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Tools We Use: Default Folder

A recent expedition through my Preferences folder uncovered the fossils of utilities and other programs I've installed and removed during the past several months. These abandoned preferences files shared names with applications that seemed worth trying but didn't end up on the list of tools I use regularly. At the same time, my system spelunking highlighted a few programs I tend to forget about - not because they've been relegated to some deeply nested folder, but because their features have become second nature. One of these gems is St. Clair Software's Default Folder.


Default Folder enhances traditional Open and Save dialog boxes, as well as newer Navigation Services dialogs, by enabling you to access frequently used folders without having to wend your way through the Finder's file hierarchy one directory at a time. This capability not only makes file manipulation smoother but also saves time in the long run.

Default Folder creates a row of four buttons in Open and Save dialog boxes that appears when your cursor passes over the name of the current hard disk in the upper-right corner. Pressing the buttons brings up pop-up menus that let you select recently used folders, access folders you've marked as Favorites, switch between mounted hard disk volumes, and use Default Folder's file utility features. In Navigation Services windows, three of these buttons are already present: Favorites, Shortcuts (which is similar to the Disks button in standard Open and Save dialogs), and Recent. Default Folder adds its Utility button to the left of these.

Default Folder also creates Favorites and Recent folders in the Apple menu and includes a Control Strip module, enabling you to open deeply nested folders with a single action in the Finder.

It's Your Own Default -- The heart of Default Folder is the capability to make Open and Save dialogs jump to a preferred folder when you use an application. For example, if you store all of your FileMaker Pro databases in one central folder, you can set that as your default location. Default folders can be assigned for each application you use, or you can specify one folder that all applications will use. This reduces the possibility of inadvertently saving a file where you won't be able to locate it easily later. From now on, that folder will be selected when you open or save a file for the first time after launching the application. You can also press Command-U or select the first item from the Favorites menu to jump to that folder at any time. Default Folder remembers the location of the last file you opened or saved, so jumping quickly to your chosen directory can often save you the hassle of navigating back to your default.

Direct Your Directories -- I tend to work on four or five projects concurrently, so much of my time is concentrated within a handful of folders. I could open them all in the Finder for easy access, or set them as pop-up windows at the bottom of the screen, but I don't like to clutter my desktop with items I'm not actively using, and I already have five pop-up windows.

Instead, I access my regular folders from any Open or Save dialog box by selecting them from Default Folder's Favorites menu. This is by far the feature I use most, because Default Folder assigns a numbered keyboard shortcut (such as Command-2) to your Favorite folders. Although you can't change the shortcut key (which is based on the position your folder appears in the Favorites list) you can dictate the list's order in Default Folder's control panel. Now, whenever I need to access TidBITS-related files, I type Command-1 in any Open or Save dialog box. It's also handy to use this feature as a point of reference: if I need to get to a folder that's at the same level as TidBITS (another project, for instance) but I'm in the middle of another directory or volume, I can type Command-1, then navigate up one level in the hierarchy to access my folder. With only a minute or two of setup time, I've changed a multiple step action into a series of two or three keystrokes. Since I'm also a big fan of being able to do as much as possible from the keyboard, Default Folder also cuts down on the number of times I reach for the mouse.

Another feature I find invaluable, to my surprise, is the capability to click on any open window on the desktop while in an Open or Save dialog to move directly to that folder. True, I try not to leave too many windows open on the Desktop, but often it's helpful to display a few directory windows that I'm using, then switch quickly between them with the click of a mouse. I've found this to be particularly helpful with my pop-up windows in the Finder, allowing me to view each folder easily by clicking on its tab at the bottom of the screen. This works with open windows that are hidden behind applications, as well.

The latest version of Default Folder added a nice twist to this feature: if you click and hold the mouse cursor outside of your Open or Save dialog, you're presented with a contextual pop-up menu that lists all open folders on the Desktop.

Folder Sets -- If you find yourself moving between multiple folders repeatedly, Default Folder can create folder sets that help to focus your efforts. I tend to stick with just one set because I don't use a large number of folders in my work; however, I could easily split my tasks between writing-related and design-related tasks. For example, when I'm focusing on one task, I don't necessarily want to clutter my Default Folder menus with items associated with something else. In this case I would set up two sets in the Default Folder control panel, and include folders specific to each task in the sets. When you have two or more sets in use, you can switch between them using the Utility menu, or by pressing a key combination (Command-Option-2, for example). Sets can also be exported or imported.

More Features Beneath the Surface -- Although Default Folder devotes itself to switching between folders, several other useful features are also available. From any Open or Save dialog, you can create new folders, rename files or folders, or move items to the Trash without exiting to the Finder. It's also possible to get information about a file, such as its size, creation and modification dates, and its type and creator codes (which can be edited in Default Folder's advanced mode).

You can speed up the display of folder lists by choosing to show only generic icons. Other settings control the size of the Recent menu, add the capability to display files of any type by Option-clicking the list, and control whether recent files are listed chronologically or alphabetically. Default Folder also works in conjunction with utilities such as Apollo, DragStrip, DragThing, Dialog View, and KeyQuencer to increase their directory navigation abilities.


Default Folder has become one with my Mac, as far as I'm concerned. Using a computer that doesn't have Default Folder's features feels awkward and limiting now, forcing me to map directory structures in my mind as I work, rather than allowing me to concentrate on the task at hand. Although other utilities (like Action Files; see "Get a Piece of the ACTION Files" in TidBITS-434) offer similar features, Default Folder is a leaner program that doesn't try to accomplish every conceivable file-related task. For the shareware price of $25, this 930K download will pay for itself within hours of using it.



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