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Working with Finder Windows

Because all the tasks you do start with the desktop and Finder application, it's important to understand how to work with Finder windows. Finder windows work a bit differently than other kinds of windows, such as those for applications and documents.

Using the Sidebar

Located on the left side of Finder windows, the Sidebar lets you easily get to specific locations. It comes with a number of default locations, but you can add items to or remove them from the Sidebar so that it contains the items you use most frequently.

The Sidebar is organized in sections as described in Table 2.1.

Table 2.1. Sidebar Sections




This section contains locations on your Mac that you visit most frequently. FAVORITES includes a number of folders and other locations by default, but you can change the contents of this section to customize it. The contents of this section remain as you configure it.


This section contains items you are accessing on a network, such as a shared hard disk or Time Capsule. The contents of this section change as you use different shared items.


This section contains hard disks, disk images, your iDisk, and so on that are mounted on your Mac. Like the SHARED section, the contents of this section change as the items with which you are working change.

To use an item on the Sidebar, click it. What happens when you click depends on the kind of icon you clicked. Examples of outcomes are provided in Table 2.2.

Table 2.2. Sidebar Icons



All My Files

This icon causes all the files you've worked with to be shown in the Finder window. You can use the view and browse tools to access any file you want to work with.


When you click this icon, any Mac (running Mac OS X 10.7 or higher) that your Mac can communicate with using Wi-Fi appears with the icon of its current user. You can send files to other users by dropping them on the related icon; people can share files with you in the same way.


When you click a device, the contents of that device are displayed in the Finder window. For example, when you click a hard drive's icon, you see its contents.

Shared folder or drive

When you select a shared network resource, you either see the tools you can use to log in to that resource or you see the contents of the resource if your Mac is configured to log in to it automatically.


When you click a folder, you see its contents in the Finder window.


Clicking a document's icon opens the associated application and you can see and work with the document's contents.


If the icon is for an application, the application launches.


If you click a search icon, the search runs and you see the results of the search in the Finder window.

Each type of item of the Sidebar has a distinctive icon, making distinguishing what each icon represents easy.

You can show or hide the contents of each section. Point to the section's title and click Hide. The section is collapsed so you only see its title. Click Show to expand a section.

You can change the contents of the Sidebar using the following steps:

  1. Select Finder, Preferences. The Finder Preferences window appears.
  2. Click the Sidebar tab.
  3. Check the check box for each item that you want to appear on the Sidebar.
  4. Uncheck the check box for any items that you don't want to appear on the Sidebar.
  5. Close the Finder Preferences window.

You can also change the contents of the FAVORITES section by doing the following:

  1. Open a Finder window.
  2. To remove an item, perform a secondary click (one way is to hold the control key down while you click) on it and select Remove from Sidebar. The icon disappears. Of course, when you remove something from the Sidebar, it's not removed from the computer. The item remains in its current location on your Mac, but it is no longer accessible from the Sidebar.
  3. To add something to the Sidebar, drag it from a Finder window or desktop onto the FAVORITES section. As you move the item onto the Sidebar, a blue line appears on the Sidebar at the location to which you've moved the item.
  4. When you're over the location in which you want to place the item, release the button. The item's icon is added to the Sidebar, and you can use it just like the default items.
  5. To change the order of items, drag them up or down the list. As you move an item, other items slide apart to show you where the item you are moving will be.

Using the Toolbar

The toolbar appears at the top of Finder windows and contains buttons and pop-up menus that you can use to access commands quickly and easily. It includes a number of default buttons and pop-up menus, but you can configure the toolbar so that it contains the tools you use most frequently. The default icons on the toolbar are described in Table 2.3 (from left to right).

Table 2.3. Toolbar Icons



Back/Forward buttons

These buttons move you along the chain of Finder windows that you've moved through, just like Back and Forward buttons in a web browser.

View buttons

Use these to change the window view (more on this later in this lesson).

Action pop-up menu

This menu contains a number of useful contextual commands. These commands are the same as those that appear when you perform a secondary click on an item.

Arrange menu

This menu enables you to arrange the contents of the window. For example, you can group items by name, date last opened, size, and so on. Select None to remove the arrange settings.

Search bar

Use this to search for items with which you want to work.

Working with Finder Window Views

Finder windows offer different views of their contents. Each view works a bit differently and has advantages. To change views, open the view menu and select the view you want to use or click a view's icon on the toolbar (the view buttons are in the order as they are described from left to right on the toolbar). The views are as follows:

  • Icon. In this view, contents appear as icons (refer to Figure 2.1) on which you double-click to open the related item (folder or file). The Icon view is the most pleasing to look at but offers the least information and functionality.
  • List. When in List view, contents of a window are shown in a list. You can sort items by clicking the column heading by which you want to sort the list; click it again to reverse the order. You can also expand or collapse the contents of folders by clicking the triangle that appears next to the folder's icon. Using the View Options, you can determine which columns of information appear. You can also drag columns to the left or right to change the order in which they appear. The List view is extremely useful because of the information it provides (see Figure 2.2).
    Figure 2.2

    Figure 2.2 The List view provides lots of information about the items you are viewing.

  • Columns. The Columns view, as shown in Figure 2.3, is the best one for quickly navigating to any location on your Mac. In this view, contents appear in columns, so when you select a folder, its contents appear in a column to the right of the folder. Folder icons have a right-facing triangle on the right edge of the column. When you select a file, you see information about it, including a preview, if the file's contents can be shown in a preview. The path you are browsing is indicated by the shaded bar. You can change the width of columns by dragging their right edges to the left or right.
    Figure 2.3

    Figure 2.3 The Columns view provides the most efficient navigation.

  • Cover Flow. The Cover Flow, as shown in Figure 2.4, sort of combines the Icon and List views. At the top of the window are thumbnails of the folders and files in the folder you are viewing. You can flip through these by dragging across them, clicking on the left or right side, or using the scrollbar that appears just below the thumbnails. The bottom section of the view is in List view, and this section works much like a window in that view. The thumbnail directly facing you is in focus and is highlighted on the list.
    Figure 2.4

    Figure 2.4 The Cover Flow view shows a stack of files and folders you can flip through.

Whichever view you choose, you can open an item to view its contents if it is a folder or to work with it in its associated application. Experiment with the various views to find the ones most useful to you.

Searching with Finder Windows

You'll end up with lots of files and folders on your Mac. Navigating directly to something of interest to you is not always easy. Fortunately, you can use Finder windows to search for items of interest to you. Here's how:

  1. In the Search bar, located on the right edge of the Finder window toolbar, type what you want to search for. As you type, the Finder presents a menu of items that meet your search; these are organized by type of search, such as Filenames, Kinds, and so on. The results of the search are shown in the Finder window.
  2. If the menu shows you what you want, you can jump directly to an item by clicking it on the list; if not, keep typing until you've entered all that you want to search for. As you type, the Finder continues to narrow the results shown in the window to match what you've typed.
  3. You can change the location you are searching by clicking the buttons on the left side of the Search toolbar that appears when you perform a search. Options include This Mac, the folder currently selected, Shared, and so on.
  4. To make what you are searching for more specific, click the Add button (+) located just under the Search bar. A new row appears in the Search toolbar.
  5. Use the menus, text boxes, and date boxes to make your search more specific. For example, select Kind on the first menu and Document on the second menu to search for document files. The options that appear change based on what you select on the first menu.
  6. Repeat steps 4 and 5 to add more search criteria. As you continue to refine your search, the content of the window is further reduced to show only those items that match your search.
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