The Finder is a vital tool for browsing the contents of disks. Some of its features, such as creating folders, are accessible from Save and Open dialogs, and many applications offer an Open Recent item to quickly reopen something. However, what you want might have dropped off it long ago.
We’ll show you fundamental techniques for quickly accessing current files right from the Dock. Even with a good folder hierarchy, it’s easy to forget where things are, so it’s also important that you can find items that were saved long ago.
If you’ve come from Windows, it might frustrate you that only some menu items can be directly triggered from the keyboard. The slow method is to press Ctrl-F2 to browse menus with the arrow keys, but we’ll show how to create custom keyboard shortcuts that speed up your work by taking you directly to the features you want.
Step 1: The Dock
The Dock is similar to Windows’ taskbar. App icons are shown to the left of the striped dividing line, while the right side shows Stacks (see step 7) and minimised windows. Drag an app from the Applications folder onto the left side of the Dock and it gets pinned there, so it’s only ever a click away.
Step 2: Customise the Dock
The Dock can be hidden so that it only appears when you move the pointer to the edge, which saves space when working on a small MacBook display. To set this behaviour, and to customise other appearance settings including the edge on which the Dock is positioned, hold Ctrl, click the dividing line, then choose Dock Preferences.
Step 3: The Finder
The Finder is always leftmost in the Dock. Like Windows Explorer, it used to browse disks and folders. Clicking its icon either brings existing windows to the foreground, or opens a new one if none exist. Down the left side is the sidebar, which contains shortcuts to useful folders, other computers nearby on your network, and directly-attached disks.
Step 4: Rearranging files
New Finder windows show the All My Files view by default. That can be changed by choosing Finder > Preferences in the menu bar. All My Files groups files by kind, with more recently opened items at the left. Grouping can be changed with the Arrange button, left of the search bar, and sorting through View > Show View Options.
Step 5: Different views
There are several ways to browse a folder or a disk. Switch between icon, list, column and Cover Flow views by clicking through the group of four icons in the toolbar. Sometimes, one view will be more helpful than others for the task at hand. Press Cmd-J to open a palette of options for the current view.
Step 6: Favourite Folders
The Favorites group in the Finder’s sidebar is filled out with useful locations, and it can be customised. Drag a folder from the right side of the window until a line appears between two existing items, then let go to add a shortcut there. Remove an unwanted shortcut by holding Cmd, then drag it out of the window.
Step 7: Stacks
Drag a folder from the Finder into the area right of the Dock’s dividing line to create a Stack. Click the stack to see its contents, then an item to open it – or drag it onto a suitable app in the Dock. Ctrl-click a stack to change its appearance. List and Grid (like the Finder’s icon view) are pragmatic.
Step 8: Peek inside files
Quick Look previews a file’s contents without waiting for an app to open. Select one or more files in the Finder or roll over something in a (Fan or Grid view) stack, then press the spacebar. Swiping on a mouse or trackpad previews the next item, but using the left and right arrow keys also resizes the window to suit.
Step 9: Choose what opens a file
To open a file in an app other than the default one, Ctrl-click it, roll over Open With and choose an app. To change the default, choose Get Info instead, then expand the Open With section of the palette that appears. After choosing an app there, click Change All… or the association will only be changed for this file.
Step 10: Finding things
If a file is hard to locate, click the magnifying glass at the right of the menu bar, then type something that might be in its name or contents. This feature, Spotlight, shows messages in Mail, calendar events and other items in addition to files. Choose Spotlight Preferences, below the search results, to customise what’s shown and in what order.
Step 11: Get more results
The Spotlight menu only shows a limited number of items. To see every file it has found, choose Show All in Finder at the top of the results. This Spotlight window is really a Finder window, so it’s possible to switch between the various views and orderings mentioned earlier to help locate the right item.
Step 12: Detailed searches
If that doesn’t pinpoint the file, click the plus button at the right of the options to bar to add refined criteria. Multiple criteria can be added. With Alt held, the plus changes to an ellipsis. Click it to add a group of conditions; perhaps to match files whose kind is either a Microsoft Word or a Microsoft Excel document.
Step 13: Be more focused
Search results can be overwhelming if Spotlight looks at all attached hard drives. Restrict its scope by browsing to a starting folder in the Finder, then press Cmd-F to switch it to a Spotlight search window. The second item in the options bar will be the name of the folder. Click it so that Spotlight only searches within it.
Step 14: Reuse Spotlight searches
Searches can be saved as Smart Folders, whose contents automatically reflect changes to your Mac. In a Spotlight window, click Save in the options bar. Smart Folders can be opened like regular ones in the Finder, or saved to the Finder’s sidebar for fast access – in fact, the All My Files item is just a Smart Folder.
Step 15: Amend a Smart Folder
A Smart Folder’s criteria aren’t fixed in stone. Open the Smart Folder in a Finder window, then click the Action button – the one with a cog on it – in the Finder’s toolbar and choose Show Search Criteria, or select a Smart Folder in the Finder’s sidebar, then Ctrl-click it and choose the same item.