TotalFinder Review and Giveaway: Mac’s Finder Gets a Makeover

Note: This article is OSX specific.

The Plight

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?

The Cure

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.

Installation

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.

Tabbed Navigation

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.

Visor

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.

vs

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.

Experimental

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
URL: file:///Users/swader/test.txt
Windows Path: Usersswadertest.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.

Asepsis

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.

Conclusion

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.

Giveaway

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.

Good luck!

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  • Ken

    I like the show system file feature! Which mean I dont need to install one more plugin for showing the .htaccess anymore. HOO RAY~

  • http://vvittig.com Alex

    I love total finder. There are so many outstanding features.
    One I use at least twice an hour is ‘SHIFT + CMD + . ‘. Show hidden folders toggle.
    I love the feature with ‘CMD + U’ that you can put two tabs side by side and so on!!
    I’D love a license.

  • http://games-2u.com/ العاب

    great info Bruno
    Thanks

  • Dustin Hartzler

    My favorite feature is opening TotalFinder with a short code. I tried the trial and I love being able to make the Finder appear by double tapping option. Saves a lot of time from searching across my 27″ iMac for an open Finder window!

  • manish

    alert(“venom”)

  • http://INeedHelpWithWordPress.com/ Paul B. Taubman, II

    Wow – I must lead a sheltered life :-) I have been a Mac person for many years and the idea of tabbed windows is awesome! At first I had no idea what you were talking about – but when I saw your images. Click! The lightbulb went on and I thought, MARVELOUS!

    Thanks for sharing the concept as well as the solution! Time to check out that trial version!

    Be Well.
    Paul.

    PS – now I have to look up how long a ‘fortnight night’ is! ;-)

  • Danny Dombrowski

    I have tried the TotalFinder demo, and simply loved it!
    It is easy to use, and add a feature that I missed from ubuntu, TABS!

    It is simply awesome, I would like to get a licence ;)

  • http://mikeroher.name Michael Roher

    I love the ability to have tabs in Finder.

  • Dan

    Awesome – I love the shortcut to show and hide system files (hello .htaccess) and the tabbed windows of course.

    I’d love a free license, but if I’m not lucky enough to win one, this is an app I will purchase!

  • Peter

    Dual view and cutting files!

  • Davor

    Finally both the tabbed view and the cut and paste option.
    I never understood why the “normal” Finder doesn’t have those two. Or at least the cut and paste option.

    Good app, solid review, thanks.

  • Stamp

    Very helpful…
    Tnx

  • http://www.al-7lam.net/vb ارض الاحلام

    I love total finder
    thanks

  • Peter

    TotalFinder is amazing. Love the maximize feature where I can easily copy/move files from folder to folder without opening separate Finder windows.

  • http://www.mackrichardson.com Mack Richardson

    Dual Mode is the BEST! I’ve been using ForkLift for dual windows until now. TotalFinder’s integration with the Finder is so smooth. There’s no going back now. It’ll probably kill my chances of winning the free license, but if I don’t win I simply HAVE to buy this app.

    Great work!

  • http://drs-nyc.com Steve Eldridge

    Love this application – favorite feature is the side-by-side and tabs.

  • Rob

    I love being able to actually cut files! The tabs are a huge productivity boost too!

  • http://vtsmartsites.com Mark Madison

    This sounds awesome. I’m a big fan of PathFinder which I have been using for some time. I never could figure out how a company who came up with Time Machine could also come up with Finder. Go figure.

    Mark

  • chad

    Also check out PathFinder, same idea but a bit more extensive and has been around for a long time. I’ve been using it for almost 5 years and can’t live without it… first thing I install on a new Mac.

  • RIchard Marsh

    Uhhh… to copy/paste a file you just hit Alt while dragging… why do you need a contextual menu, it’s slower?

  • http://www.positivebusinessonline.com Nik Cree

    So good to have the ‘cut, copy, paste’ feature back. This is one of the main things I missed moving from PC to Mac. This is a real time saver.

    • Aryan

      Same here. I really miss this feature. Once while developing Magento website I copied and pasted an extension files and entire plugin folder ruined.

      Haha, Apple spoiled my hard work.

      It is really easy to cut/copy and paste using command rather than grab mouse, arrange two window and then drag. Apple should lean something from PC.

  • Bruce Symons

    Have been using macs since the late 80’s and wish I had this app for all that time – Outstanding !!!

    A licence would be great BUT I will still purchase if I don’t win.

    Developers of these sort of applications need funding to improve and tweek and $18.00 in the scheme of things is a small price to pay for good stuff.

  • alan

    The show system files feature is great.

    For all you commenting on cutting/copying/pasting — you can easily do that in finder with Cmd-X/Cmd-C/Cmd-V.

    Thanks, Bruno for the great and informative review.

  • http://www.mhdesign.co.nz Mike

    OK, so it has things like tabbed browsing? I’ve been using Macs since OS 6 (1988) and I can’t see anything here that I don’t do in Mac OS Finder today anyway. I can see it could be of use to those enlightened souls coming across from the Dark Side BUT no need for additional contextual menus, etc, the CONTROL key is your friend people!!

  • Tom

    Ok, I’ve been running the TotalFinder demo for a little while now, and I am totally SMITTEN!!

    First off, yes, tabs are must in an organized finder workspace. Many other apps offer this function. BUT, none integrate the Visor mode. That function is nothing short of brilliant. Having the drawer full of tabbed finder windows out if the way until you actually need to see them is the quickest way to return a sense of peace to your desktop environment. Then you have to factor in the dual view mode. I can never go back to using a desktop without this.

    Tabs? Visor? Dual view?… all in a single finder window?? But then they had to integrate the pièce de resistance to this masterpiece in the form of a key-command trigger??!! Genius!!! It literally gives you the total finder at your fingertips, and you can invoke it from anywhere.

    The order, instantaneous access, and power this app grants it’s user is astounding! TotalFinder, where have you been all my life??

  • Luke

    I love pretty much everything about TotalFinder, and have already used all it’s nifty features. If I were forced to choose, I would say the dual view rocks my world.

  • http://www.dobernator.com/ Gabriel

    Thanks for the review – I second the opinion, that it’s hard to understand why on a mac the most used application ist the worst one…finder needs a replacement – luckily there are TotalFinder (reminds me of TotalCommander :D) and PathFinder.

  • Anthony Schultz

    It’s amazing. I love the quick access to finder/visor via keyboard shortcut!