It's disappointing that Snow Leopard doesn't promise many major new Finder features, but with the right tweaks and plug-ins, you can make browsing files on your Mac significantly better.
Image by nono34.
Short of purchasing a licence for the excellent Path Finder, you can customise Leopard's built-in file manager with just a little effort. Here are a few of my favourite Finder tweaks. (Note: All of these apply to 10.5 Leopard for sure; I did not test them on Tiger or Panther.)
Reveal and Navigate File Paths
The main thing Finder doesn't do well out of the box is show you where the folder you're browsing is located in your file system, and give you easy access to its parent and grandparent folders. Some usability experts might argue that the common user doesn't need or want to know what the full file path is; but most power users do. Here are a few ways to see where you are and navigate easily.
Show the path bar. From Finder's View menu, check off "Show Path Bar" to turn on a clickable "breadcrumb" file path bar at the bottom of your Finder window, as shown. There you can click on any of the parent folders up the path of your current folder to navigate to it.
Add the path button to Finder's toolbar. Similarly, the Path button isn't on Finder's toolbar by default, but you can add it. To do so, Cmd+click Finder's toolbar (or chrome, the silver top to each window), and choose "Customize Toolbar". From there, drag the button named Path onto Finder (and make any other customisations you like; there are quite a few of them). Then, you can click on the Path button to get a drop-down "steps" view of the current folder's full path, as shown.
These two methods give you interactive buttons for navigating paths, but if you just want to see where you are in the filesystem, you can also show a folder's full path in Finder's title bar by running this Terminal command:
defaults write com.apple.finder _FXShowPosixPathInTitle -bool YES killall Finder
Enhance Quick Look
You already know and love Quick Look, the spacebar-tapping way to instantly preview a file's contents. Two plug-ins make Quick Look even better.
Quick Look inside folders By default, if you select a folder and tap on the Spacebar, Quick Look shows you a blue folder icon with some details about how many items are inside. But this Quick Look plug-in actually browses the contents of those folders in the preview window.
Preview .zip file contents with Quick Look. Similarly, another plug-in does the same for .zip archives. With the Zip Quick Look plug-in enabled, a tap of the Spacebar shows what's inside that archive.
Assign Custom Drive Icons
Easily tell the difference between your backup FireWire drive, thumb drive, and camera's memory card with custom drive icons for each. Grab an icon—like from this neat collection, or a product shot from Amazon.com—and simply drag it onto the drive's info pane (Cmd+I) to affix it there. Then, when you browse your Mac you'll see more than the generic orange and white external drive icon.
Easily Show/Hide "dot" Files
Unix-heads who need access to OS X's hidden files and folders—the ones that start with a dot—can show them using a Terminal command or even better, this handy Automator action. I keep that Automator action docked on Finder's toolbar for easy one-click access from any folder. (When you click it, the new setting will be global, not for just the folder you're browsing. Like the Terminal comand, it will restart Finder entirely.) My other tip for dealing with dot files: drag and drop a text editor (like Smultron) to Finder's toolbar, so you can drag any dot file to it to open it on the spot. (Note: my home folder, pictured here, is blue because I've assigned a background image to it.)
Add Separators to Finder's Sidebar
This trick is a little hacky, but it gets the job done on busy Finder sidebars. Using these faux "applications", you can drag and drop separating lines anywhere within Finder's sidebar. Note that if you've got "Show all filename extensions" checked in Finder's preferences pane like I do, the ".app" extensions show up on these separators so they don't work as well. (original post)
Show Item Info
One last Finder setting that's highly informative is the "Show item info" option (from Finder's Action menu, choose View Options, and it's a checkbox there). This will display the file size, for images, the dimensions, and for folders, the number of items inside below each in thumbnail view. If you keep your hard drive on your desktop, it will tell you how much space you have and how much is free, as pictured.
This rundown just scratches the surface of what all you can do with Finder. A few other tricks pulled from our archives include:
What are your essential Finder tweaks? Tell us about 'em in the comments.
Gina Trapani, Lifehacker's founding editor, still wants tabs in Finder. Her feature Smarterware appears every week on Lifehacker.