Note: This article is OSX specific.
The Finder application is often one of the main points of ridicule in comparisons of OSX vs Windows or Linux. It doesn’t have tabbed browsing (something every Linux Window Server has had for years) and provides no painless way of cut-pasting files. At times, it’s painfully slow and navigating through its eleventy billion open windows when finding your way around complex projects and subfolders can confuse even the most hardcore users. Add to that the fact that it spawns .DS_Store files everywhere and pollutes every single folder you open with them, there’s little reason to consider it a good application. But there’s no replacing a native app, right? Or is there?
TotalFinder is a better Finder. It installs on top of your existing Finder app without replacing it, which means you can easily remove it later on should you choose to do so, or should your license expire and you decide not to purchase one. We’ll be covering all of its features in more detail a bit later on, but the TL;DR version is:
- it has tabbed browsing
- it offers actual cut/copy/paste context menu buttons
- it features a dual view where two open folders are side by side
- it has the Visor, a sliding, always accessible Finder window
Before we begin, however, it is important to note that TotalFinder is not free — and with good reason. TotalFinder’s commercial support ($18) helps its developer stay on top of new OSX versions and makes sure the bugs are ironed out almost as soon as they appear. TotalFinder does, of course, offer a trial period, but more on that later. For now, just download it.
Installing the application is as simple as downloading the DMG image, mounting it and running the .pkg file inside the mounted image. This package file will install TotalFinder and make sure everything works like it should.
You will need to authenticate to finish the installation, but once finished your Finder will restart and TotalFinder will take over. A mere couple of seconds later, your TotalFinder installation will be ready to use. If you had a Finder window open before you started the installation procedure, another will open in its place. If you did not, feel free to start TotalFinder by clicking the Finder icon in the dock — it stays exactly the same as before.
A feature many operating systems already offer and one that’s found in every modern browser these days, but still lacking in the original Finder is Tabs. TotalFinder enables you to open folders in tabs instead of overlapping windows, which means that when you open a new folder, a new tab gets opened in the existing window instead. This makes for quicker navigation, easier drag-and-drop functionality between folders, and a cleaner desktop. Tabs are automatically on as soon as you first run TotalFinder, and are not a feature you can turn off.
You can open a new tab with the keyboard shortcut Command+T and close one with Command+W, which is identical to how tabs work in the Chrome browser. If you want, you can still open an entirely new TotalFinder window with Command+N as usual.
Now let’s take a look at the preferences and everything they offer. Please go to TotalFinder->Preferences, or to Finder->Preferences and into the TotalFinder tab.
The Visor is a docked TotalFinder window that resides at the bottom of your screen and only appears when you need it. For instance, if Visor is on when you open a folder, instead of opening a new TotalFinder window the Visor pops up and displays the folder contents in a new tab. Once you’re done, clicking away instantly makes it slide back down. The Visor can also be called via a hotkey which you can define in the TotalFinder Preferences, so it’s always there when you need it. In time, you’ll get so used to the Visor you won’t ever even open an actual TotalFinder window any more.
To tweak how it looks, feels and acts, see the Visor tab of the TotalFinder preferences pane:
Side-by-side View (Dual Mode)
While in a tab, hitting Command+U or double clicking the tab’s head will activate Dual mode. This will spawn another tab, halfway merged with the original tab, and will display them side by side, each with its own sidebar on each side. This is extremely useful when syncing up folders and moving loads of files around.
This mode is manually triggered via double clicking or pressing Command+U, and is not an option that has to be enabled.
Folders on Top, Always Maximise, Show System Files
TotalFinder also offers some other goodies, as you can see by the Preferences pane.
The Folders on Top option makes sure folders get on top of a stack in a given folder — this simulates other operating systems and people coming from an OS like Windows might find this feature a welcome addition.
By default, the Maximise button on OSX windows only resizes a window enough for it to get rid of the scrollbars. If you’re coming from a different OS background, you might be used to maximise actually doing what it says it does — maximising the application to full screen. Turning Always Maximize on does exactly that — it changes the behaviour of the maximise (green +) button.
Show system files is a super simple shortcut to showing hidden files. This option should not be touched if you don’t know what you’re doing or if you’re not familiar with system files, but for developers and the like, it’s a very useful shortcut.
The Experimental section offers some semi-beta features that have been production-worthy for a while now.
Freelance Windows forces all new folders you open to open in separate windows. Instead of the default behaviour in which a window is opened as the tab of the last used TotalFinder window, Freelance windows makes sure new opens happen in a window of their own.
Use Narrow Tabs bar decreases the margin and padding of the tabs so that more of them fit into one TotalFinder window. This is purely aesthetic and has no effect on the functionality of the application.
Show Cut and Paste buttons in Context Menus adds these buttons to the menu you get when you right click over a file. This absolutely essential functionality has been missing in the Finder app since day one, and activating it will completely turn around your filesystem navigation experience.
Allow Path Copying from Context Menus allows you to do exactly what it says it does, with an added perk. Not only does it let you copy the original Unix path to the file, it also re-parses the file path into the format required for other media. For example, copying the path of the file ~/test.txt will give me these results for each of the available five options:
POSIX Path: /Users/swader/test.txt
Windows Path: \Users\swader\test.txt
HFS Path: Main:Users:swader:test.txt
Terminal Path: /Users/swader/test.txt
While the benefits of this feature are not immediately obvious to most, some more hardcore users will most definitely benefit from them.
Up until a recent version, TotalFinder came with another brilliant feature — Asepsis. This option was the ability to completely and permanently prevent the creation of .DS_Store files inside your folders. No more trash on your USB sticks, no more polluted network drives, no more problems when adding to your Git or SVN repository. This feature has since been removed from TotalFinder, but fear not — it was added onto BinaryAge’s site as a standalone application. Download this immensely helpful application here.
We all have our love-hate relationships with our working environments — there’s always something we notice that could have been done better. I hope this review of TotalFinder’s features convinced you there’s room for more love than hate in OSX’s approach to filesystem navigation. Remember, this excellent application wears only an $18 price tag, and even if that’s not affordable for you, keep reading — there’s a treat coming up.
BinaryAge and SitePoint have teamed up and are giving away three licenses to TotalFinder. To participate in the giveaway, tweet this article with the hashtags #sitepoint and #totalfinder; OR try out the TotalFinder demo (14 days free) and comment back here with your favourite feature. A fortnight after this article’s publication date, three winners will be drawn and notified via tweet or email (if you use the comment approach to participate, make sure you leave a valid email).
If, after the draw, you still don’t win — don’t fret. The TotalFinder developer often gives out free licenses, so see if you can apply for one here.