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Getting to Know Mac OS X Finder Windows

Working with files, folders, and hard drives in OS X is made easier with Finder. In this chapter, Paul McFedries runs through all the basic Finder skills you'll need to handle the day-to-day tasks associated with your files.
This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book

Learning Finder Window Basics

You’ll spend most of your Mac OS X time doing things that are creative, fun, entertaining, and educational, which is as it should be, because your Mac is eminently suited to all of those worthy activities. However, you’ll also spend a significant amount of Mac OS X time on activities that are, to be honest, not so fun and interesting. I’m talking here about the day-to-day tasks associated with your files, folders, discs, removable drives, and hard drives. This is the less glamorous and cool side of Mac OS X, but it’s a side you can’t avoid.

Fortunately, these workaday Mac chores are made easier by Finder, which is the application you use to work with everything from files to drives. This section introduces you to all the basic Finder techniques you’ll need. To get you started, Figure 3.1 points out the major features of a typical Finder window.

Figure 3.1 A typical Finder window and its features.

Opening Finder Windows

You can open Finder windows in several ways. If you click the Finder icon on the Dock, one of two things can happen:

  • If no Finder windows are currently open, a new Finder window appears showing the contents of the default location you select (initially, this is your Home folder, but you can select any folder you’d like).
  • If at least one Finder window is already open, Finder displays the window you used most recently.

You can also open a new Finder window by selecting File, New Finder Window (Command-N). When you open a new Finder window, you see the contents of your default location (this is initially set to be your Home folder).

The Mac OS X Finder uses a web-like model in that each new Finder window you open starts a “chain” of windows (thus, the Back and Forward buttons in the Finder window toolbar). The first window in every new chain you start by using the New Finder Window command is always the folder you define as the default. You can have many window chains open at the same time, which is another similarity to web windows. (You can quickly jump into specific folders using the toolbar, the Sidebar, the Go menu, and keyboard shortcuts.)

→ To learn how to navigate Finder windows, see “Navigating Finder Windows.”

By default, when you open an item (such as a folder), its contents replace the contents of the previous item that appeared in the Finder window you were viewing. (You can change this behavior globally with a preference setting.) You can also override this behavior so the new Finder window is separate from the first one by holding down the Command key while you double-click an icon. This opens a new chain of Finder windows, with the contents of the item you opened displayed in the first window.

After you have one Finder window open, you can open other Finder windows (either in the same chain of windows or by starting a new chain) to view the contents of a different folder, volume, disc, and so on. To view the contents of a folder, volume, or disc shown in the current Finder window, double-click the icon for the item you want to open, or select an item and select File, Open (or press Command-O). The contents of the item you opened replace the window’s current contents and the name shown at the top of the window becomes the name of the item you opened.

You can also choose different views for Finder windows. When you open a new Finder window, it always assumes the view you selected the last time you viewed that item in a Finder window. You’ll learn more about Mac OS X Finder window views later in this chapter.

To reiterate this sometimes confusing behavior of Mac OS X windows, the view in which a new window opens is determined by the view you used for that window the last time you viewed it. In other words, windows retain their view settings, even if the window from which you opened a separate Finder window is different. For example, if you viewed the Applications folder in List view, it appears in List view whenever you open it in a new Finder window until you change the view in which it appears.

Along the left edge of every Finder window is the Sidebar. This handy tool consists of several sections. In the Devices section are all the volumes mounted on your Mac, including hard disk volumes, disk image volumes, your iDisk, CDs, DVDs, and so on. The Shared section will display icons for the servers that are available on your local area network (LAN). In the Places section of the sidebar are some of the folders in your Home folder and the Applications folder. You can add any folders, applications, documents, or other files to or remove them from this area to completely customize it. Finally, the Search For section of the sidebar allows you to quickly find content based on predetermined searches, and you can also store smart folders and Spotlight searches here. The purpose of the Sidebar is to enable you to quickly open a Finder window that displays the contents of any item it contains.

When you select a volume or folder in the Sidebar, its contents appear in the Finder window. The currently selected item is highlighted, so you can easily tell what is selected. (The name of the currently selected item appears at the top of the window as well.) If you select a document or application, that item opens just as it does when you double-click it.

Configuring How New Finder Windows Open

To configure how Finder windows open, perform the following steps:

  1. Select Finder, Preferences or press Command-,. When the Finder Preferences window opens, click the General tab if it isn’t selected already (see Figure 3.2).
  2. Figure 3.2 Use the General pane of the Finder Preferences window to configure how new Finder windows open.

  3. On the New Finder Windows Open pop-up menu, select the location where you want new Finder window chains you open to start.
  4. On the pop-up menu, you see various volumes mounted on your Mac along with your Home and Documents folders. To choose one of these as the starting location for new Finder window chains, simply select it on the menu.

    To select a location not shown on the pop-up menu, choose Other. Then use the Choose a Folder dialog box to move to and choose the folder that you want to be your starting place. Navigating such dialog boxes is very much like navigating in a Finder window in the Column view.

  5. If you prefer that when you open an item, the item’s contents always appear in a new Finder window chain, activate the Always Open Folders in a New Window check box. However, because this option can lead to a proliferation of Finder windows, I recommend that you leave this option off. (Remember that you can always open a new Finder window chain by holding down the Command key when you double-click an item.) A better way to view content is to use the Column view, which enables you to quickly move to any location, as you will see later in this chapter.

→ To learn more about Mac OS X folders, see “Understanding the Standard Mac OS X Folders.”

Working with Spring-Loaded Folders

Mac OS X Finder windows can be spring-loaded (this feature is turned on by default), meaning that they pop open when you drag an item onto a closed folder. This enables you to quickly place an item within nested folders without having to open each folder individually. Simply drag an item onto a closed folder so the folder is highlighted and “springs” open. After the delay time (which you can set) has passed, the highlighted folder opens in a separate Finder window chain (unless you are viewing the window in Column view, in which case a new column appears for the item onto which you are dragging the item). You can then drag the item onto the next folder and continue the process until you have placed it in its final destination. When you release the mouse button, what happens depends on the Finder preference you have selected. If new folders open in the same Finder window, you remain in the location in which you placed the item. If new folders always open in a new Finder window, you return to the window in which you started (however, the destination folder will remain open in its Finder window).

You can configure your Mac’s spring-loaded behavior by following these steps:

  1. Click the General tab in the Finder Preferences dialog box.
  2. Activate the Spring-Loaded Folders and Windows check box to turn this feature back on if you have turned it off (it is on by default).
  3. Use the Delay slider to set the amount of delay time (the time between when you drag an item onto a folder and when that folder springs open).

Scrolling Finder Windows

When the contents of a Finder window can’t be shown in the amount of space the window currently has, you use the scrollbars to view contents that are out of sight. You have the following options:

  • Drag the scrollbars.
  • Click above or below or to the left or right of the bar to scroll one screen’s worth at a time.
  • Click the scroll arrows.
  • Press the Page Up and Page Down keys to scroll vertically.
  • Press the Home key to jump to the top of the window or the End key to jump to the bottom.
  • Use the arrow keys or Tab (and Shift-Tab) to move among the items in the window (which also scrolls the window when you move outside the current view).

You can modify several aspects of scrolling behavior. You can change the location of the scroll arrows. Also, rather than moving an entire page each time you click above, below, to the left, or to the right of a scrollbar, you can set the scrolling such that you move to the relative location you click instead. You can also turn on smooth scrolling, which smoothes out the appearance of a window when you scroll in it. Follow these steps to modify these scrolling features:

  1. Open the System Preferences application.
  2. In the Personal section, click Appearance.
  3. Choose one of the following options to change the location of the scroll arrows:
    • Together—Select this option to place the scroll arrows beside each other, either at the bottom of a vertical scrollbar (see Figure 3.1, earlier), or to the right of a horizontal scroll bar.
    • At Top and Bottom—Select this option to place the scroll arrows above and below a vertical scrollbar (see Figure 3.3) or to the left and right of a horizontal scrollbar.
  4. Choose one of the following options to change how scrolling works when you click in the scrollbar:
    • Jump to the Next Page—Select this radio button to scroll a screen at a time.
    • Jump to the Spot That’s Clicked—Select this radio button to move to a position in the window that’s relative to where you click in the scrollbar.
  5. Activate the Use Smooth Scrolling check box to turn on smooth scrolling.

Figure 3.3 You can configure Finder to place the scroll arrows at opposite ends of a scrollbar.

Resizing Finder Windows

To change the size of a window, drag its Resize handle (pointed out earlier in Figure 3.1) until the window is the size you want it to be.

You can also use the Zoom button to make a window large enough to display all the items it contains or until it fills the screen, whichever comes first. Click the button and the window jumps to the size it needs to be to show all the items it contains or until it fills the available screen space. Click the button again to return it to its previous size.

You can also use this button to quickly swap between two sizes for a window. Make the window a size you like. When you click the Zoom button, it expands to its maximum size. Click the button again and it returns to the previous size. Each time you click the Zoom button, the window returns to the size it was previously (either the maximum size or the size you set).

If you have a lot of Finder windows open on the Desktop, you can use this resizing behavior to make working between multiple windows more convenient. Select an open window and make it the size you want it to be so it is out of the way and you can store many windows of this size on your desktop; make it just large enough that you can see the window’s title. You can click the Zoom button to open the window to work in it. Then, click the Zoom button again to return the window to its small size. Use the button to toggle between the two sizes. When you need to work in the window, make it large by clicking the Zoom button. When you are done, click the button again to make it small. You might find this even more convenient than minimizing windows (which you’ll learn about shortly).

Resizing the Panes of Finder Windows

As you learned earlier, Finder windows have two panes. The left pane is the Sidebar, whereas the right pane is the Contents pane, which displays the contents of the item you are viewing in the Finder window. You can change the relative size of the Sidebar by dragging the line that is located between the two panes. Drag this to the left and the Sidebar takes up less room in the window. Drag it to the right and the Sidebar takes up more window space.

The Sidebar retains your settings as long as you work within the same Finder window chain. When you open a new chain, the Sidebar becomes its default size.

Closing, Minimizing, and Maximizing Finder Windows

Among the most distinctive features of Mac OS X are the three stoplight-type controls located in the upper-left corner of windows (refer to Figure 3.1). The red button (on the far left) closes the window. The gold button (in the middle) minimizes the window, which shrinks it and moves it to the right side of the Dock. The green button maximizes the window, which makes it as large as it needs to be to display all the items in the window until that window fills the screen (and returns it to the previous size, as you learned in the previous section).

→ To learn how to use the Dock, see Chapter 2, “Getting to know the Dock.”

The Close, Minimize, and Zoom buttons work even if the window on which they appear is not active. For example, you can close a window that is in the background by clicking its Close button without making the window active first. (When you point to a button on an inactive window, the button becomes colored so that you know it is active, even though the window itself is not.)

Moving Finder Windows

You can move a Finder window around the desktop by dragging its title bar or its status bar.

Using the Finder Window Views

You can display the contents of a Finder window in four different views: Icon, List, Column, and Cover Flow.

Using the Icon View

You can view Finder windows in the Icon view by clicking the Icon view button in the toolbar; by selecting View, As Icons; or by pressing Command-1. The objects in the window become icons, as shown in Figure 3.4.

Figure 3.4 A folder window in Icon view.

→ You can customize the Icon view for Finder windows. See “Customizing Finder Windows.”

If you find that a window in the Icon view is messy, you can use the Clean Up command (View, Clean Up) to straighten up the window for you. This command neatly arranges icons so they line up in an orderly fashion.

To arrange icons by a specific criterion, select View, Arrange By, and then select the criterion by which you want the window’s icons ordered. Your options are the following: Name, Date Modified, Date Created, Size, Kind, or Label.

Although the Icon view is clearly the most pleasing view to look at, it is one of the least useful in terms of the information you see.

Using the List View

The List view presents more information than does the Icon view (see Figure 3.5). To switch to the List view, click the List view button; select View, as List; or press Command-2.

Figure 3.5 List view—At the top of the window are the same controls that are visible in the Icon view. However, the lower part of the window contains more information than is available in the Icon view.

The information in the List view is organized into columns, with a header at the top of the column indicating the information in it. The information in the List view is always sorted—you can select the column that is used to sort the contents of the window. You can also determine the order in which the columns appear, change the width of columns, and expand or collapse the contents of folders. The information for each item you see in the default List view is the following:

  • Name—This is the filename for files, the folder name for folders, the volume name for volumes, and so on.
  • Date Modified—The most recent date and time on which the object was changed. If the date is recent, it’s indicated by a relative term, such as “Yesterday.”
  • Size—The size of the item, in kilobytes (KB), megabytes (MB), or gigabytes (GB). By default, the size of folders is not calculated (you can set Mac OS X to calculate folder sizes if that information is important to you).
  • Kind—The type of object it is, such as folder, document, application, volume, and so on.

→ You can customize the List view for a single window or for all windows. See “Customizing Finder Windows.”

The column by which the window is sorted is highlighted with the highlight color (blue or graphite). To change the sort column, click the column heading of the column by which you want the list to be sorted. That heading is highlighted and the list is re-sorted by that criterion. At the right edge of the column heading for the column by which the window is sorted, you see the Sort order indicator. This shows you in which direction the list is sorted. For example, if the list is sorted by the Name column, an up arrow indicates that the list is sorted alphabetically and a down arrow indicates that the list is sorted in reverse alphabetical order. To change the direction of the sort, click the Column heading—the list is sorted in the opposite order (from ascending to descending or from descending to ascending).

You can resize a column by moving the pointer to the right edge of the column heading cell and clicking. When you do, the cursor changes from the pointer to a vertical line with outward-facing arrows on each side of it. When you see this cursor, drag the column border to resize the column.

You can change the order in which columns appear by dragging the column heading of the column you want to move and dropping it in the new location. The columns reshuffle and then appear in the order you have indicated.

One of the other benefits of the List view is that you can expand the contents of a folder so you can view them without having to open the folder’s window first. To do this, click the right-facing expansion triangle next to the folder’s name (see Figure 3.5). The folder expands, and its contents are listed in the window. Click the triangle again to collapse the folder down to its icon.

Using the Column View

You can use the Coloumn view to quickly see and navigate levels of the hierarchy (see Figure 3.6). To switch to the Column view, click the Column view button on the toolbar; select View, as Columns; or press Command-3.

As you might suspect, in the Column view, the window is organized into columns, with each column representing a level of the file organization hierarchy. The leftmost column shows the highest level you can see, each column to its right shows the next level down the structure, and the column on the far right shows the lowest level you can see. When you select a file, the rightmost column shows a preview of the selected file. The “path” at which you are looking is indicated by the highlighted items in each column.

Folder icons have a right-facing arrow at the right edge of the column in which they appear, to indicate that when you select them, their contents appear in the column to the immediate right.

Figure 3.6 The Column view is a great way to see the hierarchical organization of folders and files.

For example, put a Finder window in the Column view and click your Home folder on the Sidebar to see its contents. The Home folder’s contents are shown in the first column in the window. If you click one of the folders in your Home folder, it becomes highlighted and its contents appear in one of the middle columns. As you select folders within folders, their contents appear in the column to their right. This continues all the way down into a folder until it contains no more folders.

You can move down into the hierarchy by clicking the item about which you want more detail. The column to the right of the item on which you click shows the contents of what you click. If you click something in the right column and the window is not large enough to display the contents of all the columns, the view shifts and the columns appear to move to the left. You can use this approach to quickly see the contents of any folder on your Mac, no matter how far down in the hierarchy it is stored.

When there are more columns than can be displayed in the window, you can use the horizontal scrollbars to view all the columns. Scrolling to the left moves up the hierarchy, whereas scrolling to the right moves down the hierarchy. You can also make the window larger to view more columns at the same time.

You can resize the width of the columns in a window by dragging the resize handle located in the lower-right corner of each column. Each column in a window can have a different width.

When you click a file to select it, the far-right column shows a large icon or a preview of the file and information about that file is displayed (refer to Figure 3.6).

If you click document files for which Mac OS X can create a preview, you see the preview in the column. If the file you select has dynamic content, you can play that content in the preview that you see in the Column view. For example, if you select a QuickTime movie, you can click the play or pause button that appears over the preview when you move your mouse above it to watch the movie without opening the file. Certain types of text files are also displayed so you can read them (arrows appear on the preview to enable you to read the entire document). You can also see large thumbnail views of graphics stored in certain formats. For those items that Mac OS X cannot create previews of (an application is one example), you see a large icon instead of a preview.

If you prefer not to see the preview, there are two ways to hide it. You can hide it in individual windows or you can hide it by using View Options.

To hide the preview in specific windows, click the Expansion triangle next to the word Preview that appears just above the preview of a selected file in the Preview pane. This hides all previews for the current window and shows detailed information about the item that is selected, along with the More info button (which opens the Info window that you will learn about later).

→ To learn about the Column view’s View Options, see “Customizing the Column View.”

Using the Cover Flow View

Cover Flow provides a very interactive way to view previews of the files in a folder (see Figure 3.7). The Cover Flow view is especially useful if you are navigating a folder of photos or videos.

With a Finder window set to the Cover Flow view, you will see two panes. On the top is the actual Cover Flow preview of the files in the folder. The bottom pane is a list view of that same folder. Note that with the lower pane in list view, you can use the same steps to change the view as you do in a regular list view Finder window. For instance, you can sort by a different column or change the sort order.

The most noticeable feature of the Cover Flow view is the ability to scroll through the items in the folder. If you have a folder of photos, this view allows you to see a preview of each photo to find the one you are looking for. Resize the Finder window so that the Cover Flow preview area is big enough to see the preview. As you drag the Cover Flow scroll bar, the previews of the items in the folder flow in the direction you are scrolling. When you stop scrolling, the item that is selected displays at a slightly larger size than the other previews and is centered in the top pane. The name of the file is are displayed under the preview.

Browsing a folder that has QuickTime movies provides a preview of the movie. When you select a QuickTime movie and move the mouse over the preview, a play button appears on the preview. When you click the play button the movie will start to play in the Cover Flow preview pane. Move your mouse over the preview again and a stop button appears. While a movie is playing, the other files no longer show previews of those documents; once you move the Cover Flow scroll bar the previews will appear again.

Figure 3.7 The Cover Flow view provides a very interactive way to preview photos and videos in a folder.

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