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This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book

Working with Finder Windows

When it comes to viewing Mac OS X Finder windows, there is definitely good news and bad news—assuming that you have used a previous version of the Mac OS, of course (if you haven't, there is only good news). The good news is that Mac OS X windows offer the same functionality that windows in previous Mac OS X did plus some improvements. The bad news is that under Mac OS X, windows look quite a bit different and you might have to adjust some of your normal working habits a bit (see Figure 3.1).

Figure 3.1 The basic functionality of Mac OS X Finder windows is similar to that of previous Mac windows, but Mac OS X windows include a number of improvements.

The fundamental purpose of Finder windows is the same as it has always been—Finder windows enable you to view and manipulate the contents of disks, CD-ROMs, DVDs, folders, and so on.

Opening Finder Windows

You can open Finder windows in several ways. Click the Finder icon on the Dock (which is the Mac OS icon). A new Finder window appears showing the contents of the Computer directory (if a Finder window is already open, nothing will happen when you click the Finder icon on the Dock because a window is already open). You can open a new Finder window by choosing File, New Finder Window (+N). By default, new Finder windows that you open will always display the contents of the Computer directory, which is the "base" level of Mac OS X. You can use a Finder preference to change this behavior so that new Finder windows always open to your Home directory.


Under previous versions of the Mac OS, the +N shortcut created a new folder. Under Mac OS X, that shortcut is now Shift++N. This is a bit annoying, but you will have to get used to it.

—> To learn more about Mac OS X directories, see "Understanding Mac OS X Directories."

Whatever way you open a new Finder window, the result is always the same—the contents of either the Computer or Home directory are displayed. 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 new Back button in the Finder window toolbar). The first window in every new chain that you start is always the directory that you defined (Computer or Home). You can have many window chains open at the same time, again being similar to Web windows. (You can quickly jump into specific directories using the toolbar, the Go menu, and keyboard shortcuts.)

—> To learn how to navigate Finder windows, see "Navigating Finder Windows."

After you have one Finder window open, other Finder windows open in the same way that they did under previous versions of the OS. To open a window, double-click the icon for the item that you want to open. Or select an item and choose File, Open. The Open keyboard shortcut still works, too—just select an item and press +O to open it.

One difference from previous versions of the OS is that by default, a new Finder window opens within the current window instead of in a new, separate window. You can override this behavior so that the new Finder window is separate from the first one by holding down the key while you double-click an icon.


This default behavior assumes that the toolbar is shown in a Finder window. If the toolbar isn't displayed in a Finder window, opening a folder always opens a new, separate Finder window.

When you open a Finder window within another Finder window, a Finder preference determines whether the new window uses the same view as the previous one or not. By default, it doesn't and the new Finder window uses the Icon view.

If a new Finder window is a separate window, it always assumes the view that 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 that new separate windows open in is determined by the view you used for that window the last time that 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 directory in List view, it will appear in List view whenever you open it in a separate Finder window (if you open it within a Finder window, the view it takes on depends on Finder preferences).

To make windows that you open within the current Finder window have the same view as the current window (instead of using the window's previous view), use the following steps:

  1. Open Finder, Preferences.

  2. In the Finder Preferences window, check the "Keep a window's view the same when opening other folders in the window" check box.

  3. Close the Finder Preferences window.


One of the neat features of Mac OS X is that most preference changes are made in real-time—you don't have to close the Preferences window to see the results of your changes. For example, when you make the change in the previous steps, the window-opening behavior becomes active as soon as you change the check box. A good habit is to leave preferences windows open as you make changes and close the windows only when you are happy with all the changes you have made.

You can also set Mac OS X so that folders always open in a new window (which was the default case in previous versions of the Mac OS).

  1. Open Finder, Preferences.

  2. In the Finder Preferences window, check the "Always open folders in a new window" check box.

  3. Close the Finder Preferences window.

Scrolling Finder Windows

You scroll Mac OS X windows in basically the same way that you always have, although the scrolling controls look a bit different than they did under previous versions of the OS. The most obvious difference is with the bars themselves because of the Aqua interface, by default, the scroll bars are Mac OS X blue; you can change this to graphite with the General pane of the System Preferences utility. As with previous versions of the OS, you can set the scroll arrows to both be located in the lower-right corner of windows or have an arrow located at each end of the scroll bar.

Mac OS X scrolling controls work as you expect them to. You have the following options:

  • Drag the scroll bars.

  • NOTE

    As with previous versions of the OS, the length of the scroll bar is proportional to the amount of the window that you can see in the view.

  • 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 will also scroll the window when you move outside the current view).

  • When using the Icon or List views, hold the and Option keys down and drag (when you can drag to scroll, the pointer changes to the gloved hand icon).


This is another minor difference from previous versions of the OS; you used to hold down the key while dragging to scroll.

You can modify a couple of aspects of scrolling behavior. You can change the location of the scroll arrows. And, rather than moving an entire page each time you click above, below, to the left, or to the right of the scroll bar, you can set the scrolling such that you move to the relative location that you click instead. Follow these steps to modify these scrolling features:

  1. Open the System Preferences utility.

  2. In the Personal section, click General (see Figure 3.2).

  3. Figure 3.2 The General pane of the System Preferences utility enables you to modify the behavior of window scrolling.

  4. To change the locations of the scroll arrows, click the "Together" radio button to have the scroll arrows in the lower-right corner of windows or the "At top and bottom" radio button to place an arrow at each end of the scroll bars.

  5. To change how scrolling works when you click in the scroll bar, click the "Jump to next page" radio button to scroll a screen at a time or the "Scroll to here" radio button to move to a position in the window that is relative to where you click in the scroll bar.

  6. Quit the System Preferences utility.


This is a good chance to practice Mac OS X preference setting techniques. Make your changes to the General pane, but leave the System Preferences utility open. Click in a Finder window; your changes will immediately become active. If you are satisfied, jump back to the System Preferences utility and close it. If not, jump back into and continue making changes until you are.

Resizing Windows

Resizing windows also works as you might expect. To change the size of a window, drag its Resizing handle until the window is the size that you want it to be.

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 (see 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 a 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.

—> To learn how to use the Dock, see Chapter 5, "Using and Customizing the Dock."


As under previous versions of the Mac OS, you can close all open Finder windows by holding the Option key down while you click the Close button in one of the windows.


The Maximize button acts like a toggle switch between two window sizes. If you click it after you have maximized a window, the window returns to the size it was before you clicked it the first time. This can be a handy way to quickly make a large window smaller if you don't want to minimize that window (for example, you might want to keep the window on the desktop so that you can drag files into it). Make the window as small as you'd like it to be. When you want to view its contents, click the Maximize button. The window expands so that you can see its contents. When you are done, click the Maximize button again to return the window to the smaller size.

You can also minimize a window (thus moving it onto the Dock) by double-clicking its title bar.

The Close, Minimize, and Maximize 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 buttons become colored so that you know they are active, even though the window is not.)

Moving Finder Windows

As with previous versions of the Mac OS, you can move a Finder window by dragging its Title bar. Unlike earlier versions of the OS, you can't move an OS X Finder window by dragging its borders.

Using the Icon, List, or Columns Views for a Finder Window

Again like previous versions of the Mac OS, you can view Finder windows in different views. The views that Mac OS X shares with previous versions are the Icon and List view. New to Mac OS X is the Columns view, which is an incredibly useful view that you will probably be using in many situations.


Not present in Mac OS X, and not likely to be missed much, is the Button view.

Viewing a Finder Window in Icon View

You can easily argue that icons made the Mac. Using friendly pictures to represent files and folders made the computer much friendlier and more approachable than any command line could ever hope to be. Mac OS X continues the use of icons to represent objects, and with their improved appearance under OS X, icons have never looked so good.

You can view Finder windows in the Icon view by opening a window and then choosing View, As Icons or by clicking the Icon view button in the toolbar (see Figure 3.3). The objects in the window will become icons, and if you have never seen OS X icons before, prepare to be impressed.

Figure 3.3 The familiar Icon view of the Mac OS is now even more visually appealing. Other operating systems may have copied the Mac's icons, but none can compare to this snazzy new look.

—> 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 the window up for you. This command will neatly arrange icons so that they line up in an orderly fashion. To arrange icons by their names, choose View, Arrange by Name. The icons in the window will be arranged alphabetically.

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

Viewing a Finder Window in List View

The List view presents more information than does the Icon view (see Figure 3.4). To switch to the List view, click the List view button (or choose View, As List).

Figure 3.4 At the top of the window, you see all the samecontrols that are visible in the Icon view. However, the lower part of the window contains more information than it does in the Icon view.

The information in the List view is organized into columns, with a column header indicating the information in each column. The information in the List view is always sorted—you can choose which information 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 that you see in the default List view is the following:

  • Name  This is a filename for files, the folder name for folders, the volume name for volumes, and so on.

  • Date Modified  The most recent date on which the object was changed. If the date is the current date, you will see the time at which the object was changed.

  • Size  The size of the item, in kilobytes (KB), megabytes (MB), or gigabytes (GB).

  • 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 will be highlighted and the list will be resorted 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. 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 will be sorted in the opposite direction.

You can resize a column by moving the pointer to the right edge of the column heading. When you do, the cursor will change 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 head of the column you want to move and dropping it in the new location. The columns will reshuffle and will then appear in the order that you have indicated.


You can't change the location of the Name column; it is always the first column in a window in List view.

One of the other benefits of the List view is that you can expand the contents of a folder so that 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. The folder will expand, and its contents will be listed in the window.


When you Option+click the Expansion triangle for a collapsed folder, the folder and all the folders that it contains are expanded. When you Option+click the Expansion triangle for an expanded folder, the folder and all of its contents are collapsed again.

Viewing a Finder Window in Columns View

The Columns view is new to Mac OS X; its benefit is that you can use it to quickly see and navigate levels of the hierarchy (see Figure 3.5). To switch to the Columns view, click the Columns view button on the toolbar (or choose View, as Columns).

Figure 3.5 The Columns view is a great way to see the hierarchical organization of directories and folders.


One reason that the Columns view is so important is that you use this view to navigate within Open, Save, and other dialog boxes. When you are using the Columns view in dialog boxes, it works just as it does in Finder windows.

As you might suspect, in the Columns 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 that you can see, the middle columns show each level down the structure, and the column on the far right shows the lowest level that you can see. The "path" at which you are looking is indicated by the highlighted items in each column.

Folder icons have a right-facing arrow next to them to indicate that when you select them, their contents will appear to the right.

For example, click Home on the Toolbar to see the contents of the Home directory (see Figure 3.5). The Home directory becomes highlighted in one of the middle columns; its contents appear in a column to that column's right. In the next column to the right, the Documents directory is selected. In the third column, the contents of the Documents directory are shown. If you clicked the "Brad M... Movie" folder, a new column would appear to the right of the current one and you would see the contents of the selected folder. In this example, the path is—Mac Os X/Users/bmiser/Documents/Brad M... Movie.


This example highlights how Mac OS X handles file and folder names when they are too long to be displayed in a view. The center part of the name is replaced by an ellipsis.

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 will show the contents of what you click. If you click something in the right column and the window is not large enough to display the content 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 scroll bars to view all the columns. Scrolling to the left moves up the hierarchy, whereas scrolling to the right moves down it. You can also make the window larger to view more columns at the same time.

You can resize the width of all the columns in a window by dragging the resize handle located in the lower-left corner of each column. Dragging this handle changes the width of all the columns in the window.

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 (see Figure 3.6).

Figure 3.6 When you click a file, information about that file is shown in the right column; this information can include a preview of the file as in the case of this TIFF image.

If you click document files for which Mac OS X can create a preview, you will see the preview in the column. If the file that you select has dynamic content, you can play that content in the preview that you see in the Columns view. For example, if you select a QuickTime movie, you can use the QuickTime Player controls to watch the movie without opening the file. Certain types of text files will also be displayed so that you can read them (scroll bars will appear in the column 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 switch from the Columns view to one of the other views, the contents of the folder that you most recently selected will be shown in the window.

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