Apple

Power Fundamentals Part 3: Navigate Finder windows

Simon Barnett continues his series on getting started with a fresh Mac. Here, he delivers tips on getting the most out of Finder windows to help you navigate and sort your files.

Level: Basic use / Switcher

The Scenario

You want to:

  • Be a better navigator
  • Sort a large number of files
  • See what's taking up so much space

While Spotlight, MacOS X's super-search system (to be extensively covered in an upcoming topic) is a great way to find a file with known criteria (name, date, size etc.), if you generate thousands of files you will probably need to engage in some good old-fashioned spring-cleaning to keep a handle on it all.

You may or may not have read the first or second parts of this series. Although recommended reading, previous installments are not necessarily a prerequisite to this installment. You will be able to use the tips below independently of the first two parts.

Power Tip #1: Window Bars

This is more like a pack of mini-tips. Let's take a look at the various parts of a Finder window, while covering some of the less-obvious features.

Tips are marked with a ✪

For a detailed guide to Finder windows, please visit Apple's guide on the subject, their overview for switchers or while in the Finder use the help system using the keyword "finder".

First switch to the Finder. Hold command, and type n (⌘n) to open a new Finder window. Go to the View menu.

The names of the items next to Show and Hide are four out of the six components of a Finder window.

Two items are not listed because they are not optional: the Title Bar and the Right Pane.

By hiding all the optional components and showing them one-by-one we can get a clear idea of how a finder window works, whilst covering the tips.

1. Title Bar (not optional) consisting of:

  • The three "traffic lights" (window close, minimize, zoom)

✪ Hold ⌥ (option, aka alt) while closing a window to close all windows.

  • The folder icon

✪ The Title Bar folder icon behaves like an actual folder, in that you can drag it to a destination or an app.

  • The title of the folder

✪ Right-clicking (two-finger trackpad tap) or holding ⌘ and clicking on the title (folder name) or folder icon reveals a folder tree. You can look at, or select and navigate to any of the folders that the current folder is contained in.

2. Right Pane (not optional)

The Right Pane is the main content area generally referred to as "the window".

3. Toolbar (optional, usually on)

Customizing and using the Toolbar is extensively covered in Mac Basics: Modify your windows on Apple's website, however...

✪ ...for power usage there are shortcuts (see chart at the end of the post below) for most of the functions of the toolbar. Learn a new shortcut (or three) per day and you will soon be flying through folders without using the toolbar for navigation at all, which is why you may consider customizing the Toolbar as a secondary app launcher.

4. Sidebar (optional, usually on. Only available if Toolbar is activated.)

The Finder Sidebar is a simple, yet indispensable way of managing files via your most important folders. Add, remove folders and use it for accessing your life's work; a current project; or a folder you'll temporarily be moving files to during the next 5 minutes.

✪ Adjust the size of Sidebar icons by going to Apple Menu | System Preferences | General. Change Sidebar icon size to another size: Small, Medium or Large.

✪ Since MacOS X 10.7 (Lion), Finder Sidebar icons are grey and not customizable. Many visually oriented users found this change to be counter-productive. Since there is no built-in option to change this behaviour, I co-built a free installer / app, SideEffects, to enable color in the Finder Sidebar. Read more here or download it.

5. Path Bar (optional, off by default)

The Path Bar, made visible from the View menu and located at the bottom of a Finder

window is another way of seeing and accessing the folder tree. Double-click on folders to open them, or drop items into folders in the Path Bar.

6. Status Bar (optional, off by default)

Activating the Status Bar from the View menu gives you a bar at the bottom of a window (top, if toolbar is de-activated) with information about your remaining disk space; a count of the number of items in a window and the number of items selected; and a slider in icon view to adjust the size of icons - very useful when viewing photos.

Power Tip #2: Custom view options

In the Finder with an open window, go to the View menu and choose View Options. Customize the window to your liking. See The Finder, Modify your windows and options for viewing items on support.apple.com.

✪ Keep the view type (Icons, List, Column or Cover Flow) for that window by clicking the checkboxes at the top of View Options.

✪ Click the "Use as Defaults" button at the bottom to keep your settings for all non-customized windows of that view type.

Calculate All Sizes is a truly excellent way to really get an overview of what's taking up space on your hard drive.

When you turn on that setting your Mac will accurately calculate folder sizes of all visible folders in any open Finder window. In practice this does not significantly impact on performance (I've been using it since 2001), so it is fine to click "Use as Defaults" with the option turned on.

While it is busy calculating you will see dashes next to folders whose sizes are being calculated, grey numbers for estimated sizes (still processing), and black numbers showing completed accurate calculations. The Mac will stop calculating when it's done and rapidly track the size changes caused by adding or deleting files to folders. Closing a Finder window will stop the Mac calculating sizes for that window.

Top 21 shortcuts for the Finder

See full list here or Wikipedia's excellent Windows / Mac / Linux comparative list.

Table A

Click to enlarge. (Download a PDF version here.)
Next installment: Expanding Spotlight

About

Simon Barnett is a freelance tech consultant / support specialist, creative publisher, and Mac software (registered dev programme) and web developer in Cape Town, South Africa. In addition, he has had several years experience in designing and trainin...

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