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The Finder

The biggest changes to Mac OS X user experience come in the shape of the new Finder. These changes are not trivial, so the next chapter will focus on working within the Finder. For now, let's just take a look at a general overview of the Finder and its capabilities.

Missing Features

The Finder is still your workbench for navigating your hard drive, launching applications, and moving and modifying files. It keeps many of the same features you've grown accustomed to but, sadly, has lost a few that you might have relied on:

  • Pop-up Windows—The dock can simulate pop-up folders, but for the time being, pop-up windows are a thing of the past.

  • Spring Loaded Folders—In Mac OS 8 and 9, you could drag an item over a folder, wait a few seconds, and the folder would open, allowing you to continue dragging. This is entirely absent from Mac OS X. Likewise, the capability to examine the contents of a folder by single-clicking, and then click-holding, does not work.

  • Finder Labels—In a seeming oversight, Apple has included the capability to display labels within the list view of the initial 10.0, but there was no way to set labels in the new system. This feature has been dropped in 10.1.

  • Put Away—The Put Away command could previously be used to return a file that you've temporarily moved back to its original destination. The Undo menu largely replaces this, but unlike the older command, Undo will work only if you haven't moved any other files or folders after moving the original file.

  • Preferences—Everyone let out a collective sigh. The Finder has lost many of the preferences that we've relied on to create a truly personalized and usable work environment. No longer can you change list fonts, icon fonts, grid spacing, or other necessities. Although I'm sure that it's just a matter of time before these features return, if you've ever used them in Mac OS 8 or 9, you will miss them!

  • Desktop Trash—The trash can still works much the same way it always has, but it is no longer located on the desktop. No more dragging it wherever you'd like. It is now firmly fixed in the Mac OS X Dock. It's possible, however, to create a desktop link to the trash can by using BSD commands.

  • Desktop Printers—Desktop printers are completely gone and show no signs of coming back. Much of the same functionality is available in the Print Center utility, but this does not offer the same convenience as the desktop printer implementation.

  • Limited Contextual Menus—Contextual menus still exist, but they have very little functionality under Mac OS X.

The good news is that although there are things missing, a great deal of functionality has been added to the Finder. As I've already mentioned, much of the next chapter will be devoted to working with the Finder and the Dock, so we'll get down to details later.

Modes of Operation

Mac OS X introduces two modes of operation within the Finder. You'll recognize the first mode immediately. Shown in Figure 3.14, the toolbar-less Finder works just the way you've grown accustomed to.

Figure 3.14 The toolbar-less mode works in the same fashion as older versions of the Mac operating system.

From here, you can double-click folders to open them or applications and documents to launch them. You can drag icons to customize the arrangement of the windows, and so on. For all intents and purposes, aside from the laundry list of missing features, this mode of Finder use is identical to its earlier incarnations.

One minor change, which you won't notice unless you look for it, is that unlike the previous Finder, you don't have to double-click a folder or a disk icon to make a new file navigation window. Using the key combination Command+N, you can create a new Finder window at any time. This window starts at the Computer level of the file navigation tree, and shows all available mounted media. Additionally, the Finder window that is created will default to the toolbar mode of operation, which works a bit differently from what you're accustomed to.


As you sit pounding your keyboard trying to make a new folder by pressing Command+N, you'll notice that your screen is quickly filling up with new Finder windows—not new folders. In Mac OS X, creating a new folder is accomplished by pressing Shift+Command+N.

It boggles my mind to think that Apple believes I need more windows on my screen more often than I need a new folder. Maybe it's just me, but this is one of the more annoying changes you'll need to get used to. Of course, because other applications use Command+N to create a new document, maybe this is just me.

A toolbar version of the Finder window, displayed in Figure 3.15, can be created either by using Command+N within the finder, or by using the toolbar button in the upper-right corner of the Finder window. This button will allow you to quickly toggle between the toolbar and toolbar-less modes.

Although it might seem that the addition of a toolbar is only a visual change, the Finder also modifies how you navigate from folder to folder within this style of window.

Normally, you click on a folder and it opens a new window. This is how the Macintosh operating system has worked since 1984. If you have an application that is buried ten folders deep, you'll probably end up with ten open folders on your screen before you can launch it. The toolbar mode of the Finder changes that.

Figure 3.15 The toolbar version of the Finder window offers some surprises.

When the toolbar is present, double-clicking a folder will not open a new window. Instead, it will refresh the current window with the item you just clicked. In the upper-right corner of the toolbar is a back arrow—click it to return to the folder you just came from. Using this technique, you can dig many levels deep into the file system, and then quickly back out by using the arrow.

An obvious problem with this method of navigation is that you don't have access to multiple levels of the file system at once. This is where the toolbar can come in handy to eliminate the need for multiple open windows. You can add commonly used folders and applications to the toolbar itself and instantly drag documents from the current Finder window into them.


Although the toolbar mode of the Finder window, by default, has only one window open at a time, you can use the Finder preferences to force a new window to be created each time a folder is double-clicked. The toolbar loses some of its functionality in this mode because the bar's Back button is no longer active.


In another seemingly bizarre choice, Apple allows the single-window mode to operate only when the toolbar is visible (thus, my references to them as toolbar and toolbar-less modes). It certainly seems that having a single window mode would be useful within the toolbar-less mode, but alas, it is not to be.

The toolbar, single-window mode of operation is definitely unusual to most Mac users, but Windows and Linux (KDE/GNOME) already have similar features in their operating systems. If you don't like this new style of navigation, you can continue to work with files in the same way as always. Toggling between these two Finder styles is as simple as clicking a button.


To quickly toggle from toolbar mode to toolbar-less mode, hold down Command while double-clicking a folder to open it.

Delayed Reaction

There is a problem in the Mac OS X operating system that warrants its own subheading: delayed updates in the Finder. Users expect that when they start to download a file or decompress an archive, it will immediately appear in the location where it was stored. In Mac OS X, this is occasionally not the case. Both the desktop and Finder windows can take several seconds (or minutes!) to show items that have been created by programs other than the Finder.

Often this can be solved just by closing and opening the window where the item should appear, or by clicking on the desktop background. In some cases, it might require logging in and out before the items show up. Mac OS X 10.1 has largely resolved this issue, but you might still experience delays at times.

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