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Path Finder - A feature-laden Finder replacement Pick of the Week
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[Score: 9 out of 10]
One of the things I often complain about in OS X is the Finder. While the rest of the system reflects some truly revolutionary advancements in application design and user interface, I've always felt that the OS X Finder is pretty much the same as the OS 9 Finder ... which was pretty much the OS 8 Finder ... which was, well, you get the idea. Apart from a sidebar and a column view (hooray!), things are pretty much status quo with the Finder. While it's a capable file manager, I've often felt myself wishing for something better with more features.

Way back in March of 2002, I found SNAX, an advanced file manager that worked well as a replacement for the Finder. I liked it well enough then to select it as one of the very first Pick of the Week winners. However, SNAX wasn't perfect, and there were a number of things the Finder did better and/or faster. So over time, I migrated away from SNAX and back to the good old (with the emphasis on old) Finder. At some point, the SNAX name vanished and was replaced by Path Finder. While I didn't use it regularly, I kept an eye on its continuing development, as I felt it had great potential. In August, CocoaTech released Path Finder 4.5, and after some testing, I started using that version on a daily basis. Sometime after I got back from the Geek Cruise in November, I decided to go "cold turkey" and replaced the Finder with Path Finder (which is easy to do via a setting in Path Finder's preferences).

So why have I made the switch? I think I use Path Finder for the same reasons I use Butler: it's a powerful tool that packs a ton of useful features into one application. As with Butler, there's a bit of a learning curve due to the sheer breadth of features available. But I've found the curve isn't all that steep, and the benefits of the switch have outweighed the efforts required. Here are just a few of the Path Finder features I find most useful:
  • Tabs and tab sets. Open new windows as tabs, and save a collection of tabs as a tab set. I have a work tab set, a gaming tab set, etc. Tabs can be rearranged by dragging, and you can choose between vertical and horizontal tabs.
  • A powerful Spotlight-independent search tool (you can also use Spotlight directly from Path Finder).
  • Get Info windows with tons of data, all of which can be set directly from the window
  • A Preview panel for viewing text files, images, Word documents, PDFs, HTML, Shockwave, Flash movies, and more. The panel is resizable, letting you easily see into many documents without opening them.
  • A folder history drawer makes it simple to return to a recently-visited folder.
  • A drop stack. Think of this as a temporary storage spot for items in transit. Instead of having to drag-navigate-drop, just drop the items on the drop stack, then navigate to where you want them to go, then drag them off the drop stack. While this sounds like more work (and you can still do things the other way), I find it much easier to navigate without worrying about holding the mouse button down.
  • Pop-open folders in the toolbar. The OS X Finder used to do this (drag an item over a folder in the toolbar, and it springs open to show a navigable menu of the folder's contents), but they took that feature away when they gave us the sidebar.
  • A bookmarks bar for super-fast access to often-used files and folders.
  • A built-in Terminal drawer for quick trips to the Unix side of OS X.
  • Fully customizable contextual menus, pre-built with some very useful options. I particularly like the "compress and email" and "copy path" options.
  • Easy navigation into application bundles; you can even opt to view bundles as normal folders, if you wish.
These are just a few of the features I really like about Path Finder; there are many others listed on Cocoatech's Path Finder 4 page and on the Path Finder change log page. As you can see, there are tons of features that go well beyond anything the Finder has to offer. There are still some things that don't quite work as expected when using Path Finder as your Finder. Some apps, for instance, insist on launching the Finder after completing an operation, just to show you the file they've just created. (I've used this hint to make it easy to quit the Finder again when that happens.) And I've run into a couple installers for obscure apps that simply wouldn't launch in Path Finder, but worked fine in the Finder. I'm also having an issue with using some Transmit - Automator workflows I've set up as contextual menu entries, but I think I'll be able to fix that problem. But these are minor points in contrast to the incredible number of added features that I've come to rely on in Path Finder. If you find yourself often frustrated by the Finder's limited feature set, give Path Finder a trial run -- you may find the added features are well worth the $34.95 investment.
  • Currently 1.50 / 5
  You rated: 3 / 5 (14 votes cast)

Path Finder - A feature-laden Finder replacement | 16 comments | Create New Account
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Path Finder - A feature-laden Finder replacement
Authored by: rong on Dec 06, '06 09:51:04AM

I agree that PathFinder is very impressive. And CocoaTech definitely deserves praise for their trail period and license policy. (Twenty one days of usage rather than twenty one calendar days for the trail and one user on three computers for the license. I have purchased a license and posted a comment on their "Suggestions" forum about the issue below.)

However, there is one substantive capability lacking which prevents me from integrating it into my workflow - it does not support Access Control List (ACL) permissions.

Every day I routinely sit in front of three OS X computers:
- Mac mini core duo on the living room coffee table
- G5 dual 2.7ghz home office workstation
- MacBookPro 15.4" 2.33ghz which travels to/fro the corporate offices

Being able to seamlessly use three systems relies heavily on using a (fourth) central file server. This file server (an OS X 10.4.8 client on an old Digital Audio 1.4ghz with 1.6 tera-bytes of disk storage) supports multiple Windows and OS X users and uses ACLs to handle permissions configurations for users/groups on a myriad of file systems and directories. (There is also another old DA running Tiger Server to handle email, accounts/passwords, Retrospect backups, and other responsibilities for which OS X Server is so well suited.) PathFinder does not support this file server.

The MBP runs ChronoSync to keep things synchronized on it with various directories on the corporate office's file server and workstations. And then when it is connected at the home office ChronoSync likewise keeps in sync with the home office's file server. Like magic, I do my work from whatever machine I use, wherever I sit, in two discrete buildings, and the files automatically propagate to wherever they need to be updated.

Bottom line: PathFinder works great for file operations on a local computer but is 100% unable to deal with the majority of files which are kept on a file server for common access from whatever machine I happen to be using at the moment.

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I know it will never happen
Authored by: dr_turgeon on Dec 06, '06 01:33:24PM

But I wish that Apple would just buy this and make it part of OS X.
They would just have to create a simplified mode for the old-timers. I can still feel the "classicyness" in the current Finder. Yuck.

Someone tell me they have rewritten the Finder for Leopard!!!!

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Path Finder - A feature-laden Finder replacement
Authored by: billclinton on Dec 06, '06 02:13:54PM

Path Finder is indeed an insanely great program.

The thing that keeps me from completely abandoning the Finder, and for me this is a HUGE reason, is that Path Finder lacks a visual layout mode. (I've forgotten the "official" name for this function.) This is the usual "view by icon" in the Finder, where you can arrange icons in any old way you want. Path Finder has an icon view but it places the icons on a rigid grid and in a rigid order (alphabetical, by date). Many folders I view in list form, but many others I keep in visual form because I can find things much faster because I can remember "where I left them."

The visual mode is a fundamental UI concept supported by UI designers far and wide. I understand that Apple refuses to make available the stuff that is necessary for others to access this information, so Cocoa Tech is not to be faulted here.

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Path Finder - Slow
Authored by: jcooper11 on Dec 06, '06 02:57:59PM

The features are great, but it's slow for me (1.5 GHz G4, 1.25 GB). I replaced my Finder w/ it for a time, but then went back, and I now use it only rarely.

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Path Finder - A feature-laden Finder replacement
Authored by: tommyw on Dec 06, '06 04:30:37PM

I scoffed, yes scoffed, but ended up forking over the cash before the trial period even ran out....

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Path Finder - A feature-laden Finder replacement
Authored by: kms007 on Dec 06, '06 05:44:02PM

I used Path Finder waay back when it was SNAX. I gave it up, just like Rob - and eventually returned when the program was reaching its 4.0 milestone. I enjoyed using it but it was still too slow for me. I reverted back to the Finder. I decided to try PF once it hit 4.5 and now it appears to be much better in terms of performance. I'll stick with it until I wind up upgrading to Leopard.


Cartoonist, "The PC Weenies"

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Path Finder - A feature-laden Finder replacement
Authored by: tp_zoveel on Dec 07, '06 02:57:58AM
I decided to go "cold turkey" and replaced the Finder with Path Finder (which is easy to do via a setting in Path Finder's preferences).

Ehm, how, exactly?

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Path Finder - A feature-laden Finder replacement
Authored by: macandrew on Dec 07, '06 07:32:57AM

So far - missing one feature: when cmd-clicking on the file name in the title bar of a doc window (in most apps) you get a popup menu of the path to the document - selecting any level opens that folder in the Finder (is there a short term for this feature?). Doesn't work with PathFinder. Understandable, I suppose… but a lack nevertheless.

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Path Finder - A feature-laden Finder replacement
Authored by: janpeeters on Dec 07, '06 01:20:51PM

For me it works like you would want it. I cmd-click on the name or icon in a PathFinder window and I see the whole path. When drilling down, it opens that folder in Path Finder 4.6.1. Is this what you want or am I missing something? Regards...

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Path Finder - A feature-laden Finder replacement
Authored by: Hes Nikke on Dec 12, '06 11:04:25PM
nope, he's talking about any app aside from pathfiner.

here's my solution:

1. paste
sudo echo FNDRMACS > /Applications/Path\
into the terminal
2. relaunch pathfinder
3. there is no step 3.

this allows apple events meant for the finder to be received by pathfinder. it fixes the safari download window too. :)

vacuums do not suck. they merely provide an absence that allows other objects to take the place of what becomes absent.

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Path Finder - A feature-laden Finder replacement
Authored by: Hes Nikke on Dec 14, '06 10:20:48AM
oh... it might also work because i have this installed. i dunno, try the FNDRMACS one first.

vacuums do not suck. they merely provide an absence that allows other objects to take the place of what becomes absent.

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Path Finder - A feature-laden Finder replacement
Authored by: TvE on Dec 07, '06 02:53:41PM

Disk Order (a Mac clone of Total Commander from the Windows world) is for me the absolute greatest Finder replacement when it comes to filehandling via the keyboard!

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Tabbed terminal windows
Authored by: clytie on Dec 07, '06 10:02:12PM
I think MacZOT introduced me to PathFinder, so I got a great deal on it. :) I've used it ever since. One of the killer features, for me, is the tabbed terminal windows. No mass of shells obscuring each other on the screen: they're all where you can reach them easily. The "Open in Terminal" contextual menu item is also a big time-saver when you have a deep file hierarchy. Additionally, PathFinder's translation approach is unique in my experience. You can translate the app. directly from the Help menu, and press a button to send in your strings. Definitely cool. :)

Clytie Siddall -- Renmark, in the Riverland of South Australia

iBook G3, 10.3.5, all updates current

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Path Finder - A feature-laden Finder replacement
Authored by: dirtymouse on Dec 08, '06 04:16:17PM

for me, Path Finder rules for many reasons, but the main one is this:

it doesn't spawn windows with differing view options, as it does not reference those pesky .DS_store files each with it's own idosyncratic icon layout. Thank god for that.

Path Finder does not suffer from the infernal biopolar dis-order that the Finder has.

Whenever i go back to the Finder, it's a wrestle between Icon View, List View, Column View, different X-Y co-ordinates, windows with toolbars, windows without, different icon sizes etc etc. It's insane.

Ever since 4.5, Path Finder has had a massive speed increase. I love it.

dirtymouse - 'fix a troubled Mac' - troubleshooting PDF book

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Path Finder - A feature-laden Finder replacement
Authored by: macgruder on Dec 13, '06 09:59:56AM

So near yet so far.

I bought Pathfinder but I barely use it now. For just 2 reasons:

1. Command - F is poor.
In the Finder, if you do Command - F you get to choose the current folder to search in. Amazingly, Pathfinder doesn't give you that option. You would have to manually add it every time. You can use the Filter by kind option, but it isn't recursive. So it seems very difficult to do this simple thing: "Find all the pictures in this folder (recursively)"

2. There is no command-option-I, so you can't select many objects and change for example the Label of all of them.

(If I'm wrong in the above, I'd love to hear it because I really want to use Pathfinder.)

I'm back to the Finder - well, mainly Quicksilver.

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Path Finder - A feature-laden Finder replacement
Authored by: Nostromo1965 on Apr 09, '07 06:57:21PM

I'm not sure about #1 -- although I just did a Command-F search of my Home folder for all .pdf files and it found every one in every nested folder -- is that the kind of search you had in mind?

But for #2, why not just select the files then Control-click (or right-click) and choose the Label from the contextual menu?

I did a lot of poking around Path Finder, but couldn't find any way to get the Command-Option-I behavior that the Finder gives, though.

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