logo pmbanner

Snow Leopard: Finder

By Francine Schwieder


The Finder

Many Mac users have had a love/hate relationship with the Finder. Some of us don't feel much love at all, and even go so far as to download, and pay for, a Finder replacement. For many years, in certain circles, there has been a rather well-known acronym: FTFF. Politely translated, it is a prayer or mantra meaning "Fix the Freaking Finder." There are many hopeful souls who have believed that someday Apple would finally re-write the Finder. It would be redone so that it was a Cocoa application, rather than Carbon, and more recently there was the hope that additionally it would be 64-bit as well. Praise be to Apple, that hoped for day is here. The Finder code is rewritten. It is Cocoa. It is Intel native. And it is 64-bit. Have we entered Paradise at last?

If this is Paradise, it looks an awful lot like where we were before.


Poking around in Leopard trying to figure out why some aliases were so bloody big, I discovered that many of the default system icons were 512x512 pixels in size--rather larger than what the Finder would actually display, except in CoverFlow view. Furthermore, I had discovered that there was a little slider in Search results windows that were displayed in Icon view, and that you could drag that slider all the way up to a 512 pixel size, and the Finder would display any and all files it could read at that breath-taking gorgeousness. I frequently used that feature to get a good look at my image files when I was browsing. I surmised that Apple was in transition, and that the future would reveal a world where any icon thumbnail could be displayed at that munificent size. That world is here. Below is a full-sized screen shot of my Movies folder in Icon view in Snow Leopard, with the icon size slider (down at the bottom of the window in the right corner) moved all the way to the end. What you see is the edge of a sub-folder, and the icon for a movie (Bruce playing at the Super Bowl, if you're curious).


Notice the peculiar circle in the center of the movie? Well, the movie is actually playing in its icon. Or its icon is playing the movie. Whatever. Of course there is that goofy triangular translucency clapped over the upper left of the movie, and the pause button and odd circular progress indicator in the center of the movie. Who knows why those are there? But they are, and while the play/progress gizmo goes away when you move your cursor off the icon, the translucent overlay remains. You can also play the movie in Column view, without the over-lay. The size in Column view depends on the actual size of the movie. Thus Bruce above will only display at a width of 320 pixels in Column view, since that is the actual width of the movie, while the shot above is displaying at 512. The size in Coverflow seems to be limited only by the available screen real estate. I managed to get Bruce all the way up to 870 pixels in CoverFlow. BTW, QuickLook is also limited by the actual movie dimensions: Bruce is much smaller than the movie-in-an-icon above, and QuickLook won't keep playing when you switch to something else. Playing the icon will continue on its merry way even if you are working in another program. And it isn't just movies that have a new-found ability built-in to the icon: when your cursor is over a PDF file you'll see two arrows at the bottom, clicking on them leafs thru the pages of the file. Depending on the font size in the document you may actually be able to read the file. Of course, you can do this just as easily, and rather better, with QuickLook. Music files in an icon window display their cover (if you have added that) and will also play. If they don't have a custom album cover, the icon is a pair of notes on a black background, with the silly triangular translucency. Below is a sample, with the play button in the center of the file the cursor was over. And the music will keep playing even if you leave the Finder and go back to work in an application. Of course, you could always launch iTunes, and play your music in the background (and it will automatically move on to the next song too, which the Finder doesn't do).


The Little Things

So what's the big advantage of a rewritten Finder? Thus far not much is evident. It may seem more responsive to you, although I personally don't notice much difference, and what difference I have noticed is not for the better. The first time you open a folder, expecially one with a lot of items, it may take a noticeable amount of time before the icons display. Subsequent opening of the same folder will then be instantaneous. For a really agonizing wait, have your Applications folder set to open in List view with the Size column enabled (you don't even have to have "Calculate all sizes" turned on in View Options)--Finder retrieving the size of application bundles is about as speedy as grass growing, although, to be fair, it does a better job with plain files such as jpegs. This problem with the calculation of sizes is rather wide-spread. Do a GetInfo on a large folder, such as the Applications folder, and watch the Size entry. You'll not see a size for quite some time, just the notice that it is Calculating . . . and Calculating . . . and Calculating. My Applications folder is 5.37GBs and it took 40 seconds to display the size (I counted). The System folder is smaller, but it took even longer before its size appeared in GetInfo, nearly a full minute.

One of the major complaints about the Leopard version of Spotlight was that although you could search using size as a criterion, there was no way to actually display the results sorted by size. Evidently as a result of the chorus of complaints about this bizarre lack Apple wanted to put back that rather obvious ability. If you do a Command-F search and either access your display options from the Action tool or the View menu's Show View Options you'll notice that Size is one of the Arrange By choices. But it is grayed out and you can't select it. Except in Icon view, where you can select it, but it doesn't actually work. The arrangement may (or may not) change, but the files are extremely unlikely to actually get rearranged by size. I fiddled with a results window for awhile, and one time I did get the files to really be ordered by size (not easy to tell in Icon view, but you can check it by bringing up the Inspector window and selecting each item in turn), but have not been able to repeat this feat. Below is a shot of a search by size displayed in List view. At least Apple did add back the ability to arrange by Date Modified and Date Created, and those do work. I have concluded that there is something profoundly wrong with the new Finder's ability to handle sizes of things in the file system.


One little thing you may notice (you can see it in the shot above) is that now when you select something in the toolbar, if your tools are text only, the text turns white when you click on it. You can close the Sidebar without losing the toolbar too, just select Hide Sidebar from the View menu, or use the Command-Option-s keyboard shortcut. The main body of the window slides majestically to the left. For a real visual thrill, press the Shift key and click on the little toolbar lozenge in the upper right corner of a window: both the toolbar and the Sidebar will ever so slowly slide away. Evidently a Cocoa Finder is extremely easy to add Core Animation features to, and some whimsical engineers have done so in otherwise idle moments. As John Siracusa noted, "Apple has sprinkled Core Animation fairy dust over seemingly every application in Snow Leopard." Just because they can, I guess.


Another widespread complaint about the Leopard version of Spotlight was that if you started a search from a folder, it defaulted to searching the whole computer, which was just goofy. Most of the time you would want to search the folder you were in, and for those occasions when you didn't you could click This Mac. There is now an option you can set to make your current folder the default choice. While one would think this would be set somewhere in the System Preferences Spotlight pane, one would be wrong. Instead it is set in Finder Preferences, click on the Advanced tab, and select it from the Drop Down menu at the bottom.

One of the other capablities that Spotlight had in Tiger, which was lost in the rewrite for Leopard, was the ability to seach in multiple places, of your choice, at the same time. This is still missing. The only way to do that thing is to create a Saved Search, aka Smart Folder, then edit it with either a text editing program or a property list editor. The Saved Search named HomeData visible above in the Sidebar is such a hack: I made a Smart Folder that searched my Home folder for Kind:Any, and Name:Contains:redgeranium, then edited it to include my Data drive in the Search Scope section. To use it I click on it, then in the Action tool select Show Criteria and change them to suit what I'm looking for. It will then search both the Home folder and the backup drive for what I want. When I'm done and close the window I click the Don't Save button.


Apple has been at war with third party Contextual Menu items for some time now. I think it was started because of the damned StuffIt CM that would screw up the Finder--anyway, I never had any of my very useful third party CMs do anything bad. The first skirmish occurred in Leopard, where everything except the basic Apple items got banished to a More fly-out menu, and then likely a second fly-out from there. It was possible to have to navigate sideways for 3 or 4 steps before getting to the thing you wanted to use. It was enough of a pain that I basically gave up using even my own Automator Contextual Menu actions.

In Snow Leopard Apple seems to have won the war--Contextual Menu items from any source other than Apple are just gone. The Finder now has no support at all for Contextual Menu Plug-ins, they simply will not load. What will get added to the Contextual Menu are Services, and the Services that will appear are those that apply only to the item you have selected. Thus, in the example at the left, I selected a png file, and at the bottom of the Contextual Menu are three Services that apply to such a file: the first is Apple's own Service (a graphic can be set as a Desktop Picture), the next two are Automator Services I made myself. If you have any Automator Finder actions you will have to rebuild them for Snow Leopard as a Service, rather than the Leopard method of an Automator Workflow Application for Finder. But there is a big bonus when you do this: your new Service can be accessed instantly with a right click on the file or folder you want to use it on.

The Services menu has long been one of the most neglected Features in OS X. Part of the reason is undoubtedly because any application could add something to the Services list, with the result that wherever you were and whatever you were doing, if you wanted to use a Service you were confronted with a list that could have dozens of items, and spotting what you wanted was something of a challenge.

Such is the case no longer. With the revamped Services you may actually find this feature useful and start getting the Service habit. The peculiar place to set the Services you want to use is in System Preferences, the Keyboard pane, go to the Keyboard Shortcuts tab, and select Services. As a result of this, when you then select Services in an application all you see are Services that apply to the situation. Thus, I select a paragraph in a Safari browser page, then went to the Safari Services menu, and saw only those items shown below right.

pref menu

As you may know, there are a number of places where holding the Command key when you select something will get you to the thing's location in the Finder. For instance, if you do a Spotlight search from the menu bar, holding the Command key and clicking the item in the results list opens the containing folder, with the object selected highlighted. Command click on the title of a file open in some application shows you the path, and you can quickly get to anything in the path by moving your cursor down to what you want and clicking (this has been true for years in OS X, in Snow Leopard Control click now does the same thing). This also works in the title of a Finder window. Command click on a file in the Dock (or in a Stack in the Dock) also will open the file's parent folder. In a post from hnhansen at MacOSXHints a new related function is revealed: holding the Command key when you access the Recent Items in the Apple menu will also get you to the parent folder of the item. Click on the Apple to access the menu, press the Command key and move down to the Recent Items and you'll see that the item has changed to "Show in Finder"--clicking it in this state opens the parent folder, with the item selected.

If you aren't sure what this is good for, here's an example: you have worked on a file buried somewhere and now want to work on some other file in the same obscure place. Rather than navigating all the way to the depths where the files are buried, just use the Command key and Recent Items to go directly to the obscure folder. Click click and the folder is open.

One More Thing

After all these years the Put Away command is back. More or less. That's right: the venerable ability to change your mind about something you trashed and have it go back to from whence it came, that which existed in the old Mac OS and disappeared with the introduction of OS X, has returned. It's now called Put Back and is accessed from the Contextual Menu. You open the Trash, select the item and right or Control click on it, and select Put Back. It only works if you yourself sent the item to the Trash directly from the Desktop or a Finder window to the Trash. If you have a program, such as Adobe Bridge or Aperture, that has the function to delete things from the program and you use that function to send something to the Trash, you'll have to untrash it yourself.

NEXT: Wrongful Things

Previous: Introduction to Snow Leopard

Return to Review Index

Return to Index