Open the “About Finder” information box on any Mac to find Apple’s simple definition that states the Finder1 is “The Macintosh Desktop Experience.” Astute readers will note the copyright extends from 1983 through 2011; the entire lifespan of the Macintosh computer. The Finder is a simple file browser that provides an elegant interface to manage and find files. The ubiquitous Wikipedia provides a decent history lesson.
This default software at the core of the Mac OS is taken for granted by most users. It’s what you use because it’s there. Enthusiastic users like you craved more from the desktop experience on their Mac. It was inevitable that a developer would rise to offer a replacement.
Apple’s Finder had been around for almost 20 years before Cocoatech released the (oddly-named) SNAX alongside the launch of Mac OS X in 2001. The company came to its senses and dubbed the wunderkind Path Finder opening the door to fidgety nerds itching to get more done right from the file browser.
Good writers discourage clichés, so I shouldn’t call Path Finder a Swiss Army Knife or the Finder on steroids just because this single program provides features that Apple spread across several apps. Cocoatech baked in access to a command line interface, an editor to work with plain and rich text, image and PDF viewers, a variety of file compression tools and more. The application, now in its sixth iteration, more than adequately replaces the Finder, TextEdit, and Terminal.app and offers services that begin to make the Finder look a little shabby.
Here’s a screen shot to show what Path Finder looks like on a typical day for me.
Here’s another shot with its power-mad wings spread wide.
Yeah. That’s a lot to soak up all at once and could really lead to some crazy-making scenarios; however, it does provide a glimpse of what Path Finder has to offer. Season to taste. Make it as simple or complex as you like and make adjustments on the fly that complement the task at hand.
What’s in it for me?
This article is an introduction to the application–not a user manual–so I won’t go in-depth about Path Finder’s feature set. What I will do for you is share what makes Path Finder work for me.
- Bread crumbs – Just above the main file browser (or below depending on your preference) is a trail of breadcrumbs showing where you are in the file system, also known as your path and looks like
/Users/Billy Bob/Library/Application Support/Path Finder. This helps to move quickly among adjacent folders and can really speed up the workflow.
- Tabs – Web browsers introduced most of the world to tabs, providing a way to bundle all of those loose windows scattered across the desktop under the aegis of a single window. It works great for the web and it’s awesome in the file browser. Surely Apple will roll tabs into the Finder one day, but they’ve been available in Path Finder for years.
- Drop Stack – The Drop Stack is a holding pen for files you need to move from one place to another. It goes beyond mimicking copy and paste for moving one selection of files. The Stack happily corrals files dragged from any location and waits for them to be dropped together somewhere else. Indispensable!
- Search Filter – Search? Seriously? Oh yes! This isn’t like the Spotlight-y search you get when you click the magnifying glass. It filters filenames to help you find what you’re looking for in your current window. Can’t find that handful of PDFs buried in a mess of 2,000 photos? Type
Bookmark shortcuts to common folders, tag files OpenMeta-style if that’s your thing, and enjoy the criteria-based search. The most recent major release introduced batch renaming of files. This feature isn’t as powerful as a dedicated tool such as A Better Finder Rename Version 9,2 but it helps you get the job done in a pinch.
After I decided to launch this series and began flipping through my apps looking for a good candidate, Path Finder seemed like a no-brainer. I spend a lot of time in the app every single day and thought it would be easy-peasy to write about, but it wasn’t. That actually provides some insight into what makes the software so brilliant.
First, I depend on it more than those who haven’t seen the light yet because I use its features.3 Second, it’s features are so embedded in my daily work that I forgot about some of them. It’s like breathing. And believe me, I breathe easier knowing Path Finder is there.
Alternatives to the alternative
This isn’t a one-pony show and other developers are vying for attention on the desktop. I settled on Path Finder years ago and haven’t used any of the alternatives listed below, and this certainly isn’t a comprehensive list. A quick search for “apple finder replacement” unveils a smorgasbord of possible replacements to the Finder, but these seems to keep bubbling to the top.
- Leap 3 (affiliate link) is $19.99 in the Mac App Store from Ironic Software Ltd., also known for popular document management tool Yep. Learn more about Leap at its website.
- TotalFinder is $18 from developer BinaryEdge. Curious users may take advantage of a 14-day trial run. The company also offers a souped-up version of Apple’s Spaces called–wait for it–TotalSpaces, which is free until it escapes beta testing for release. The developers also offer a bevy of free software geared mostly for their peers.
- Xfile is available from Rixstep, which bills itself as “a constellation of programmers and support staff from Radsoft Laboratories who tired of Windows vulnerabilities, Linux driver issues, and cursing x86 hardware all day long.”4 The company’s software is provided according to a byzantine array of price points according to number of clients from single-user to 50 or more users.
If you’re the sort of trooper who actually read all the way to the end of this foray into nerdery, please let me know what you think. I hate comments, so please find @ELBeavers on Twitter or just do it the old-fashioned way and send me an email.
- Another unfortunate name, shortened to Better Rename 9 for the App Store, but it says what it does right on the tin. ↩
- Well, about 10 percent of them anyway. Seriously, this app offers a lot of options. ↩
- Which shows the age of the company, for good or ill, because Macs have been running on x86 hardware since leaving the PowerPC processor behind in 2005. ↩