If you have a new Mac, or you are the type that keeps their Mac OS up to date, then you have OS X 10.5, also called Leopard. The latest operating system from Apple is an amazing ensemble of many smaller pieces. When a Mac is powered on, OS X starts a boot process. When finished, the program that is running, and is always running, is called the Finder.
The Finder has been around since Day 1 with the release of the original Macintosh. The Finder is what gives the Mac its "look and feel." Mac OS X Finder has come a long way since the old Mac OS days. The Finder has even changed quite a bit since OS X 10.4 (Tiger).
In Leopard, there have been a few changes to the desktop itself. The menu bar across the top is now, by default, semi-transparent. This threw many long-time Mac users off but Apple soon released a point update that allowed this feature to be turned off. If you open the System Preferences and choose Desktop and Screen Saver, in the Desktop section there is a box to uncheck to remove this transparency option.
Another big change was the Dock. The Dock was given a 3-D makeover, which again, did not appeal to some longtime Mac users. While the new Dock was mostly a cosmetic change, there was a feature in the Dock that took a wrong turn. In Tiger, you could put a folder near the end of the dock, the 'user' area, that if you right clicked, or control-clicked, would pop up and list what was inside it. If there were other folders inside, they would display in a hierarchical method, meaning that you could easily navigate inside nested folders. With the introduction of Leopard, Apple decided to go a step further and create a feature called stacks. It didn't quite make the grade.
Stacks, in its basic form and function, looks good on paper and during demos, the problem was that it didn't handle nested folders. To add to this problem, when you had more than just a dozen or so items in the stack it would display it in a grid layout, which sort of defeats the purpose of a stack. Thankfully, Apple fixed this with another update. Starting with 10.5.2 you can right click, or control-click, on the stack item, allowing a pop-up menu to appear. Here you can set the "Sort by ...," "Display as ...," and "View content as ..." options. If you have a stack with more than a dozen documents, and more importantly some folders, then you will want to set the "View content as" List. Now when you click on a stack, a hierarchical list will appear, allowing you to navigate through folders inside of folders.
Now that we've talked a little about some of the features of the Desktop, we need to take a look at the Finder window. Unfortunately I don't have the space here to go into great depths on the many ways to use and customize the Finder, but there are some new features in Leopard, plus I can throw in some tips and tricks. The Finder can be thought of as the file "manager." By using the Finder, you can browse through the contents of your Mac's hard drive, CD/DVDs, and any "shared" drive from a networked computer or server. The Finder is also used to move files from one place to another (copying) or to delete them (trashing).
If you double click on the icon for your Mac's hard drive, a Finder window will appear. The Finder window is divided into two parts, the Sidebar on the left, and the main window on the right. The main part of the Finder window shows all the files, folders, and programs in the current location. These can be viewed several ways in Leopard. If you look near the top center part of the Finder window you should see four buttons. This is where you can select how you view files. The buttons allow you to view items as: icons, lists, columns, or cover flow.
The most common way to view files is either icon or list view. Column view is a left over from the NeXT OS that Apple bought when they brought Steve Jobs back (OS X has some deep roots in NeXT OS). Cover Flow view is new in Leopard and has been brought over from iTunes. If you have been using iTunes for a while on the Mac, then the whole Finder window will start to look very familiar. In Cover Flow mode, the main window is cut in half with the cover flow images in the top half and a list view of the files in the bottom half. As you select a file, a preview will appear. If it is a program or folder, you will see its icon. If it's a document, like a photo, PDF, or text document, you will see a preview of that file.
Another new feature in Leopard is Quick Look. Just to the right of the view selection buttons is a button with an eye on it. Quick Look allows you to very quickly see the contents of a file without having to launch the application that created it. Just select several files, click on the Quick View button, and a dark gray window will appear with previews of the files contents. In the window that pops up there are controls at the bottom to go backwards or forwards through the list. There is even a play button here, which will automatically advance through all the files you have chosen. This is a handy way to select a large group of photos and very quickly show them as a slide show. All without having to run a special program.
Along the left side of the Finder window is the Sidebar. This has also been updated in Leopard adding a few new features. The Sidebar now has four sections: Devices, Shared, Places, and Search For. Under the Devices list is simply all the devices, or physical disks, attached to your Mac. Under Shared is where you will find any computers, servers, or network storage available for access. Places is where you find common used, well, "places." The default Places are: Home, Desktop, Applications, and Documents. On my Mac I like to add to this list (which you can easily do by just dragging the folder and dropping it in the list) other folders from your Home directory (the house icon). Here I added: Downloads, Movies, Music, Pictures, and the Utilities folder found in the Application Folder.
When the Finder is running, you should see the word Finder in the menu bar right next to the Apple icon in the upper left corner. Click on the Finder menu and select Preferences. This will bring up the Finder Preferences window. Here you can set some important 'prefs' for the Finder. Under the General Tab I like to check all the items to show on the desktop (the first four check boxes). Under the Sidebar Tab, I have everything checked here. Under the Advanced Tab I also turn on the "Show all file extensions." While this last part is not really necessary, if you are coming from a Windows background to OS X then showing the extensions on the end of a file will be much more familiar. Some examples of extensions are: .TIF for Tiff images, .PDF for Adobe Reader files, or .app for applications.
The Finder is one of the major pieces in the Mac OS X Graphical User Interface, or GUI. The Finder is the one program that is always running so it will be the one that you use the most. Knowing how to use the Finder efficiently will allow you to use your Mac to its full extent.
For more details on the Leopard Finder check you my blog on The Post-Journal web site. Check out www.post-journal.com for late breaking news and local information. Check out my latest Blog post at tinyurl.com/qf3lno.