As a long time Mac user I was born into the desktop metaphor of files, folders, drag, and drop. It is hard to imagine using my computer in any other way. iOS opened my eyes to how functional a simplified mobile operating system can be, and why ditching the filesystem might not be a bad thing for most users. But what about the Power Users amongst us? If iOS is a simplified computing platform, and the Mac is the "computer for the rest of us," then what are die hard file system addicts like myself supposed to be using? Some would say the command line, but I don’t think the answer is that simple. A modern computing experience needs to be more than a powerful shell. Pictures, webpages, sounds, and multimedia are too much of what we use our computers for these days. A truly forward looking file system manager needs to accept these considerations while offering users powerful tools in a package that does not feel foreign to the way files are managed today.
Path Finder by CocoaTech is a file manager that promises more ways to access your data, using fewer applications in less time. It approaches the file system problem in the same way as the traditional Macintosh Finder. You won’t find realistic 3D environments, multi-colored blocks, or exploding sunbursts while using Path Finder. Just the same icon, list, and column views that have been part of Mac OS X since the Public Beta. Path Finder doesn’t depart from the Macintosh experience of overlapping windows, files, folders, drag, and drop. PathFinder feels at home on my Macintosh desktop just like any application developed by Apple. The difference is Path Finder was designed with Power Users in mind.
The similarities between the Finder and Path Finder end as soon as the preferences come out. As a power user’s Finder replacement, Path Finder gives you a choice over almost everything with lots of exciting panes, drawers, toolbars, contextual menus, and keyboard shortcuts to customize. For starters Path Finder gives your more font, color, style, spacing, and sorting options for data than the Finder. You can have directory listings appear in bold, invisible items appear in grey, and the sort order vary by name, extension, or kind. I appreciate the freedom Path Finder gives me to see my data in my own way even if the combination of a brush script font with a deep drop shadow would cause Steve Jobs to roll over in his grave.
One of Path Finder’s strengths over the Finder is the ability to view two different sections of the file system in a dual-pane view. This feature is especially helpful when transferring data within the local file system or across network volumes. You can use one pane to view the local filesystem while the other pane is monitoring a remote filesystem mounted over AFP, FTP, NFS, or SMB. You might be familiar with this functionality if you have used a popular file transfer utility like Transmit. Path Finder does one better than most FTP clients by allowing both panes to view remote volumes while supporting the direct transfer of files between panes without manually downloading files first. Path Finder makes right on Mac OS X’s promise of being a good network citizen without needing additional file transfer utilities to live up to its word. It even gives you the option of withholding the Macintosh specific .DS_Store files that infest so many foreign network drives and drive System Admins crazy.
Just like your browser, Path Finder supports tabs. Within a single window you can collect multiple views of local or remote filesystems in one window, bookmarking your favorite destinations so you can come back to them later.
The built-in Drop Stack is a Path Finder first that makes copying files between two locations easier. Path Finder was the first application to offer this novel resting place to put your files during the middle of a complex drag and drop operation. Path Finder 6’s Drop Stack allows you to collect multiple files on a single stack. When you are ready you can copy or move all of the files in a single step. The Drop Stack is especially handy when moving a collection of files between Path Finder tabs, or buried application windows.
Path Finder’s most powerful features come in the form of customizable drawers that can be bolted onto any Path Finder window to display a variety of information. Possibilities include showing a selection’s attributes, info, permissions, preview, path, size, tags, or rating. Each drawer can show two views of additional information. Drawers can be accessed from the left, right, and bottom of each Path Finder window. The option of a third pane on the bottom and the ability to make any view a floating pallet means no filesystem attribute is ever far out of reach. In addition to data attributes, drawers can also be used to show powerful developer tools like a terminal window, hex editor, and run common Git and Subversion commands without the command line. One of my favorite views is the built-in iTunes Browser for surfing my music without opening iTunes, but there is also a Cover View option for browsing files by icon preview. As a well crafted Mac app Path Finder supports Quick Look.
In addition to containing a hex editor, terminal emulator, file transfer utility, and source control app, Path Finder 6 is also a batch file editor, text editor, simple image editor, and built-in data compressor. Using Path Finder’s file management tools users can apply filename changes to a group of files simultaneously. Prior to using Path Finder I had to perform similar operations using Mac OS X’s Automator, or a third-party application. The built-in text editor gives you most of the features of TextEdit without leaving your Path Finder. Perfect for creating small text files in the filesystem without launching an additional application. Lion’s Preview application has gained a reputation for saving unwanted modifications, and crashing unexpectedly. Prior to trying Path Finder 6 I would resort to using a powerful image editor to perform basic crops, scales, and rotations on my images. With Path Finder’s built-in image editor I no longer have to start up an additional application even if I am working on a file saved on a remote server. The built-in data compressor works with a wide variety of archive types including zip, gzip, dmg, sit, and more without the need of a third-party compression application like StuffIt. Path Finder 6 keeps the tools I use most at my fingertips without reaching down to the Dock.
The customization possibilities in Path Finder 6 never seem to end. With the ability to define criteria based file selection, adjustable toolbars, customizable keyboard shortcuts, and the option to create your own contextual menu commands it is hard going back to the Finder. File tagging, and the access control list editor means it has never been easier to keep track of the your files, and keep them safe from prying eyes. By looking at Path Finder 6’s feature list it is easy to see there is very little this Finder alternative can’t do, but can it replace the Finder?
No, Path Finder is not able to completely replace the Finder. Path Finder is unable to duplicate some system functionality that is embedded in the Finder, and removing or disabling the Finder will break these functions. Also, a few applications are hard-wired directly to the Finder and are unable to communicate with any other file browser. These applications can launch Finder if it’s not running.
The most troubling part of adopting Path Finder as your daily file management application is that it can’t replace the Finder for everything. Clicking on the Trash in the Dock, or performing a Spotlight search will relaunch the Finder even if it is not running. The task of juggling two file managers breaks some of the enchantment Path Finder brings to file management, but CocoaTech have provides some powerful preferences to keep the Finder out of your way as much as possible.
- Set Path Finder as the default file viewer – If this option is enabled in Path Finder’s Reveal preferences, applications that include a “Reveal in Finder” function will use Path Finder instead. This option adds a special key to every application’s preferences file requesting that the application recognize Path Finder as its file browser. While this should work in most cases, it is unfortunately only a suggestion and some applications may ignore it.
- Launch Path Finder automatically after login – If set in Path Finder’s General preferences, this will start both Path Finder and the Finder upon user login.
- Enable Finder’s ‘Remove from Dock’ – Choose this menu item from Path Finder > Finder to allow the Finder icon to be removed from the dock. Once enabled, right-click or control-click on the Finder icon in the Dock and choose “Remove from Dock.” This will allow the Finder to run silently in the background. The Finder will necessarily reappear in the dock every time you restart your computer.
For the past 30 days I have tried to use Path Finder 6 as much as possible and have enjoyed the additional options and powerful customizations it provides. Path Finder 6 is more than a file browser though, it is an ultra wide Swiss Army knife chock of multi prong tools waiting to get work done. I would recommend Path Finder to anyone who is discontent with the options of the Finder, or works with multiple remote servers on a regular basis. The dual pane view and tabbed browsing make juggling multiple Finder windows unnecessary, and the popup File Transfer queue keeps all of the activity in one place. It is true that some of Path Finder’s functionality like batch file editing and showing invisible files can be replicated in the Finder using various add-ons, but you will never find such a wide assortment of file management tools designed so perfectly for the Mac all in one place.