Hazel: Tom's Mac Software Pick

Build Automated Workflows for the Finder

Hazel for Mac with Folder view
Hazel preference pane with menu bar item selected. Screen shot courtesy of Coyote Moon, Inc.

Hazel from Noodlesoft brings Finder automation to the Mac. Think of Hazel as the incarnation of Apple’s Mail rules, but for working with files and folders on your Mac.

Hazel can rename files, move them about, change tags, archive or unarchive files; the list goes on. What's important to know is that if you would like to automate a workflow involving the Finder or the trash, Hazel can probably do it.

Pro

  • Monitors folders you specify.
  • Uses a basic rule-based engine to automate the workflow.
  • Rules are similar to Apple’s Mail rules.
  • Supports Automator, AppleScript, JavaScript, and shell scripts, when needed.

Con

  • Limited app integration beyond the Finder.

Hazel is one of the easiest workflow automation tools available for the Mac. In fact, I would say that it's easer to use than Apple’s Automator, although Automator works with a much wider range of apps than Hazel does.

Hazel's singular focus is on the Finder, and more specifically, on monitoring folders you specify. When an event occurs in one of the monitored folders, such as a new file being added, Hazel springs to life and runs through the set of rules you created specific to the monitored folder.

Using Hazel

Hazel installs as a preference pane for either a specific user or for all users of the Mac on which the app is installed. As a preference pane, Hazel is accessed through the System Preferences, or from a menu item Hazel installs.

When you open the Hazel preference pane, you're greeted with a basic window showing a three-tab interface. The first tab, Folders, displays a two-pane window, with the left-hand pane displaying a list of folders that Hazel is monitoring, and the right-hand pane showing the rules you have created to be applied to the selected folder.

You can use controls at the bottom of each pane to add folders to the monitor list, as well as create and edit rules for each folder.

The Trash tab displays rules specific to your Mac’s trash. You can specify when the trash should be deleted, have Hazel keep the trash from going over a certain size, specify whether files should be securely deleted, even have Hazel try to find related app support files when you toss an app into the trash.

The final tab, Info, provides information about Hazel, including its current status (running or paused), and settings for when Hazel checks for updates. There's also an uninstall function available from the Info tab.

Folders

Hazel runs pretty much on its own, so you'll only spend time working with Hazel when you're setting up rules for a folder. As a result, the Folders tab is where you'll spend the most time.

You start by adding a folder for which you wish to create rules. Once a folder is added, Hazel will monitor that folder, and apply any rules you create for that specific folder.

As an example, I collect Mac apps all week long, looking for that one specific app that I will use in each week's software pick. Because I collect apps all week, it can be difficult to keep track of which downloads are new, and which ones have been on my Mac for a while.

To help sort this out, I have Hazel mark which apps are new and which ones are old.

Because my primary sources for Mac apps are developers web sites and the Mac App Store, I need Hazel to monitor two folders: Downloads and /Applications. For each folder, I needed to create rules that will mark a file download as new, and keep it marked as new for seven days. After seven days, I want the app marked as not quite new; any app that's in those folders for more than a month is marked as old.

Creating the rules is easy enough, especially if you have used Apple’s Mail and its rules. You start by adding a new rule, and giving it a name. You then set the condition that Hazel will monitor. After that, you list what you want Hazel to do once the condition is met.

In my example, I want Hazel to check if the date a file was added is later than the date Hazel last checked. If so, I want Hazel to set the Finder tag for the file to Purple.

I can then create similar rules for files that are older than a week, and older then a month. The end result is that I can look at either the Downloads or /Applications folder, and tell at a glance by the tile tag color which items are new, which are more than a week old, and which are just plain old.

Hazel Can Do Much More

My example is just touching the tip of what Hazel can do; it’s all up to your imagination and the level of automation you want to have happening on your Mac.

Another way I use Hazel is to monitor a project folder, so I know when collaborators have returned documents that I need to work with.

I also use Hazel to automatically clean up my desktop, and sort files into appropriate folders.

If you use Hazel along with Automator and AppleScript, you can build complex workflows for just about any undertaking.

Preview Rules

Hazel's new preview feature lets you test a rule by applying it to a specific file and seeing what the results are, all without actually altering the files under test. However, the preview function could use a bit more work. It can only test a single rule against a single file, as opposed to a chain of rules against a group of files, something that would be much more helpful for complex automation tasks.

It is, however, a good first step, one that I hope to see expand in future releases.

Final Thoughts

Hazel is an easy-to-use automation tool that can build very complex rules. This makes Hazel an ideal tool for simple workflows that are easy to put together with just one or a few rules.

By chaining the simple rules, you can build up to complex workflows that can really increase your efficiency; they’re also fun to create.

Hazel is $32.00, or $49.00 for a 5-user family pack. A demo is available.

See other software choices from Tom's Mac Software Picks.