Using the Finder on Your Mac

Make the best use of the Finder

The Finder is the heart of your Mac. It provides access to files and folders, displays windows, and generally controls how you interact with your Mac.

If you're switching to the Mac from Windows, you'll discover that the Finder is similar to Windows Explorer, a way to browse the file system. The Mac Finder is more than just a file browser, though. It's a road map to your Mac's file system. Taking a few minutes to learn more about how to use and customize the Finder is time well spent.

Item arrangement option in the Mac's Finder
Coyote Moon, Inc.

Make the Most of the Finder Sidebar

Finder sidebar showing app being added

The Finder Sidebar, which is the pane on the left side of every Finder window, provides quick access to common locations, but it's capable of much more.

The sidebar offers shortcuts to areas of your Mac that you likely use the most. It's a helpful tool that can help you navigate to important folders quickly without opening a bunch of windows unnecessarily.

Using Finder Tags in OS X

Finder with Tags displayed in sidebar

Long-time users of Finder labels may be a bit put off by their disappearance with the introduction of OS X Mavericks, but their replacement, Finder tags, is more versatile and should prove a great addition to managing files and folders in Finder.

Finder tags allow you to organize similar files by applying a tag. Once tagged, you can quickly view and work with all files that use the same tag.

Using Finder Tabs in OS X

Finder Tabs

Finder tabs, ushered in with OS X Mavericks, are very similar to tabs you see in most browsers, including Safari. Their purpose is to minimize screen clutter by gathering what used to be displayed in separate windows into a single Finder window with multiple tabs. Each tab acts as a separate Finder window but without the clutter of having multiple windows open and scattered around your desktop.

Configure Spring-Loaded Folders

Finder Preferences for Spring-Loaded folders

Spring-loaded folders make it easy to drag and drop files by automatically opening a folder when your cursor hovers above it. This makes dragging files to a new location within nested folders a breeze.

Using the Finder Path Bar

Path bar in macOS Finder

The Finder Path Bar is a small pane located at the bottom of a Finder window. It displays the current path to the file or folder shown in the Finder window. To turn it on, open any folder, click View and then Show Path Bar. Once you have done this, you will notice the paths to your file at the bottom of the folder you have open.

Customize the Finder Toolbar

Customize the Finder Toolbar

The toolbar, a collection of buttons located at the top of every Finder window, is easy to customize. In addition to the Back, View, and Action buttons already present, you can add functions such as Eject, Burn, and Delete. You can also choose how the toolbar looks overall by choosing between displaying icons, text, or icons and text.

Using Finder Views

Finder views are selected by four buttons in the toolbar

Finder views offer four different ways of looking at the files and folders stored on your Mac. Most new Mac users tend to work with only one of the four Finder views: Icon, List, Column, or Cover Flow. Working in one Finder view may not seem like a bad idea. After all, you will become very adept at the ins and outs of using that view. But it’s probably much more productive in the long run to learn how to use each Finder view, as well as the strengths and weaknesses of each view.

Find Files Faster Using Spotlight Keyword Searches

Spotlight Comments as Keywords

Keeping track of all of the documents on your Mac can be a difficult task. Remembering file names or file contents is even more difficult. And if you haven't accessed the document it's in recently, you may not remember where you stored a particular piece of valuable data.

Luckily, Apple provides Spotlight, a pretty fast search system for the Mac. Spotlight can search file names, as well as the contents of files. It can also search on keywords associated with a file. You can even create keywords for files.

Restore Smart Searches to the Finders Sidebar

Adding Smart Folders to the Finders Sidebar

Over time, Apple has refined the features and capabilities of Finder. It seems as if with each new version of OS X, Finder gains a few new features, but also loses a few. 

One such lost feature is the Smart Searches that used to reside in the Finder's sidebar. With just a click, you could see the file you worked on yesterday, during the past week, display all images, all movies, or whatever else you're looking for. Read this article to learn how to restore the function to your Mac.

Zoom Into a Finder Preview Image

Column view preview zoom

When you have the Finder view set to column display, the last column in a Finder window displays a preview of a selected file. When that file is an image file, you will see a thumbnail of the image.

It's nice to be able to quickly see what an image looks like, but if you want to see any details in the image, you don't have to open the file in an image editing application.

One nifty Finder feature that is often overlooked is the ability to zoom in, zoom out, and pan around an image when in column view.

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