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Customizing Finder Windows

Mac OS X enables you to customize many aspects of Finder windows, including the Places Sidebar, the toolbar, the status bar, and the views you use.

Customizing the Places Sidebar

The Places Sidebar provides a convenient way to access the mounted volumes on your Mac along with specific folders, documents, and applications (see Figure 3.11). As you read earlier, the upper pane of the sidebar shows all the mounted volumes on your Mac and the lower pane shows folders, documents, and applications. By default, you will see several of the folders within your Home folder, the Applications folder, and your Favorites folder, but you can add or remove folders, documents, or applications to this area to customize it.

Figure 3.11Figure 3.11 The Places sidebar makes getting into any mounted volume on your Mac or into specific folders easy.


You can also store files in the lower pane of the Places sidebar.

To view the contents of a volume or folder, click it; its contents are shown in the Contents pane of the Finder window. For volumes, a button enables you to perform an action. For example, when you have an ejectable volume, such as a disk image or CD, you can click an Eject button. When you are working with an iDisk, you can click the Synchronize button. When you have inserted a blank CD or DVD, you can click the Burn button.

Determining the Default Items in the Places Sidebar

Finder preferences determine which items appear in the Places Sidebar. To set them, do the following steps:

  1. Select Finder, Preferences or press Command-,.

  2. Click the Sidebar tab (see Figure 3.12).

  3. Figure 3.12Figure 3.12 Use the Sidebar pane of the Finder Preferences dialog box to configure the default items in the Places sidebar.

  4. Check the box next to each item you want to appear in the Places sidebar.

  5. Uncheck the box next to each item you don't want to appear in the sidebar.

  6. Close the Preferences dialog box.

The next time you view a Finder window, its sidebar will contain the items you specified.

Accessing and Organizing Your Folders and Files in the Places Sidebar

You can further organize the Places sidebar by doing the following tasks:

  • You can add any folder or file to the Places sidebar by dragging it onto the lower pane of the sidebar.

  • You can also add a folder or file to the sidebar by either selecting it and selecting File, Add To Sidebar or pressing Command-T.

  • You can remove folders from the sidebar by dragging them out of the sidebar. When you do, they disappear in a puff of smoke. Of course, the original item isn't affected.

  • NOTE

    If you remove an item whose check box is checked on the Sidebar pane of the Finder Preferences dialog box, that folder is removed and its check box becomes unchecked in the Preferences dialog box.

  • Drag folders up and down within the lower pane of the sidebar to reorganize them.

As you add, remove, or reorganize the sidebar, it is resized automatically.

Customizing the Toolbar

Along the top of Finder windows, you see the toolbar. This toolbar contains the Back and Forward buttons, the View buttons, the Action menu (covered in a later section), and the Search tool. As with the sidebar, you can customize many aspects of this toolbar. You can show or hide it and customize the tools it contains.


Many applications also provide a Mac OS X toolbar in their windows. You can use these same techniques to work with those toolbars.

Showing or Hiding the Toolbar

You can hide or show the toolbar in a Finder window in any of the following ways:

  • Click the Show/Hide Toolbar button in the upper-right corner of the Finder window.

  • Select View, Hide Toolbar or View, Show Toolbar.

  • Press Option-Command-T.

The state of the toolbar controls how new Finder windows open when they are viewed in the Icon or List view. If the toolbar is displayed, new Finder windows open according to the preferences you set using the Finder Preferences dialog box. If the toolbar is hidden, new Finder windows always open in a separate window.

When you open a new Finder window from a window in which the toolbar is hidden (for example, by holding down the Option key when you open a new Finder window), the toolbar is hidden in the new window. When you open a Finder window from a window in which the toolbar is shown, the toolbar is shown in the new window as well.

The toolbar state in currently open Finder windows is independent. For example, you can show the toolbar in one Finder window while it is hidden in another. In fact, if you have two Finder windows for the same directory open at the same time, you can hide the toolbar in one window while it is shown in the other.

Changing the Tools on the Toolbar

The default toolbar contains various useful buttons, but you can customize its content by adding tools to it or removing tools from it:

  1. Open a Finder window.

  2. Select View, Customize Toolbar. The contents of the Finder window are replaced by the Toolbar customization window (see Figure 3.13).

  3. Figure 3.13Figure 3.13 You can add buttons to or remove them from the toolbar using the Customize Toolbar command.

    To add a button to the toolbar, drag it from the window to the toolbar, placing it in the location where you want it. (Table 3.2 lists the available buttons and what they do.)

  4. When you move a button between two current buttons on the toolbar, existing buttons slide apart to make room for the new button.

  5. NOTE

    If you place more buttons on the toolbar than can be shown in the current window's width, a set of double arrows appears at the right edge of the toolbar. Click this to pop up a menu showing the additional buttons.

  6. Remove a button from the toolbar by dragging it off the toolbar.

  7. Change the location of the icons by dragging them. You can move buttons and menus that you add as well as those that are installed by default.

  8. Use the Show pop-up menu to determine whether the buttons have text and an icon, text only, or an icon only.

  9. To use the small icon size, check the Use Small Size check box.

  10. Click Done.

The toolbar now reflects the changes you made (see Figure 3.14).

Figure 3.14Figure 3.14 This is the same window, but with a customized toolbar.


You can rotate the toolbar among it views, such as Icon & Text, Icon Only, and so on by holding down Command while you click the Show/Hide Toolbar button.

Table 3.2 Useful Toolbar Buttons

Button Name

What It Does


Moves you back or forward in a chain of Finder windows.


Pops up a menu that shows the path to the current directory. You can select a directory on the pop-up menu to move there.


Changes the view for the current window.


Provides a pop-up menu with access to various context-sensitive commands.


Enables you to eject items, such as mounted volumes, CD-ROM discs, and so on, from the desktop.


Enables you to burn a CD-R, CD-RW, or DVD-R.


Enables you to open the Customize Toolbar window.


A graphic element you can use to organize your toolbar.


Adds a block of space to the toolbar.

Flexible Space

Adds a block of flexible space to the toolbar.

New Folder

Creates a new folder.


Deletes the selected item.


Opens the Connect to Server dialog box.


Opens the Finder's Find tool.

Get Info

Opens the Get Info window for a selected item.


Accesses your iDisk.


Enables you to search Finder windows.


You can return to the default toolbar by dragging the default toolbar set onto the toolbar in the Customize Toolbar window.


If you add more buttons than can be displayed and then want to remove some of the buttons you can't see (you see the double arrows instead), you have to make the window wider so that you can see the button on the toolbar to remove it; you can't remove a button from the pop-up menu. You can also temporarily remove other buttons until you can see the one you want to remove.

Customizing the Status Bar

The status bar provides status information for the current directory, volume, or whatever else is being displayed in the Finder window. Mostly, the status bar provides information about the number of items in the window and the amount of free space on the current volume.

Where the status bar is displayed depends on whether the toolbar is shown.

If the toolbar is shown, the status bar information is displayed at the bottom of the window.

If the toolbar is hidden, the status bar appears immediately under the title bar (see Figure 3.15). As with the toolbar, you can hide or show the status bar using the View menu. Unlike the toolbar, however, you can't change the contents of the status bar.

Customizing Finder Window Views

For each view type of Finder window view, you can set Global view preferences that affect all windows you open using that view type. You can then set the Window options for individual windows to override the global settings for that view type. For example, one of the customization options for the List view is the data you see in the window. You can choose to display the Comments column for a window in List view. If you set this as a Global preference, each time you open a new window in List view, you see the Comments column. If there is a window in which you don't want to see the Comments column, you can change the Window preferences for that window so the Comments column is not displayed.

Figure 3.15Figure 3.15 When the toolbar is hidden, the status bar appears immediately under the title bar. (Finder windows look a bit pitiful without the toolbar and Places sidebar, don't they?)

When you change a Global preference, which is called the "All windows" option, it affects all windows shown in that view. When you change a window's preference, it affects only the current window.

Customizing the Icon View

The Icon view has the following view options:

  • Icon size—You can set the relative size of the icons you see.

  • Text size—You can set the size of text displayed next to the icons you see.

  • Label position—You can set the location of the text next to icons. Your choices are on the bottom or to the right of the icon.

  • Snap to grid—With this option enabled, icons align themselves to an invisible grid.

  • Show item info—With this option enabled, you see information for the items in a window. The information you see depends on the items being displayed. For example, when the window shows volumes, you see the total space on the volume and the free space on each volume. When you view folders, you see the number of items in that folder. When you see files, information about the file is shown, such as the sizes of image files.

  • Show icon preview—By default, file icons contain a preview of the file's content within the icon. At press time, this preference does not seem to affect anything. Presumably, when this feature is activated in a later update of OS X, it will cause the icon preview to be hidden if the check box is unchecked.

  • Keep arranged by—You can choose to keep icons grouped by a criterion you select, including Name, Date Modified, Date Created, Size, Kind, and Label.

  • Background—You can choose the background used for a Finder window. Your choices are White, a color of your choice, or a picture of your choice. If you select Color or Picture, tools appear to enable you to select the color or picture you want to use.

Set your Global preferences for the Icon view using the following steps:

  1. Open a Finder window so you can preview the preferences you will set.

  2. Select View, Show View Options or press Command-J. The View Options window appears (see Figure 3.16). You use this window to set both Global and window settings. At the top of the window is the name of the folder you are currently viewing.

  3. Figure 3.16Figure 3.16 The View Options window enables you to customize Finder window views.

  4. Click the "All windows" radio button.

  5. Use the Icon size slider to set the relative size of the icons you see. As you move the slider, the icons in the open window reflect the size you set. When you are happy with the size of the icons, release the slider.

  6. Use the Text size pop-up menu to set the size of the icon labels.

  7. Use the radio buttons in the "Label position" area to select the location of icon labels.

  8. Use the four check boxes to enable or disable the options described in the previous bulleted list.

  9. If you enabled "Keep arranged by," select the criterion by which you want icons grouped using the pop-up menu (Name is selected by default).

  10. Select the folder background option by selecting one of the radio buttons under Background.

  11. If you chose Color, use the Color button to open the Color Picker to select the background color you want to use.

  12. If you chose Picture, click the Select button and then use the Select a Picture dialog box to select a background image.

  13. NOTE

    Supported image formats include PICT, TIFF, and JPEG. The background image you choose appears in folders you view using the Global icon settings. This does not affect any image you are using as a background image on your desktop.

  14. Close the View Options window when you have finished setting the global options.

After you have made these settings, any window you view in Icon view will be displayed using your global preferences unless you override the Global settings by setting a window's preference.

To change the preferences for an individual window, do the following:

  1. Open the window you want to view and put it in the Icon view.

  2. Open the View Options window by selecting View, Show View Options (or press Command-J).

  3. Click the "This window only" radio button.

  4. Use the controls to set the Icon view preferences for the window you opened in step 1 (see the previous steps for help).

  5. Close the View Options window when you are done.


You can also modify the view of the desktop, which is always in Icon view. Click anywhere on the desktop and open the View Options window. You can then set the icon size, text size, and other options just like a folder window (except for the folder background that is set using the Desktop pane of the System Preferences Utility).

This window uses the preferences you set for it until you change them.

You can reapply the global preferences at any time by returning to the View Options dialog box and clicking the "All windows" radio button. The window returns to your global view settings. Click "This window only" to return the window to its previous set of view options.


You can leave the View Options dialog box open while you select other windows. If you do so, the name shown at the top of the dialog box changes, as do the controls you see if the window you select is in a view different from the current one.

Customizing the List View

Customizing List view works pretty much the same way as Icon view, except that you have different options.

Set your global List view preferences using the following steps:

  1. Open a Finder window in List view.

  2. Open the View Options window (Command-J).

  3. Click the "All windows" radio button.

  4. Check the radio button for the icon size you want to use.

  5. Select the text size on the "Text size" pop-up menu.

  6. Check the boxes next to the data columns you want to be displayed in List view. The default data are Date Modified, Size, and Kind. The other data available are Date Created, Version, Comments, and Label. Data for which you check the boxes is displayed in columns in the List view.

  7. Check the Use Relative Dates check box if you want to use relative dates. When you use the relative dates option, you see relative date information (such as yesterday) for some dates rather than the full date for all dates.

  8. Check the "Calculate all sizes" check box if you want the size of folders to be displayed in the Size column. This option uses a lot of extra computing power, especially for those folders that contain many folders and files. You should usually leave this box unchecked unless folder size information is critical to you.

  9. Close the View Options window.

Every window you see in List view uses these options, unless you override the Global settings for a particular window.

Overriding the Global options for a specific window is analogous to what you do for the Icon view. Open the window, open the View Options window, click the "This window only" radio button, and use the controls to set the view options for the current window.

To reapply the global List view preferences to a window, click the "All windows" radio button in the View Options window.


The Window settings for a window are retained (although not used) even after you reapply the global settings to it. You can easily switch back to them by clicking the "This window only" radio button again. The window returns to the most recent window settings you applied to it.

Customizing the Columns View

The Columns view has fewer customization options than do the other views. The Columns view preferences you set apply to all windows in the Columns view. Do the following:

  1. Open a Finder window in Columns view.

  2. Open the View Options window (Command-J).

  3. Uncheck the "Show icons" check box to hide the icons in the window.

  4. Uncheck the "Show preview column" check box if you prefer not to see the preview of a file you have selected in the window.

  5. Close the View Options window.


As far as I can tell, there isn't a way to select the List view or the Icon view for every window you open (you can set the Columns view for every new window you open by using the Finder Preferences dialog box). The Finder remembers the view you used the last time you opened a specific window and maintains that view each time you open that window—until you change that window's view. Unfortunately, you can't set the view to be List or Icon on a systemwide basis.

Similarly, you can't tell the Finder to apply the global view preferences to all windows at the same time. If you have changed the view preferences for individual windows, you have to reapply the global view preferences to that window if you want to use them (by using the View Options dialog box).

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