Path Finder 5.0.2 [Mac] full review

If you find yourself frustrated by some of the Finder’s limitations, you’re not alone. For example, while the Cover Flow mode is interesting, it’d be more useful to me if the bottom section of a Cover Flow window could be switched to icon or column view. And as I noted in my article on Leopard annoyances, you can’t assign custom colorus to the Finder’s Labels feature; you can't set the font size or face, or disable sections, of Finder-window sidebars; and the sidebar and toolbar are linked together—you can’t hide one without losing the other. Finally, I pointed out that Spotlight in the Finder is borderline useless for certain searches, as you can’t show more than the three provided columns in search results.

The bad news is that, given how long these issues have been with us, I’m not sure Apple plans on doing anything about them. The good news is that there’s a program out there, CocoaTech’s Path Finder 5, that does pretty much everything the Finder does, but solves all of the problems I just presented and offers many additional features. If there are features about which you’ve thought “Gee, it’d be great if the Finder did this,” the odds are that Path Finder can already do it. And with version 5, Path Finder (originally known as SNAX) is finally complete enough to replace the Finder for most tasks—I’ve been using it as such since its release.

Because it offers so many features, Path Finder isn’t targeted at new Mac users or those who feel the Finder is more than powerful enough for their needs. It's a complex program, with a slew of settings to investigate and powerful features to put to use. Learning all those settings and features takes time, and some may not find it worth the effort. From my seat, though, version 5 is a must-have program.

Finder basics plus more

One of the first things you’ll notice about Path Finder is that its windows look much like the Finder's. You’ll see a window with a toolbar at the top, a sidebar on the left, and a file browsing area on the right. Even if you never go beyond this standard window, you gain quite a few features over the Finder. First off, all of the Finder limitations I listed above are handled by Path Finder. You can use Cover Flow mode while in list, icon, or column view modes. You can set your own colors (and names) for Finder labels. The sidebar can be turned off while leaving the toolbar visible, and you can choose which sections of the side you’d like to see, as well as the sidebar’s font face and size. You can even create multiple sidebars, each with customized sections, and then switch between them as you wish.

Path Finder windows also support file-browsing tabs, much like Web-browsing tabs in Safari and Firefox; just press Command-T, and a new tab appears. You can choose to use vertical tabs, instead of horizontal ones, and you can save tab groups. I find this feature greatly cuts down on window clutter, as I can simply open tabs within a single window for each of the folders I’d like to use.

Among my favourite enhancements is that Spotlight results include not only size, but also date created, date modified, path, and parent directory. And yes, Windows converts, you can cut and paste files and folders from one location to another. (Due to a bug in OS X, however, if you cut and paste from one partition or volume to another, a copy will be made; the original will remain in place.)

The Path Finder Get Info window, seen at right (click for a larger version), is an all-encompassing window showing details you won’t see in the Finder’s Get Info window. The Info section, for instance, contains additional details about the selected objects, or you can choose to view Spotlight metadata instead. The attributes section shows information about hidden and locked status, Spotlight comments, and file type and creator.

Similarly, if you like the Finder’s contextual menus, you’ll love Path Finder’s even more, as, by default, it includes additional options to create disk images, compress and e-mail selected files, and open the current directory in Terminal. But if you don’t like these choices, there’s also a Customize Menu option that lets you add or remove items from the menu.

If that were the extent of Path Finder’s features, it’d still be an amazingly powerful program. But really, this is just the beginning of what Path Finder can do.

NEXT: Way beyond the Finder

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