Sadly, what you want is a desktop shell replacement, and there aren't too many of those for Windows.
You can try the KDE distribution for Windows, but I wouldn't expect to much from it to be honest. What you really want, is to switch to using Linux. The Microsoft and Apple philosophy on "user friendly" is usually along the lines of assuming that everyone using the program is a drooling moron with an IQ well below the cutoff for mentally ********. Something hovering a little over brain dead, with only rudimentary cognitive and motor skills, probably not even properly sentient, is their target. So, expecting that kind of flexibility is not likely going to end well for you.
This is for Windows XP.
Basically, I would like something that would handle file associations a bit more intuitively than Explorer. For example, I'd like a way to associate all my text files to Notepad++. I'd also like to be able to tweak the right click menu list so that for graphics files I might have a list that would include "Edit in Photoshop", "Edit in Paint", "Open with Windows Picture and Fax Viewer", etc. I'd also like to be able to get rid of some of the menu items that have been added by third party installs.
It would also be nice to be able to handle the different views (details, thumbnails, etc) in different directories in a way that actually works.
The file managers in the CNET download area all seem to have significant problems of their own.