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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 OSes 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 3.1Figure 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 various 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.

If you click the Finder icon on the Dock (which is the Mac OS icon), one of two things can happen. If no Finder windows are open currently, a new Finder window appears showing the contents of the Computer directory. If at least one Finder window is open already, you will move to the Finder window in which you most recently worked.


If you hold down the Control key while you click the Finder icon on the Dock, a menu showing all open Finder windows will appear. Select a window to jump into it.

You can also open a new Finder window by choosing File, New Finder Window (Command+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 instead. To change this, perform the following steps:

  1. Choose Finder, Preferences.

  2. In the Finder Preferences window, select the "Home" radio button to cause new Finder windows to display your Home directory, or "Computer" to cause that directory to be displayed instead.

  3. Close the Finder Preferences window.


Under previous versions of the Mac OS, the Command+N shortcut created a new folder. Under Mac OS X, that shortcut is now Shift+Command+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," p. 80.

When you open a new Finder window, the result is always the same—the contents of either the Computer or the 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 Back and Forward buttons in the Finder window toolbar). The first window in every new chain you start is always the directory you define as the default (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," p. 53.

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 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 Command+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 Command 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 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 that a new window opens in 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 directory in List view, it will appear in List view whenever you open it in a new Finder window until you change the view in which it appears.

You can 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). To set this preference, do the following:

  1. Choose 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.


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.

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 that the folder is highlighted. After the delay time has passed, the highlighted folder will open in a separate Finder window. 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, all the folders that have "sprung" open are closed again.


You can cause a folder to spring open immediately by pressing the spacebar when you drag an item onto a closed folder.

You can configure this behavior by using the following steps:

  1. Choose Finder, Preferences.

  2. Check 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).

  4. Experiment to see whether the delay time is set correctly for you; if not, change it.

  5. Close the Finder Preferences window.

Scrolling Finder Windows

You scroll Mac OS X windows in basically the same way 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 scrollbars 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 scrollbar.

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

  • Drag the scrollbars.


As with previous versions of the OS, the length of the scrollbar is proportional to the amount of the window 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 down the Command and Option keys 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 Command 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 a scrollbar, 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).

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

  1. 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 scrollbars.

  2. To change how scrolling works when you click in the scrollbar, click the "Jump to the 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 scrollbar.

  3. 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 the General pane 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 you want it to be. You can also use the Maximize button to swap between two sizes for a window.

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," p. 105.

Maximizing 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.)


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

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.


If you used previous versions of Mac OS X, you'll notice that moving windows around is considerably faster under version 10.2, as are other window tasks such as changing size.

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 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.

→ You can customize the Icon view for Finder windows. See "Customizing Finder Windows," p. 59.

Figure 3.3Figure 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.

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 a specific criterion, choose View and then select the criterion by which you want the window's icons ordered. Your options are the following: by Name, by Date Created, by Date Modified, by Size, or by Kind.

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.

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 3.4Figure 3.4 At the top of the window, you see the same controls visible in the Icon view. The lower part of the window contains more data 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 each column. The information in the List view is always sorted—you can choose the information 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 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," p. 59.

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 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 3.5Figure 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 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. 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 to indicate that when you select them, their contents will appear in the column to the immediate right.

For example, put a Finder window in the Columns view and click Home on the Toolbar to see the contents of the Home directory. The Home directory becomes highlighted in one of the middle columns; click that icon and its contents appear in a column to that column's right. In the next column to the right, click the Documents directory to select it. In the third column, the contents of the Documents directory are shown.

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 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 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 all of 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 3.6Figure 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 QuickTime movie file.

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 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 (scrollbars 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 you most recently selected will be shown in the window.

Because the Columns view is so useful, you can choose to have all new Finder windows open in this view.

  1. Choose Finder, Preferences.

  2. Check the "Open new windows in Column view" check box. Each time you open a new Finder window, it will appear in the Columns view.

  3. Close the Finder Preferences window.

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 the View Options.

To hide the preview in specific windows, use the Expansion triangle next to the word "Preview" that appears just above the preview of a selected file in the Preview pane. This will hide all previews for the current window.

You will learn about the View Options later in this chapter.

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