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Path Finder 5 - The Finder, greatly enriched again Pick of the Week
  • Developer / Product Page: CocoaTech
  • Price: $40 ($20 upgrade from prior versions; free demo available)
This week's Pick of the Week is a two-time repeat winner...though its first win was actually many years ago, and under a different name. It was, in fact, the third-ever Pick of the Week, way back in March of 2002. At the time, the program was called SNAX, and it was a replacement for the Finder. Then, in December 2006, version 4.5 won again. Now, just under two years later, I feel the need to reward it again. Why again, you may ask? Because Path Finder 5 is a great upgrade from version 4, and has finally become my full-time Finder replacement. I've used the prior versions off and on over the years, but some of the differences between it and the Finder kept me coming back to the Finder more often than not. That's all changed with version 5, thanks mainly to a handful of great new features. Here are just some of the additions since the last 4.x release of Path Finder:
  • Dual-pane file browser. Now you can open two separate panes within one window; each pane can be in whatever view mode you wish to use, and you can even add tabs within each pane.
  • File cut and paste support. Prefer Command-X, Command-V for moving files from one spot to another? Path Finder 5 can handle it, unlike the Finder.
  • Cover Flow done right. Unlike the Finder's Cover Flow view, Cover Flow mode in Path Finder works with any view mode -- list, column, or icon.
  • Bundled image editor. OK, it won't rival Photoshop Elements' feature set, but if you need to do some quick-and-dirty image editing, this tool works quite well.
  • An even better Drop Stack. Once you've used the Drop Stack to move a bunch of files around, it's tough to go back to any other method. In version 5, it now looks much nicer, and integrates nicely into the sidebar (also new in version 5).
  • Path Finder now uses 10.5's fsevents technology to keep up with file system updates.
  • Greatly improved network share support, including SMB shares and screen sharing activation from within the browser.
Beyond the new stuff, Path Finder has a lot of other capabilities that you won't find in the Finder. In no particular order, here are some of my favorites: drop-down Terminal drawer, drop stack for moving multiple files, customizable contextual menu items, a custom bar for storing often-visited folders and files, a shelf sidebar for storing more often-visited places, a running list of processes in a drawer, customizable item labels and colors, easy navigation into packages, customizable sort orders, show or hide hidden files, and easy modification of file attributes.

Path Finder isn't a perfect Finder replacement. First of all, it's much more complex than the Finder, so there's a steep learning curve, including a ton of different preferences and views to learn and understand. Second, because it's not Apple's product, there are some limitations on integration. You can't, for instance, enter the Time Machine interface unless the Finder is running. (So I usually leave the Finder not running, and only launch it when I need to access Time Machine.) I also find that Path Finder works best on larger monitors, where you can have the various side and bottom panels open all the time. I have to compromise a bit on my 15" MBP, but I still use it regularly.

There's more, of course -- much more, and I'll be exploring Path Finder in more detail in this week's Macworld video blog, due out Friday. Path Finder isn't cheap, but if you find yourself constantly fighting the Finder and wishing it worked more as you wanted it to, it's probably worth the time to check out the free Path Finder 5 demo. With version 5, Path Finder has migrated from a program I used occasionally when the Finder frustrated me to one I use every day.
  • Currently 1.57 / 5
  You rated: 1 / 5 (82 votes cast)

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Path Finder 5 - The Finder, greatly enriched again
Authored by: vwgtiturbo on Nov 10, '08 11:27:50AM

Pathfinder = overrated

Although it does have some really nice features, it has several strikes against it, which are the reasons I uninstalled it (although I do love some of it's features). Here are my quibbles with it:
1) when using Expose, the PF desktop slides out of the way, revealing an empty Finder desktop (or a populated one, depending on if you disable Finder's desktop or not)
2) PF's desktop does not remember icon location
3) if you move several items to the PF desktop, they end up being stacked on top of each other
4) adds many seconds to the system's boot time (or better stated, the time between logging in and the desktop being usable)
5) piggybacking on #4, adds a lot of time to shutdown/sleep

There are a few other minor issues that I can't remember the details to seeing that I uninstalled it shortly after trying v5...

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Path Finder 5 - The Finder, greatly enriched again
Authored by: SeanAhern on Aug 28, '09 10:53:17AM

I don't know what sub-version of 5 you were using, but many of these are addressed in the current 5.1.4:

1. Path Finder's Desktop now operates exactly the same as the Finder's Desktop. Specifically, it does NOT slide out of the way when using Exposť.
2. Though I normally keep my Desktop sorted by date last modified, I turned that off to test your issue. I moved several icons around, then quick and restarted Path Finder. All icons are in the place I left them.
3. Files moved to the Desktop no longer land on top of each other. They are placed appropriately on the Desktop.
4&5. I can't speak to this, as I very seldom reboot or log out/in.

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No Visual Layout
Authored by: billclinton on Nov 10, '08 11:51:25AM

I have used Path Finder for several years, but never as a Finder replacement--only for specialized situations. The reason: no visual layout mode. (Visual layout mode is the mode where you get to put icons wherever you want them, and they stay put.) The developer has stated that the reason that this feature is missing is that Apple will not disclose the API for doing this. Too bad.

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No Visual Layout
Authored by: Fairly on Feb 25, '10 08:06:38PM

People could write that mode themselves if they really wanted. YMMV but that type of mode seems rather worthless anyway.

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Path Finder 5 - The Finder, greatly enriched again
Authored by: dan_f on Nov 10, '08 04:01:28PM

I haven't posted anything in a very long time, but I had to speak up here. Path Finder is not a Finder replacement, it is a file management tool. More specifically, it is a POWER file management tool. Yes, it has many features and it is highly customizable. Yes, wrapping your head around the full range of that functionality may take some time, but you don't have to do all that. The application is very usable right from the start. The dual pane feature has been asked for for years, and Cocoa Tech has now implemented it in version 5 with characteristic elegance. The built-in terminal mode, the file size tool, the endless ways to customize the primary window are all incredible and not repeated in Apple's Finder or anything else out there. Unix file systems like Mac OS X have deep and complex directory tree structures. The Apple Finder is designed for simple, shallow directory structures. If you notice, the key complaints in the comments here have to do with the desktop. This is like complaining about a car because you don't like the floor mats. My advice, (and Cocoa Tech's too) is use the Finder for the desktop. If I had any recommendation for Cocoa Tech it would be to remove their version of the desktop entirely and put a halt once and for all to the notion that Path Finder is a Finder replacement. It isn't. It simply fills most of the holes that the Finder leaves, and gives us a visual and intelligent way to navigate and manage the complex file system that comes with Mac OS X. I have had Path Finder on my machine for years now and I am loath to do without it.

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Path Finder 5 - The Finder, greatly enriched again
Authored by: kray on Nov 10, '08 07:57:43PM
Yes, Path Finder is very powerful -- I just find the Finder "good enough" for most GUI file related needs. For power I always find myself on the command line doing quick scripts as needed, but I do realize that would drive some nuts (and thus Path Finder is very powerful :).

The dual pane feature has been asked for for years, and Cocoa Tech has now implemented it in version 5 with characteristic elegance.

It took them years? I stumbled across this AppleScipt, which with DragThing (still use that myself for quick-key start of Applications), does the exact same thing. I think I found this script on this site actually (?). Saving it as a Application Bundle loads it quickly -- the only different from it and Path Finder (really) is that it give you two windows vertically instead of horizontally. With some minor modifications it could be done horizontally, but this is how I use it:
--- cut here ---
property monitor_width : 1024
property monitor_height : 768

set the startup_disk to (path to startup disk)

tell application "Finder"
-- LER DRAGTHING HIDE/SHOW WINDOWS --> set visible of (every process whose visible is true and frontmost is false) to false
set this_window to make new Finder window
set the target of this_window to the startup_disk
set the bounds of this_window to {0, (monitor_height * 0.55) div 1, monitor_width, monitor_height}
set the current view of this_window to column view
set this_window to make new Finder window
set the target of this_window to the startup_disk
set the bounds of this_window to {0, (monitor_height * 0.055) div 1, monitor_width, (monitor_height * 0.55) div 1}
set the current view of this_window to column view
end tell
--- cut here ---

The built-in terminal mode,

I found their terminal lacking compared to iTerm -- and for really only one reason. I heavily use iTerm's bookmark feature to connect [ssh] to remote sites with endless -L bindings to create used tunnels (poor-mans VPN :).

I will, however, give Path Finder the 30 day try (again). It sure can do more than I know I realize at this time. My initial reaction is that it appears to be very mouse oriented (as it is a GUI application :) -- I tend to be a very heavy keyboard user given the option...

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Still can't easily search selected Folder
Authored by: macgruder on Nov 10, '08 08:01:54PM

Absurdly, there is no option to search the selected folder - (there is a filter name search but that is not a search you can use for date, contents, etc.)

If you do command-F there is no current selected folder option. You have to take the 4 or 5 extra steps to add the current folder manually - every time. This alone makes the application unusable for me.

Given that this problem was a major issue in Version 4, it seems a shame that Version 4 users have to pay for an upgrade that is missing this vital feature in Version 5.

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Path Finder 5 - The Finder, greatly enriched again
Authored by: mario_grgic on Nov 12, '08 06:50:02AM

I just don't get it. If I need to do serious file manipulation, open terminal and do it. Otherwise Finder (or it's replacements) are not really needed, since we have spotlight.

Please don't tell me you navigate the file system to open a document or application?

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Path Finder 5 - The Finder, greatly enriched again
Authored by: dal20402 on Nov 12, '08 07:38:17PM

I'm so sorry that a weakling such as myself who does not have the entire filesystem memorized pollutes your world.

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Path Finder 5 - The Finder, greatly enriched again
Authored by: mario_grgic on Nov 13, '08 06:08:54AM

That's exactly my point. Don't you know how to use spotlight (one of THE best features of OS X)?

Why do you ever have to navigate the file system or memorize the file system? That is the whole point of spotlight.

Mind you spotlight is not a new or revolutionary idea. People have been doing the same for ever in terminal, but the nice thing of spotlight is that it extends this idea to GUI, making GUI user more empowered.

The basic idea is this:

find me all files that match some complex criteria and then execute a series of commands on files that match.

In UNIX you do that by doing something like

command $(find / <some_file_meta_data_criteria> | xargs <options> grep -i -l -s "regualr_expression_file_content_needs_to_match" "{}"

so for example edit all text files in current directory with vi

vi $(find . -name "*.txt")

or edit all text files that contain the words "edit me"

vi $(find . -name "*.txt" | xargs -L 1 grep -i -l -s "edit me" "{}")


You can do something similar in Spotlight

CMD+space and type

kind:txt edit me

that finds you all text files (everywhere) that contain words "edit me". You can restrict the search to the directory as well.

Now you have your selection of files, so select them all and execute a command on them.

The point of spotlight and UNIX search commands is that you don't have to know the file system structure. You get to your data fast and easy.

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Path Finder 5 - The Finder, greatly enriched again
Authored by: Anonymous on Aug 19, '09 07:10:50AM
vi? Why not sed? If the files all match some basic criterion, then it's highly likely you're going to be doing the same edit. So more like this then:
find /var/www -iname "*.html" -iname "*.php" -exec sed -i.$(date +%Y%m%d) -e 's/Copyright 2009/Copyright 2010/g' {} ;
mkdir -p ~/old_files
find /var/www -iname "*.$(date +%Y%m%d) -e mv {} ~/old_files ;
I agree on that point: If you're doing something complex, use the appropriate tool.

But I disagree on using Spotlight. If you're doing something simple, then you don't need anything more than the straight Finder. If your documents are cluttered or named inappropriately, then it's time you devoted a day to housekeeping. Spotlight could help out there, but it's of no practical use in a well-ordered filesystem.

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Path Finder 5 - The Finder, greatly enriched again
Authored by: tedw on Aug 19, '09 12:52:07PM
well, what can I say - I have oodles of script files hanging around on my machine (php, javascript, ruby, etc.). many I've made myself, many I've downloaded as self-tutoring examples. I just love the fact that if I forget the right syntax for (say) createElement(), I can type createElement in spotlight and have a shortlist of all the files on my machine where that function is used. It takes me 20-30 seconds to find an example, rather than the 5 frustrating minutes or so I'd need if I had to dig through the file system (or god help me if I tried it using unix - and yes, I'm pretty good with unix). Spotlight has its flaws, no question, but sometimes (as Churchill so aptly put it) it's the worst system available except for all the others.

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Path Finder 5 - The Finder, greatly enriched again
Authored by: vykor on Nov 14, '08 03:33:06PM

You can't generalize personal information organization habits. The "everything is miscellaneous" model of information organization does not work for everyone under every context. For example, I have a very precise hierarchical classification for work-critical documents. In some instances, even spatial arrangement in a directory has significance.

Some pay the time-cost of information organization up front so that the cost of retrieval is O(1). Some people take the opposite choice - put information in miscellaneous pile and execute a full query every time, so pay nothing for organization and a bit every time for retrieval.

The point of a file browser is to provide an interface for those kind of people who value classification. The point of Spotlight is to provide an interface for people who otherwise would have dumped all their files in a directory or two (or dear god, directly onto the Desktop).

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Path Finder 5 - The Finder, greatly enriched again
Authored by: mario_grgic on Nov 15, '08 05:50:17AM

I'm actually like you in that regard. When I'm archiving data for the first time I pay great attention to where it goes and how it is stored, and I even customize the views of individual folders.

But 99% of the time later on when I use that data, I don't actually navigate the file system to get to it. I use spotlight.

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I dont get the superior sounding tone of this comment..
Authored by: alexmathew on May 03, '09 09:44:07PM

I work on about a dozen projects at the same time - mostly exchanging information through e-mail and attachments. I have documents used in different projects that I receive from others with identical file names, perhaps forwarded in response to another unrelated e-mail. Invariably, I need to store these documents in a hierarchical structure, but retain the same name so that the sender does not get confused. Spotlight almost never finds such documents- and what if the document has been referred to in more than 20 e-mails and also stored in more than 20 other places in my folder structure? Spotlight only shows the first 5 or 10.

Unless we get away from file naming conventions enforced upon us from accountants and sales people who seem to think that by naming anything "Report" or "Presentation" - the recipient will figure out what report or presentation they are talking about, the Finder remains invaluable in creating some sense from the chaos. Spotlight is some help - but not much.

So if we - mere mortals - are to do everything from Terminal and from Spotlight - why I would just use Linux!

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I dont get the superior sounding tone of this comment..
Authored by: Anonymous on Aug 19, '09 07:18:43AM

"Invariably, I need to store these documents in a hierarchical structure,"

So why is this a problem? You're already doing it right. Don't get all passive-aggressive on us because you feel eclipsed by those who've bothered to learn the more powerful tools.

As for using Linux, yes you could do that, but you wouldn't have Mac applications available to you. That's kinda the point of the Mac: it's Unix, *and* it's a Mac. You really didn't make any sense there -- unless it was showing us how much of a big baby you are. Sheesh.

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Many different ways of thinking about files and data
Authored by: SeanAhern on Aug 28, '09 09:40:06AM

I use whatever makes the most sense for the job. Spotlight is great for some things, but woefully inadequate for others. For example, I often want to look at a group of files that are related to each other (by project, generallY). Spotlight is fine for finding one thing in particular, but not showing the relationship of multiple files to each other.

UNIX command line tools are what I cut my teeth on in the early 90s. I know find backward and forward, use regexes to manipulate documents, and love xargs. But even those tools suck for things like batch renaming. There is a place for other tools.

Path Finder allows me to think about my data in a visual way, similar to how the Finder does, but provides much of the power of other modes of operation. I can stay in Path Finder, but also use UNIX tools and search using Spotlight. I love having Cover Flow available in any view when I'm working on a graphics project. Being able to see the metadata associated with a file with a single click is way faster than using a command line tool.

So use the appropriate tool for the job. And "appropriate" is defined separately for each person.

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Path Finder 5 - The Finder, greatly enriched again
Authored by: herojig on Jul 20, '09 06:24:55AM

very cool tool, and i don't work without it anymore. the multipane is the best feature. but the downside as mentioned is the lame search within a folder click. it also would be nice if it just replaced finder altogether, which it won't, as finder finds it's way into your life no matter what you do. but pathfinder puts an icon in the finder toolbar to get the heck out when finder does creep back in. also annoying is that is uses it's own desktop, that many apps don't recognize (widgets especially).

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Path Finder 5 - The Finder, (not so) greatly enriched again
Authored by: robertcoogan on Nov 14, '10 04:27:20PM

This is a horribly bloated piece of ware that really can only be compared to the stereo you had once that had a zillion buttons - and you never used most of them. I can see how this would appeal to geeks for it's over-the-top inclusion of features, but most people would be better off with something simpler. I personally recommend TotalFinder, it is simple and super easy to use. Plus it looks like it is at home on the Mac, which Path Finder does not.

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