder name changes or moves made in the native Explorer file manager will result in the changes being apparent if the display is refreshed, but any tag information on the changed file or folder will be lost.

Summary

The major market for TagsToo is non-Windows environments, where competing options are very limited. For Windows, it compares unfavourably with products such as Tabbles, SetTags and Tagging for Windows through its lack of integration with Explorer, file preview features and multi-item tagging. The lack of an installation is actually a negative feature for naïve Windows users as TagsToo will not automatically appear in the Programs list.

Ritt (v 0.2.0)

Ritt is a Windows 10 file and folder tagging program available only from the Windows Store written by Singapore company Ritt. The Windows Store distribution platform comes with advantages of simple installation, update availability, integrated feedback and license purchase (A$10.49 after a 30-day free trial), but with the disadvantage of lack of control over installation – problems with Windows Store may result in downloads not being possible. Ritt aims to make files and folders accessible using both a folder tree and a tag tree. The Ritt interface uses features common to Universal Windows Programs, giving it an attractive, modern appearance.

Ritt is based around folders and the start interface only allows folders to be loaded by clicking +Source as shown below. Drag and drop from Explorer is not supported.

Main Ritt controls

Main Ritt controls

Tags can then be added by clicking + Tag and the tag list and folder content are shown in the center and right-hand panes as below:

Ritt main screen before tagging

Ritt main screen before tagging

A tag tree can be constructed by adding a new tag and then dragging it over an existing tag.

Ritt tag tree

Ritt tag tree

However, If a lower level tag (green or blue) is applied, clicking on the tagged item will not show the tag unless it is already visible in the centre pane. Applying a lower level tag does not apply the parent tags.

The right hand pane can display items as list or as icons, and selected items can be previewed via the Preview button at the top. However, the preview for folders and Office files merely shows a large icon. The content of other file types is shown as a thumbnail.

Tags are applied by selecting an item and one or more tags in the centre pane. An icon then appears beside the tagged item. The icon only indicates that the item has been tagged – not which tags have been applied.

Ritt screen showing tagged files

Ritt screen showing tagged files

The problem of displaying items with selected tags as well as items in a folder is that once an item has been selected for tagging in the right-hand pane, items sharing a tag cannot be selected no items in the right-hand pane are selected. All items from the right-hand pane can be removed by clicking in a blank region of the left hand pane. Selecting one more of tags then displays the tagged items.

There is a Search box at the top of the right-hand pane which returns results included in sub-folders of the added folder. It appear to use the same syntax as Windows search.

The Help function simply opens the Ritt web site. It does not give instructions or information to perform specific actions. The Demo option does not work. Feedback opens a Windows Store feedback form, which helpfully shows all submitted problems for that application.

Like many tagging programs, Ritt uses a database to store tag information. The database is simply a compressed JSON file. After tags have been applied, the Save button at the top of the screen needs to be clicked, otherwise the tags will not be visible the next time Ritt is open. The first time Save is clicked a prompt for a location to save the database appears. If files are moved, copied or renamed while Ritt is running, the tags move with the file, but if the action is performed in File Explorer while Ritt is not running, then the original file appears as tagged, but with a warning icon that it should be located.

Summary

Ritt is a new product as of April 2020 (whose version number is only available via the App list in Settings) and it currently lacks maturity and features compared to some of the other tagging software offerings. It has its own approach to the complex requirements of tagging, but once these have been discovered it is reasonably straightforward to use. Its design restricts its use to individuals – there is no facility for multiple users to use the same set of tags.

Taggr

Taggr is a free product for Windows 10 from So Close Studios available from the Windows Store. There is no website from the parent company. The product is extremely basic, offering only tagging of single files without displaying a list of available tags, with only an email address for help and support. It does not offer functionality much beyond what is available in native Windows, as extended by metadata handlers such as FileMeta. It is not recommended.

XYplorer (v 20.90)

XYPlorer is a venerable file manager from the Cologne Code Company in Germany dating back to 1997. It costs US$39.95 for a permanent single CPU license and has a 30 day free trial period, with minor performance limitations. It was built to improve on the performance of Windows (now File) Explorer. Its appearance is very similar to the old Windows Explorer - there is no ribbon, just a very extensive top level menu as shown below:

XYplorer Menu

XYplorer Menu

XYPlorer appears to have all the capabilities of File Explorer (including context menus with all the Explorer options) extended by a set of tagging options as shown below;

whats-the-best-software-for-tagging-files-a-review

Tags can be added to a list from this menu and a selection of them applied to any objects selected.Tags are displayed in a selectable column in the top right pane of XYPlorer as an alphabetically ordered, comma- separated string:

XYPlorer Tag display

XYPlorer Tag display

The presence of a comma in a tag string results in the tag (Red, or purple) being displayed incorrectly as shown in the last entry above.

As all filesystem changes (moves, renames, copies or deletes) can be performed within XYPlorer, tags remain attached to the objects to which they were first applied after changes. Compatibility with changes made in File Explorer was not tested as XYPlorer is designed to replace rather than extend it.

Options are provided for saving and importing the tag list, but there is no tag hierarchy and no simple way of deploying a controlled set of tags to multiple users, making XYPlorer mainly of interest to individual users.

Summary

XYPlorer is a mature file manager designed to replace File Explorer, with good tagging facilities for files and folders. However, its use would require users to stop using the native File Explorer and this may be a bridge too far for many, unless they prefer to avoid using File Explorer for other reasons.

Email Tagging Software

Apply tags to emails can assist in their management as much as tagging files and two of the most popular mail clients, Gmail and Outlook, provide native facilities for this. There are a few products specializing in email tagging, mainly as add-ins to Microsoft Outlook, which has a public API, facilitating extensions to its functionality.

Outlook

The Microsoft Office mail client for Windows desktops has a very wide range of capabilities including applying categories (or tags) to emails from the Message tab of the Message windows as shown below. The default categories are names of colors and each tag can be assigned a color:

Outlook Categories

Outlook Categories

New categories can be defined as shown below:

New Outlook Category

New Outlook Category

Emails can be filtered by category, and categories can be applied to multiple emails. Search folders can be defined to display emails with particular category values.

If Outlook messages are exported to.msg files, any applied tags are included in the files.

Gmail

Gmail as a web-based mail client is necessarily less flexible than a desktop application and it provides tag definition and filtering via labels. These can be created hierarchically in the message view and the Inbox can be filtered by label as shown below:

Gmail Labelling (left) and filtering by label (right)

Gmail Labelling (left) and filtering by label (right)

Gmail does not support the folder-based organization of emails provided by Outlook, perhaps reflecting its more recent origin.

Gmail message labels are exported if you decide to download all of your Gmail messages, but making these accessible to any other mail client is likely to be difficult.

EmailTags

EmailTags (from Standss, a company specializing in Outlook productivity tools) claim on their very slick website that their product will “Organize and find emails without changing the way you work”. It costs US$39.95 for a license, which is required for operation after a 14-day free trial period

After installation, the main Outlook window and message window ribbons contain new sections as shown below:

whats-the-best-software-for-tagging-files-a-review

The Lightning icon contains a dropdown for recently used tags.

The arrow icon at the bottom right shows settings options and a 5-screen tour of the application, which gives some advice on email management. Clicking Tag It! From either window shows the screen below:

EmailTags TagIt! screen

EmailTags TagIt! screen

Any existing tags are shown in the Tags: box, and clicking the Tag button applies the tag to the email. If a different tag to the one applied is chosen using the lightning icon, the existing tag is replaced, giving the impression that EmailTag can only add a single tag to an email. Multiple tags can be added vis the Tag It! button. The result of the tagging can be seen in the Categories column on the main window, and above the message in the Message window:

Outlook view after adding tag with EmailTag

Outlook view after adding tag with EmailTag

Clicking on the Search button in the EmailTags ribbon section allows emails to be filtered by Tag.

There are no help facilities other than the application tour, and there appears to be no way of deleting tags from the available list.

Summary

Despite its glossy presentation and some glowing testimonials, EmailTags has some major deficiencies, the most notable being lack of detailed help. It provides little functionality which is not available in native Outlook. Whilst the Outlook tagging and email management functionality is not easy to access from application documentation, the product is so widely used that guidance is readily available.

Stagsi (v0.4.1660) Windows only

Stagsi (v 0.4.1660) comes from Canadian company Soletude, which only offers this product, which Free, professional and enterprise licenses are available. The free license is constrained to a 32-bit application (although it will run on Windows 10 64-bit, 5000 files tagged and the version number downloaded, but is permanent. The professional license costs US$5, has no restrictions and free upgrades for 1 year after purchase. Details of the enterprise license are available on application.

The start screen is shown below:


Stagsi start screen

Stagsi start screen

Stagsi follows the common design of a file manager and database (SQLLite) and can work with any file type. Files can be imported via the screen below:

Stagsi Import Screen

Stagsi Import Screen

After, importing, files are shown as icons in the left panel, but there are no previews of non-image files. When a file is selected in the left panel, any tags that it has are shown on the right as shown below:

After file import

After file import

Another view of imported files shows file metadata, including a checksum:

Detailed view after import

Detailed view after import

The Tags screen, shown by clicking the Tags icon, shows tags created automatically and manually, with tags applied to the selected file shown as checked:

Tags Screen

Tags Screen

The list can be edited by clicking the EditTags button:

Editing Tags

Editing Tags

The displayed tags can be filtered via the box at the top to show only tags containing a specified string. Hovering over a tag gives more information about it:

Tag Information

Tag Information

New Parent or Child tags can be added by right-clicking on a tag.

User defined tags applied to files can be given a variable weight via the green and orange buttons on the right of the right-hand panel.

Weighting Tags

Weighting Tags

Tagged files are displayed by searching for the tag name in the box above the left-hand panel:

Displaying Tagged Files

Displaying Tagged Files

Tags or groups of tags can be quickly applied with a single keystroke via a Tag Deck, which can be defined in the lower RH part of the screen.

Context sensitive help is available for many functions by hovering over a button or control and clicking F1, which shows the relevant part of a Windows Help file. There is a YouTube video of its operation with a collection of photos. Soletude also operate a forum for problems and discussion

Summary

Stagsi has a great deal of functionality, but is somewhat immature, being launched in July 2020. As with most tagging products, there is a significant learning curve and the product is best suited to software enthusiasts. The graphical nature of the controls (presumably to support multi-language environments) means that Tooltips are required to find out what the control does, and these are not always present The absence of any preview capability makes it best suited to image files, where the thumbnail indicates the content. For text files, seeing the only file type icon and file name is not very helpful in deciding what tag or tags to apply. A more serious weakness is that renaming a tagged file renders it invisible to Stagsi – it must be re-imported and re-tagged. This means that files accessed on an external drive will only be visible if the drive mapping letter is unchanged. There is no support for tagging URLs directly, but URL links, which are files, can be tagged.

The Enterprise license presumably supports multiple users sharing the same database, but details of this mode of operation were not tested.

In the photo tagging area, advances in automatic image analysis are making manual tagging less essential. Both Google Photos and Microsoft Photos have respectable capabilities in this area, but the precision required for retrieval of desired images from large photo collections is not yet present in either product and manual photo management systems still have a role.

Despite these weaknesses, Stagsi offers impressive free functionality and a very cheap license for the professional version.

hydrus (v 407) - Windows, Mac, Linux

hydrus is a free, open source tagging product from Anonymous designed for network operation and aimed at the imageboard Internet subculture. It is not to be confused with hydrological modelling software of the same name. The creator makes his software philosophy of freedom, complete privacy and abhorrence of capital letters in interfaces very clear in the Help function. Although designed for Windows, the client installer is flagged by Windows as potentially dangerous due to lack of a code-signing certificate. The installer is large (150 Mbytes) and non-Windows 10 environments may require some additional components. The author acknowledges the complexity of functionality and provides a simpler guide to installation and operation.

hydrus has an idiosyncratic interface by Windows standards and users may puzzle over this. The expected OK text within screen buttons is replaced by green text indicating the action to be executed. It operates with the usual file manager/database structure, but the file manager only uses thumbnail images. Databases can be local or shared between multiple users. A very large public tag repository exists with 14 million tags applied to 50 million image files. File names are not used in the database. The start screen is as shown below:

hydrus start screen

hydrus start screen

Clicking file->Import shows the following screen:

Import screen

Import screen

Files can be added via the add files or add folder button, but import does not occurs until any of the green-lettered buttons are double-clicked. Successive import operations are shown in separate tabs.

Once loaded, a group of files appears in as a new tab, and right-clicking after selecting one of more files allows tags to be added via the manage->tags option, or by clicking F3. If no file is selected, the manage tags screen is not visible.

Manage Tags

Manage Tags

Entering the tag name in the blue box, shows existing tags containing the string, together with the number of tagged files. Clicking Enter adds the tag to the list shown for the selected item as shown below. Tags can also be applied by clicking an entry in the MyTags list:

Showing Tags

Showing Tags

Clicking apply after entering the tag without clicking Enter does not apply it. This is but one example of the idiosyncracy of the interface (by Windows standards) which may deter some users. An example of the view of tags on files is shown below:

View of tags applied to file or files

View of tags applied to file or files

Like many tagging products, hydrus is best suited to images containing graphical thumbnails, and the help function focuses on image collections. Many other file types can be loaded, but files from Office 2007 and later are detected as Zip files, and opened as such, making their content inaccessible via hydrus.

Files with a particular tag can be detected via the Files tab. As the tag name is typed into the blue box, matching tags appear below:

Showin files with selected tag or tags

Showin files with selected tag or tags

Clicking Enter shows files with the entered tag on the right:

Viewing thumbnails of tagged files

Viewing thumbnails of tagged files

With its network capability, users can also create their own tag repositories which can be shared with others. One enthusiastic user has created a number of videos of hydrus operation, but unlike YouTube videos, these need to be downloaded to be viewed.

Hydrus deals with file movement and renaming by keeping a local copy of any imported file, but this is less of an issue for image files than for text documents, as there is seldom a reason to re-organise them.

The operation of the hydrus server was not tested.

Summary

Within the voluminous online help is the statement that hydrus was written for Internet enthusiasts. If you are not one, this is not software for you. However, if you are, and have a large media file collection, it offers substantial functionality on any platform if you are not daunted by a complex interface. Dating back 8 or 9 years, and currently running at 700 downloads per week, it can be considered mature software offering effective retrieval from the large image and video file collections. It may well be the most downloaded tagging program. Reddit contains some useful comments on hydrus from users.

Somewhere (v 0.1.0)

Somewhere is new Windows/Linux tagging product from Canada-based developer Charles Zhang, who describes the note-based philosophy behind the product here. The author has a number of other programs available. Payment for the software is optional. The Windows version is available as a command-line executable and a desktop application. The command line executable could not be run due to lack of a particular .NetCore.App version on a Windows 10 test machine.

The most obvious shortcoming of the Windows desktop version is the colour scheme: it is difficult to see operating options, and changing the colour scheme requires use of a database editor or the command line executable, which would not run on the test machine. The Windows version is a Zip file, which requires the user to unpack it and then guess which of the executable files runs the program (SomewhereDesktop.exe). It appears to use a database to store tag information and files need to be loaded before they can be displayed, obviating the need for a file manager component. It allows creation of text files (Notes) to which tags can be added.

The start screen (after defining a Home directory) is complex and it is difficult to determine how to add files or tag them. There is no help available.

whats-the-best-software-for-tagging-files-a-review

Tags can be added by entering the tag name in the Tags box as shown below, and clicking Save Changes. Selected items have their tags displayed in the Tags box, where the tag string can be edited.

whats-the-best-software-for-tagging-files-a-review

Summary

Somewhere is highly immature, resembling a student project more than a consumer-oriented product. Whilst its creator may be able to use it effectively, other people will have considerable difficulty, despite its worthy aims. Its operation has to discovered by trial and error, as there is no help available. On the Windows platform, there are better paid and free tagging programs available.

The Wrap

There is no one best product for tagging files. Searching for products on Google will give you a lot of results, but many of them are products no longer supported or still in development.

If you’re an individual Windows user, Tabbles is the most mature of the offerings, with multi-user options. The license (if you exceed the free limit) is reasonably priced at US$21 per year. SetTags offers comparable capability, easy export of tagged files to external users and read-only tag access from any platform at a similar price. The free Tagging for Windows is another good choice, but be prepared for some installation hiccups. If all you want to tag are photos, XnView does a good job of this if you're an experienced application user. Novices may find it daunting.

For non-Windows platforms, the free TagSpaces is well developed, but it assumes a reasonable level of familiarity with computers, and some of the desirable features are only available in the paid version. XnView, which is completely free, is the other option but like TagSpaces, it requires familiarity with applications, in the absence of any immediate help facilities.

If you need to tag documents in the cloud and to have tagging available on multiple devices, you need a product which attaches tags to files rather than storing them in a database. This restricts the field to TagSpaces and SetTags.

For organizations, Tabbles has a multi-user mode with central control of tags, but if you’re not an organization eligible for their worthiness discount, the cost of US$84 per user per year is significant. SetTags offers similar features and a price based on concurrent rather than potential usage, which could provide substantial savings.

If you're only interested in tagging photos and don't mind placing your photos on Google's servers, Google Photos offers free, good quality auto-tagging and easy sharing of the results, but manual tagging and organization are difficult.

For tagging emails, Outlook and Gmail both provide good support, but you may have to spend some time finding out how to use the Outlook functionality. Tabbles and SetTags include email tagging for Outlook email clients.

Recommended File Tagging Software Summary

ApplicationSupplierPlatformFunctionalityPriceNotes

Office Authoring Apps

Microsoft

Windows

2 stars

Included in Office

1

Document Management Systems

Various

Various

4 stars

Included in product

2

Tag Explorer

Microsoft Store

Win 10

3 stars

Free

3

ThatFile

Microsoft Store

Win 10

2 stars

US$3.50

3

TagSpaces

tagspaces.org

All

3.0 stars

Freemium

4

Tabbles

Tag Forge IVS

Windows Vista & newer

4.5 stars

Freemium

5

SetTags

Aleka Consulting

Windows Vista & newer

4.5 stars

Free Demo

6

XnView MP

XnSoft

All

4 Stars

Free

 

Elyse

Silkwood Software

All

3 stars

Freemium

7

Google Photos

Google

Cloud

2 stars

Free

8

Tagging for Windows

Connect Software BV

Windows

3.5 stars

Free

9

OneNote

Microsoft

Windows

3 stars

Included in Office

10

Tagging Software Notes

1 -Office Authoring

Incudes Word, Excel and PowerPoint. Only files from these applications can be tagged. Duplicate or variant tags easily applied

2 - DMSs

Tagging often included, with sophisticated permission control. Free versions may have poor performance.

3 - Tag Explorer,ThatFile

No help or support, but quick installation as Universal Windows Platform app. Available from MS App Store.

4 - TagSpaces

Free basic functionality, cross-platform. Users assumed to be highly computer-literate.

5 - Tabbles

Mature product. Email and auto-tagging on creation available. Free for up to 5000 files tagged, US$21 individual user/yr, multi-user US$84 user/yr (US$21/yr with discount)

6 - SetTags

Good preview, cloud-ready, tags readable without installed program, email and auto-tagging. Demo license for 30 days or 100 files tagged, US$21 year for individual, US$49 user/year for multi-user.

7 - Elyse

Complex interface. Free for up to 30 tags, US$10 for unlimited.

8 - Google Photos

Photos only. Good auto-tagging, poor manual facility. Provides cloud backup

9 - Tagging for Windows

Integration with Win Explorer, simple interface,file selection for manual tagging.

10-OneNote

Good tagging facilities supplied but only within application.

Your use of Tagging Software

Used Other Tagging Software?

Let me know what it is and what you thought of it and I'll add my opinion of it to this review.

What do you think of tagging software you've used?

Questions & Answers

Question: I use Adobe Lightroom to tag all images on my laptop (The older purchased desktop version.) I have digital photos, but also scanned documents. IT does a good job of managing the tags, you can nest them like file folders, and it writes the tags to the file so that other Windows file manager can see them. However, It doesn't handle PDF files, and the latest version is a yearly toll rather than software you buy. What software can be used to tag PDF files?

Answer: I wouldn't expect Lightroom to tag PDF files as they may not contain any images. All the recommended products will tag PDF files or indeed any type of file - SetTags and Tabbles will give you a preview of the 1st page of PDF files to allow you to tag it more quickly. SetTags and TagSpaces put the tags in the file name so it's visible to any file manager. Tabbles offers a hierarchical structure for tags, like folders. If you want to add text information to image pixels (for example, to view on a phone or tablet), then Caption Pro from Aleka Consulting is your best bet.

Yearly or monthly fees for software are increasingly common, perhaps to deal with the problem of permanent license keys being shared between users. Free software can be funded by Google ads if it's popular enough. Sharing can still happen, but only for the duration of the license. Licensing to individual machines is fraught with problems that very expensive software solves with dongles. Software with a massive user base can manage per-machine licensing but expect some problems if your activated copy of Windows goes up in smoke with a major hardware failure.

Comments

Simon Kravis (author) from Canberra, Australia on September 15, 2020:

Will have a look at Somewhere. Interesting pricing!

Charles Zhang on September 15, 2020:

Hi Simon, this is a very extensive list! I wish I have seen this earlier when I was hunting for a solution on tag based file management.

By all means, would you be interested to take a look at my open-source solution on this task: https://github.com/chaojian-zhang/Somewhere, you could also find it on https://charles-zhang.itch.io/somewhere.

Personally I have moved away from relying on software to solve this issue, but maybe my tool is still of value since there are so many complete/incomplete solutions out there. If you can kindly give me some feedback that would be very helpful!

Thanks!

Gamezopher on August 23, 2020:

Hello Simon. I just read your analysis in your main article, that's very nice. I've sent a message to the main developer of Stagsi. I can however answer some questions on my own.

You wrote "The absence of any preview capability makes it best suited to image files, where the thumbnail indicates the content. For text files, seeing the only file type icon and file name is not very helpful in deciding what tag or tags to apply."

It's possible to add a 'custom' thumbnail to any non-image or unsupported files. For example, if you've imported a novel using a file type such as .txt, .doc, .epub, it's possible to select that object in the browser and press F3 (or 'Edit Thumbnail' from the mouse menu) and import an image (a book artwork, for instance) that will be used as a thumbnail.

You wrote: "A more serious weakness is that renaming a tagged file renders it invisible to Stagsi – it must be re-imported and re-tagged."

When importing files in 'link' mode, it's indeed important to preserve the filename and filepath of the imported file, otherwise the object holding the file in Stagsi will be marked as 'corrupted' when the program can't find the file location. Yet, the program stores the checksum of each file, which means the file can be re-imported again and the program will fix the 'corrupted' state of the object holding the file, given that the checksum of both the corrupted object and re-imported file match. So if you decide to relocate previously imported files in a new directory, allow stagsi to detect those files as corrupted first, then re-import them in Stagsi, as a result broken links will be repaired, thus all tags from before will be preserved.

P.S. About: "A more serious weakness is that renaming a tagged file renders it invisible to Stagsi – it must be re-imported and re-tagged."

To my knowledge, the 'tagged file renders' being invisible must be a glitch in the newest version, it's supposed to be semi-invisible, not completely invisible.

Simon Kravis on August 11, 2020:

Tagging for Windows uses hidden databases in folders, so tags won't migrate unless the databases move as well. Dropbox may pick these up. Interested to know if it works or not.

Haven't got around to looking at Stagsi (an unfortunate name with connotations of the East German Intelligence agency Stasi) but your comments encourage me to do so.

I've noticed that products improve with time, Stagsi may well look less rough in future.

setname on August 10, 2020:

I am really into the Stagsi tagging software that @Gamezopher mentioned. I love the tag weighting feature- great for when a song has elements of jazz and blues, for example, but is more blues-y than jazz-y. I also like the "tag deck" that you can set at the bottom with shortcuts for each tag so that you can add them quickly. You can even have multiple decks for different subjects! That's a great idea and I haven't seen either the weighting or the shortcut deck in any of the file tagging softwares I've tried.

But it still looks sorta rough. I wish the thumbnails/icons of files had their names under them. I'm sure it will improve with time and I look forward to seeing what it becomes! Until then, it's going to be extremely difficult for me to decide on a decent file tagging software that will work well with Directory Opus (I use it instead of Windows Explorer).

Tagging for Windows seems to be the most elegant and simple solution for me at the moment, but I don't know how it will behave between computers when I sync with Dropbox. Tabbles has cloud capabilities and seems to be the most detailed and user-friendly tool on the market but it is somewhat expensive compared to other options. It also has other restrictions that bother me.

Anyway huge thanks to Simon for writing the most detailed tagging software list I've come across, and to @Gamezopher for mentioning the awesome Stagsi program!

Simon Kravis (author) from Canberra, Australia on July 30, 2020:

Thanks for the pointer. Will check it out.

Gamezopher on July 29, 2020:

I've been volunteering as a beta-tester for a tagging software called Stagsi (they may still need more helpers). The program has become indispensable for my personal and professional usage. It's database-oriented because writing to files directly can lead to tons of unpredictable issues and anyway most files aren't allowed to be tagged such as gif files, etc. Stagsi can keep track of duplicate files by registering the hash value of the file. My favorite feature is using the tag 'deck' feature, which allow to assign tags to hotkeys, which makes the tagging experience so fast and convenient. I also love how we can assign a thumbnail to any imported file format. I'm a YouTuber so I'm planning to create a few tutorials because they don't have any (they just launched it without any public announcements). You can find their website stagsi.com.

Edmond V.O. on July 15, 2020:

Dear Mr Kravis, dear Simon,

Thank you very much for the beautifully up-to-date review of the tagging software. Comprehensive to the hilt, so to say. Awesome, the way you quickly react and add to the overview

Being into computing since 1985, I am rather NOT overwhelmed by the sheer number of files, but facing the problem where to put them in which directories. Quite a lot could be stashed away in more then one or even two, three directories. Especially since I use TiddlyWiki a lot, showing their content inside such a wiki, a simple structure would simplify linking.

I seem to know now that it will quite hard for me to find relevant software as I use at the moment only an iPad Pro, and hope to stick to that for the future.

TagSpaces looked the best option, being totally selfcontained and that sidecar-concept speaks to me. But it is for MacOS en not for the average iPadOS-user or so it seems, cause you need the Enterprise edition. Moreover using that software at the Enterpriselevel, that iOS PWA stuff is over my head.

So if you or anybody could find a TagSpaces-like solution, or a clever and not unwieldy way to use it, tailored to iPad Pro use only, that would make me very thankful.

Keep up the Good Work.

Again many thanks

Cheers! Edmond V.O.

Simon Kravis (author) from Canberra, Australia on July 14, 2020:

Will look at Hydrus

Tingu on July 14, 2020:

https://alternativeto.net/software/hydrus/

Just want to let you know. From the description, the program support 7z rar, which basically any file

Akhil on June 30, 2020:

awesome list... thank you

Gautam Jain on June 18, 2020:

Hi Simon, like I mentioned 2 months back in this thread, RecentX now supports tagging of files/folders from within Windows File Explorer. You may want to update the above review this way (especially the summary part). Thanks for your time and support.

Simon Kravis (author) from Canberra, Australia on June 05, 2020:

Windows provides a lot of tags for video files and tagged files can be retrieved by typing tagname:tagtext in the search box. There are a lot of programs that only tag audio or video files. They are so numerous that I haven't reviewed them so I can't offer any advice.

Albert on June 05, 2020:

Hi Simon, thanks a lot for this extensive review.

It's a little overwhelming having so many options, so I'd like to ask; which one would you recommend for basic video tagging?

It's for personal use, and I'd prefer if the tags were associated to the file (or an export feature). I really don't need anything very heavyweight, I'd just like to be able to sort my videos (say, per year, location, type of project, etc).

DavidGP on April 03, 2020:

Thanks very much Simon. Regarding the reasons why the "tag any file type" concept was dropped by Microsoft, I found this, by the creators of FileMeta:

https://github.com/Dijji/FileMeta#readme

Googling for FileMeta, I additionally stumbled on this promising concept:

https://diffeo.com/search

Something like this actually seems to be what we'd need, because our files are scattered not only on network drives but also in places like Microsoft OneNote, Microsoft Teams and OneDrive, and because we probably could never be bothered to actually tag all our files manually anyway.

I'll make sure to drop by here regularly in order to be up to date about the latest possibilities for file tagging.

Simon Kravis (author) from Canberra, Australia on April 02, 2020:

I've only tested Tagging for Windows in a single PC environment. It keeps a database in every folder so if your company uses a share drive it may be that tags created in a shared folder would be accessible to all. If you contact the company they will probably tell you if it's usable in a shared environment.

FileMeta restores much of the tagging functionality lost with Win 7 but you have to specify which extensions have a metadata handler. The NTFS metadata fields are still present in Win but Explorer doesn't see them. If you install FileMeta on all user PCs it might meet your needs.

DavidGP on April 02, 2020:

Thank you Simon.

Isn't Tagging for Windows limited to a local PC? In my company, we would have to share and access the tags from different PC's (like it is possible with XYplorer, for example).

Earlier, you wrote:

"The ability to tag any file type went out with Windows XP, unfortunately. It provided support for storing a range of metadata in the NTFS file structure."

Was this ability only removed from the Windows OS, or also from the NTFS file system itself?

If only the former, it still should still be possible to store metadata like comments and tags within the file system itself, which I believe would be better than any external database?

Simon Kravis (author) from Canberra, Australia on April 01, 2020:

Thanks for the pointer to XYPlorer - will add it to the review. It looks like the kind of file manager that Explorer could have been, but its prospects aren't great now so much material is accessed by via web browsers. Tagging for Windows might suit your company needs - very good Explorer integration.

DavidGP on April 01, 2020:

Hello Simon,

this article of yours is probably the most complete write-up of tag based file management available anywhere on the web!

Since I haven't seen the XYplorer file manager in the article yet, I thought I'd point you to it. XYplorer has been providing some pretty sophisticated tagging features for years already, as can be seen in this article:

https://www.xyplorer.com/tour.php?page=tags

I am, however, not using XYplorer at the moment for tagging, nor any other tagging software, for that matter. For my company, I am still looking for a solution that allows a smooth transition from standard, pure folder-based filing to tag-based file management, preferably directly accessible in Windows Explorer.

I think it is very unfortunate that the ability to tag any file type apparently was removed after Windows 7 -- instead of extending it, for a future-proof, superior file management.

Anyway, maybe with time we'll find the optimal method for "tagging for the masses" around here!

Cheers & best regards

David

Gautam Jain (Conceptworld) on March 20, 2020:

Thanks a lot for mentioning RecentX. I think you are an esteemed RecentX customer. I hope to add better tagging feature in the next version that will allow tagging from within Windows Explorer.

Simon Kravis (author) from Canberra, Australia on December 23, 2019:

AllTags description updated in the light of new functionality

Fabian on December 22, 2019:

Hi, allTags now offers a server installation for collaborative work. Maybe you will give it a try.

Tom on December 08, 2019:

Hi,thanks you.

Fenrir-FS has last version in FenrirFS 2.6.3.

You can try it.

Simon Kravis (author) from Canberra, Australia on November 20, 2019:

For your straightforward requirement pretty well any of the software will do -but the ones which keep tags if the file is moved or renamed would be more robust.

warren@thedrawingoffice.info on November 20, 2019:

fantastic review. but im now overwhelmed :-) I just want to add tags to all file types and get a pick list of tags used?

Regards

Warren.

WCarpenterCPA on October 26, 2019:

Regarding your last post, TagSpaces also offers a tag import/ export facility, even in the free version. It works quite well too, I might add. In addition, the paid version of TagSpaces isn’t cost prohibitive and offers a fix for the noted slow loading of thumbnails when you have a ton of photos in a folder. It is also well-documented, unlike SetTags. TagSpaces gets 5 stars from me. Don’t know if they have upgraded since you looked at it, but perhaps you may want to take an updated look ar TagSpaces.

Simon Kravis (author) from Canberra, Australia on July 08, 2019:

Out of the reviewed products, SetTags is the only one which offers an Export facility, which does allow users to create copies of tagged files organised into folders with the names of tags. I'll check out the Media Monkey capability and see how it compares.

Moch Djaelani Subekti on July 08, 2019:

hi, thanks for all the summary. but still with so many app out there i dont even know where to begin with.

my case is i want to use an app for tagging, all my file is a mess. a simple tagger is fine but i also want to organize it too after all tag is done. what i mean by organize is automatically "move" each file into the best fit folder for each item. since in the end i'm still using explorer to browse it

for example is mediamonkey, it has tag function but it's unfortunately a Music player. not exactly fit for the job since i want to organize picture and videos too. mediamonkey use is quite simple, just tag with some id3 tag and when i'm satisfied then i can automatically move it after some short preset to automatically organize it

any help with this? as far as i know these app can tag but stil need to manually move file, there's even some who can't even move file

Simon Kravis (author) from Canberra, Australia on June 25, 2019:

Thanks Racko for your comments. Which features of TagSpaces were unavailable in the free version? I will evaluate xnView - it can be quite difficult to locate programs with tagging capability and pointers like yours are very useful.

Racko on June 19, 2019:

I've tried some of these

TagSpaces: 2 Stars

Its really slow because of its fancy UI, it cant handle a folder with 1000 photos

Performance features are locked away by Purchase

Its unusable to me and thats a real shame because it looked great.

Tabbles: 4.2 stars for its really nice Searching / Filtering features

SetTags, honestly from the videos and Pics, it looks like a mundane software. I'm sure someone finds it useful but it just looks like its for Work.

XnView 4.5 Stars for its customisation and wider range of features

bkudrle on April 15, 2019:

Thanks for a great survey. Was thinking about writing something like this, but with your survey realized that it is better to buy than build.

Just a note about Tabbles (which I will probably go with). They do now have an option that allows the Office files to also have the tags associated directly with the file. I guess it is only for Office since, as you already pointed out in these comments, that is the only place Microsoft allows tag writing now. It seems to work pretty well, though, as long as it is an Office file.

Simon Kravis (author) from Canberra, Australia on April 06, 2019:

Perkeep (and related products) fit more in the scope of another article I've written called "Digital Preservation for Future Genealogists" on this web site, so I'll add some comments on it there.

Simon Kravis (author) from Canberra, Australia on April 05, 2019:

Thanks - I'll look at PerKeep. It's surprisingly hard to find all the available software and pointers like yours are very helpful

Van on April 05, 2019:

Thank you for putting this list together, it is extremely helpful! I've been looking for an open source, future proof way to organize everything and the most promising thing I could find was Perkeep. It might not fit all tagging use cases, but if your main goal is to dump your entire digital life from any platform into one searchable location it appears to have massive potential. Unfortunately doesn't have many people working on it, and those that are don't seem all that excited about spreading the word, and the documentation is extremely lacking. Thought I'd mention it here though because as mentioned below it seems weirdly hard to find a good solution for this.

Simon Kravis (author) from Canberra, Australia on March 27, 2019:

The ability to tag any file type went out with Windows XP, unfortunately. It provided support for storing a range of metadata in the NTFS file structure. But since Windows 7 you have to provide a metadata handler for every non-Office file type. The only way you'll be able to tag any file type is to replace Windows/File Explorer, which is what most of the tagging software does with their file manager components by storing the path and tags in a database. But then they have to cope with file moves/renames/copies which is difficult. SetTags puts the tags into file names and uses a set of shortcuts to allow the files to apparently be in more than one place at a time. The Windows shortcuts will find files if the target is moved or renamed. The embedding of the tags in the name means that tags are still accessible via search in non-Windows environments. File name is the only text metadata field that applies to all file types in the current Windows environment. I don't know about MacOS and Linux.

Nohbdy Ahtall on March 27, 2019:

This is an awesome list. For some reason I expected my search for this functionality to be easy to find - but whew, not quite! I can seemingly find the most powerful "and" open-source version of nearly anything, but this is strangely an untapped.. thing!

I'll have to re-read your article more thoroughly, but basically my situation is:

- I kinda wish I could just embed tag info "in" the files(ANY files), without using a separate program. I'm technical enough to use certain "Find in Files" tools(just tried "dnGrep" and it's nice!), so heck if I could just use that to search for my stuff... gah, maybe there's a way(I assume some[most?] files might break if they detect any change whatsoever.)

- I'm storing things like archives in style 'X' but I also want to organize them in style 'Y'. Example: Store everything physically separated by origin and year(files from laptop 2016, files from smartphone 2016, random collection of something 2015, etc). I'd RATHER sort them by other means, but I don't want them to lose this information of how they were grouped. Alternatively, I'd totally be down to store everything in one folder and let tag-ability handle the rest(obviously I can reorganize them into seperates again with the info!).

- Again, embedding in file seems... safest? Otherwise a self-buildable open source product does too. The idea is I want the program to probably be stored "in" the archive along with the stuff, I suppose.

I'm not sure if I'm asking you for assistance in this scenario, mostly making my situation heard! As a programmer-in-training(C++ aw yeah!), maybe I'll have to.. make it!

john on March 25, 2019:

thanks for the recommendation with pdf shelltools.

It seems not very expensive for an private user as i'm one

regards

Simon Kravis (author) from Canberra, Australia on March 17, 2019:

The big problem with Windows tagging is that since Win 7, is that a separate property handler has to be written for every file type. Windows does not provide them for any non-Microsoft file type (like PDF). Explorer shows tags, but does not let you edit them as you could in Win XP. If you only use Office apps, they all provide tagging facllities and they can be found using the tag: syntax in Search. But outside MS files you have to find a handler for each file type. PDF-Shelltools from RTT Software provide one (and more) for PDFs but the product is not free, although RTT provides excellent support.

john on March 17, 2019:

are there any solutions which uses the standard tagging mechanism from the windows system itself ?

regards

Rabbi on February 14, 2019:

your tagging apps are excellent .. have been looking for a mature solution and our tagging trial indicates excellent user feedback .. not sure why it took so long to find you but we are very grateful for your diligent work and effort to help us better manage our enterprise and the ever increasing tera-storage required which we can now significantly reduce and improve our user performance and productivity! Wow so much for so little!

Simon Kravis (author) from Canberra, Australia on January 30, 2019:

ConnectPaste is called Tagging for Windows and has been reviewed. The Search and Tag functionality is a Windows application, but many operation can be done from within Explorer

John Mackay on January 30, 2019:

Looking for yet another tagging product a found tagging from connectpaste (https://tagging.connectpaste.com). Is looks somewhat simple but I found is a relief that it integrates with the explorer, so you don’t have yet another application. Also I like it does not alter my files.

rabi on January 18, 2019:

Just tried TagSpace... looks nice, but neither adding multiple tags simultan. nor searching using tabs is working...

Tagged rog: I dont like it moving my files.

Simon Kravis (author) from Canberra, Australia on December 30, 2018:

Review of ThatFile added

Simon Kravis (author) from Canberra, Australia on December 29, 2018:

Thanks - will check out ThatFile

Jere on December 27, 2018:

For a couple bucks you can get ThatFile on Windows App Store. It has tagging and a lot of other features.

Andreas Metzger on December 21, 2018:

SetTags is an absolute ripper and delivered the desired outcomes but to our surprise the best features where hidden by our inability to expose valuable data/files/text that where hidden under many layers and generations of corporate labeling. Long live SetTags!

Mr Pota Toma on December 16, 2018:

Nice article, even I already research most of It, Its nice to see other view on same subject.

My mind is agile, Easy catch, easy go. I need simple but strong enough for me.

But yeah, i cant find thing like that. Not exist as far as I searching

I gonna sharing my need, hope someone inspired by it

My ideal UI is like Adobe Lightroom Keyword.

Tag, Tag Count, Tag for Tag/Tag Group. For all file.

Even better to have related tag (based on count) to inform me useful tag search combo. As my memory will fade over time.

Like some imageboard, Explore file like browsing on imageboard, it will be wonderfull

Tag stored in database for fast search. And Tag stored in file for portability / future proof / easy import to database / or even cross platform

Like Image does, stored in file. Existed

I know you cant put in metadata in all file. But hey, image is able to do that because the container/file type allow it.

Container? What container that allow all file? 7zip RAR zip

Comment feature seem nice place to put metadata.

The only close enough is Daminion Free (Version 4) but, no good, still lack most I said above.

If such thing is appear.... Ahh...

Or think outside, If there exist an image that functioning as shortcut to file, :D

Open that image with special app will open archive file that linked/targeted from it.

Haha

i want to make knowledge center for myself. As they will remind me easily. That will improve mylife.

Txt, Screenshot, Webpage, Video Funny, Family photo, Medical Trick, Researched thing. I want to contribute effectively at my life.

Then passed to my son, and If neat enough, I share to world.

Nissim Elias from Tel Aviv on November 06, 2018:

I was just looking for one of these tools and your wonderful post came in handy and on spot.

Now I have to study your work.

Thanks,

- Nissim Elias,

Follower of music trends and Music explorer

allmusicrating.com

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