The Finder and I go way back: from my family’s ’96 Performa to my MacBook Pro, I’ve used it to navigate my Mac for well over a decade. Since the initial transition from OS 9 to OS 10, I would argue that the way we use the Finder has changed very little, and a lot of what has changed is purely aesthetic. Though I now have the option to browse through my files with Cover Flow or create smart folders, I still use the Finder in pretty much the same way as I did 10 years ago.
With the recent announcement of OS 10.7, I was very disappointed to learn that the Finder won’t be seeing any improvements, but that doesn’t mean 3rd party developers aren’t hard at work to continue where Apple has left off. Cocoatech’s Path Finder has been around for quite some time and ambitiously tries to replace the Finder altogether to create a more modern, usable means of navigating your computer. Find out if Path Finder successfully replaces the ubiquitous Finder after the jump!
The Path Finder interface looks very familiar: it has the same layout as the Finder, with the addition of Safari-style tabs and a whole lot more buttons. You can navigate through Path Finder exactly as you would in the Finder without learning anything new, or you can take advantage of Path Finder’s alternative navigation elements, such as bookmarks, breadcrumbs, and tabs. Path Finder brings all the best elements of an Internet browser right to the Finder, so there is pretty much no learning curve: if you’ve used the Finder and Safari, you’ll feel right at home in Path Finder. Path Finder adds more interface tweaks and features than I can cover here, but I’ll go over the most prominent.
I think tabs are pretty much the best thing since the graphical user interface, and dream of a day when all apps have tabs (I’m looking at you, iWork and MS Office). Having tabs in your file browser is incredibly handy, not only can you always see which folders you have open and easily switch between them, you can also drag and drop files between tabs. I used to drive myself crazy trying to clean up my folders with multiple Finder windows open, repositioning them all over the screen for optimal drag-and-drop efficiency. Tabs simplify file browsing immensely, and I’m actually better at keeping my downloads folder and desktop uncluttered with Path Finder.
Tabbed file browsing
Another cool feature I just learned about (after using Path Finder for months) is tab sets. Tab sets are like custom work spaces, you can save a layout of related tabs and re-launch them at any time. For example, if I’m working on a project, I might want to have quick access to related folders, applications, and maybe downloads. With tab sets, I can have all the tabs I need appear just as I had them last time.
Saving a tab set
Options for tabs, file navigation and bookmarks are accessed from a small arrow at the right side of each toolbar.
The Drop Stack simplifies the process of moving files to new directories, especially when you’re not sure where you’re taking something. The Drop Stack is like a temporary holding place, where you can keep files as you’re moving them, very handy for tasks like cleaning out a downloads folder.
Some files in the drop stack
Path Finder’s Dual-Pane view splits your window into two, so that you can see two folders at once. This view is especially useful for comparing folders or moving files back and forth. Each pane acts as its own file browser, complete with tabs and breadcrumb navigation. You can activate Dual-Pane view from an icon at the bottom-left of the window.
Modules & Drawers
Modules and drawers allow you to display additional customized information either within the browser or in slide-out drawers. Selecting the modules icon adds a two-panelled division to the bottom of the browser that displays customizable information about the selected file or various functionalities. The default modules are info and preview, but you can use modules to view attributes, hex, iTunes browser, cover flow, permisisons, processes, recent documents or folders, selection path, shelf, sidebar, file size, subversion or a terminal window. Drawers have the same function as modules, but slide out from the browser, either to the left, right, or bottom.
Attributes and info modules
In addition to interface additions and tweaks, Path Finder adds a number of utilities and features that extend its functionality.
Filters and Selections
Path Finder includes powerful filtering and selection features to help narrow down and manage your files. You can filter files by keyword, extension or type from the search box at the top right of the window (which can also be toggled to do spotlight searches). If you’d like to select files based on certain filtering parameters, click the selection icon from the toolbar at the top (I have no idea how that icon represents “selection”, but it looks like a white box with blue lines). You can then select files from a folder based on name, extension, attributes, kind, and date. The selections feature is a bit like making a temporary smart folder to locate the files you’re looking for.
Selecting with filters
To make a selection based on more than one parameter, check the “extend selection” box in the selection pane.
Path Finder includes some additional tools to perform common tasks from within the browser without opening any other apps or utilities. These utilities include a text editor, basic image editor, application launcher, and Stuffit-powered file compression. If you’re like me and always have too many applications running, it’s nice to be able to avoid opening TextEdit, Archive Utility and Preview all the time!
Built-in text editor
Path Finder as a Finder Replacement
I’ve used Path Finder as my primary file browser for several months, and it saves me a lot of time and frustration. I work from my Mac, so anything that can streamline my workflows saves me time, and Path Finder completely eliminates the time-wasting caused by looking for and organizing files. You can set up Path Finder to basically take over for the Finder, and even get it to quit the Finder for you (but you still can’t get rid of the dock icon). There are a couple of integration issues with “reveal in Finder” dialogs from some applications, for example, files downloaded from Google Chrome. I don’t know if this is fixable, but it does make it a little harder to completely replace the Finder.
Like many Appstorm readers, I frequently use Dropbox to back up and share files. Unfortunately, Path Finder doesn’t integrate with Dropbox as nicely as the Finder does. Path Finder doesn’t display the syncing badges on file icons, and doesn’t show the Dropbox contextual menus by default in Snow Leopard. When you update or add a file to your Dropbox, the Finder will be launched instead of Path Finder. Cocoatech has submitted a request for support to Dropbox, but unfortunately that’s all they can do, it’s on Dropbox to allow integration.
Dropbox folder sans badges
You may be able to get Path Finder to display Dropbox contextual menus by manually copying Dropbox.app/Content/Resources/DropboxPlugin.plugin to ~/Library/Contextual Menu Items, then restaring Path Finder. It worked for me!
Finder replacement isn’t a crowded field, there really aren’t a lot of options out there for those of us dissatisfied with the Finder. The options that do exist are quickly aging. A couple of years ago, Josh Johnson wrote a round-up of Finder alternatives, including Path Finder. He mentions a couple of free options that have some of the same features as Path Finder, but also lack some key features and suffer from clunky interface design. If you’re looking for a geekier option with a focus on speed and multiple file system support, check out Xfile, it’s a bit pricier than Path Finder at $59, but offers a lifetime “test drive” with reduced functionality.
If you’re only interested in adding tabs to your Finder experience, take a look at TotalFinder, an enhancement that brings Chrome-like tabs to Finder.
Though other Finder alternatives are worth checking out, in my opinion, none of them come close to being as fully-featured and seamless as Path Finder. Path Finder gives you everything you could want in a file browser, if you’ve ever wished the Finder had feature x, Path Finder probably has it.
After a hard drive failure and forced wipe of my entire laptop, I was forced to go back to the Finder while waiting for the Internet to be installed at my new apartment (it was a rough week), and I was amazed at how much I’ve come to rely on Path Finder for all the frequent tasks I have to perform on my Mac. Path Finder is not just an “enhanced” Finder, it’s a much more powerful replacement.
Going from Path Finder back to the Finder is like going from downgrading from Firefox to Internet Explorer 6: you can perform the same basic tasks, but everything takes longer and is way less convenient. Though the lack of Dropbox integration may deter some, I still say its worth checking out if you’ve ever found yourself frustrated at the Finder’s lack of functionality.
I really do hope that Apple some day takes a cue from Path Finder and seriously updates the Finder, but until that day, Path Finder is a fantastic alternative.