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Path Finder 4 Still Shows the Way

The Finder is the application that Mac OS X users love to hate. Take a moment to think of something about the Finder that makes you absolutely furious. It shouldn’t take long! Here are some examples:

Why doesn’t the Finder say where you are? Why doesn’t it report what folder each window or column represents in the larger hierarchy of things? You probably know about Command-clicking on a window’s title to see its path; but some people, like my mother, don’t – and in any case you still have to do something (the Finder doesn’t just show you where you are), plus you can easily get lost in column view because columns have no headings.

When you drag multiple files into a folder, and the Finder asks if you want to replace an existing file, why doesn’t it report relative modification dates? When you drag one file into a folder, the Finder tells you whether an existing file with the same name is older or newer. But if you drag multiple files into a folder, it doesn’t – it puts up a separate dialog for each existing file, asking whether you want to replace it, but without the relative date information, which is usually crucial to making an intelligent decision about whether to proceed.

I could rattle on and on, and so, no doubt, could you. The Finder is full of unnecessary shortcomings, big and small; if you can’t think of a dozen of them immediately, it’s probably just because you’ve deliberately numbed yourself to how bad the Finder is, in order to protect your blood pressure. After all, we all have to use the Finder constantly, every day, so we must simply live with it – mustn’t we?

No! Thanks to Path Finder 4, from Cocoatech, you can bypass the Finder in favor of a sensible, rational, gorgeously clean environment for working with files and folders. At every step, in every detail, Path Finder’s interface and behavior simply do the Right Thing. Plus, Path Finder provides loads of extra information and power that the Finder lacks; indeed, Path Finder can replace not only the Finder but several other utilities you may already be using to compensate for the Finder’s general weeniness.


To describe Path Finder’s interface in detail, and to list all that it can do, would make for a huge article. So here are some highlights.

Path Finder lists a folder’s contents in the three standard views (icon, list, or column) plus a hierarchical menu, and you can toggle display of invisible files, display of package contents, and "smart" sorting (which groups applications, folders, and files). A folder’s contents can also be filtered, so you can view and work with (for example) just JPEGs, or just JPEGs and TIFFs. Multiple folders can be shown in a single window using "tabbed browsing" (as in Safari), and files can be dragged from one tab to another. File information includes Spotlight metadata, and lets you change ownership, permissions (properly, not like the Finder which omits Execute permissions), type/creator, and creation/modification dates; you can even swap the data and resource forks.

A "drop stack" (similar to the NeXT "shelf") lets you drag and drop items from hither and yon to form sets for later processing (copying or moving to elsewhere, burning, compressing, or mailing). You can search with or without Spotlight, through a quick search field or a more elaborate search window. Running processes are listed, and can be sampled or force quit. There’s a terminal, a console (for viewing logs), and a hex editor built right in. You can create and manipulate disk images, compress with numerous formats (including StuffIt, which is built in), convert images from one format to another, and even do screen captures.

Path Finder isn’t quite perfect. Tabs aren’t as easily created as in Safari by Command-double-clicking. Managing all the possible drawers can become awkward. It crashed twice in the first half hour I used it; Cocoatech quickly released a 4.0.1 bug-fix update. And I soon discovered other small bugs, such as a volume’s name being incorrectly displayed in a file’s Info pane. Cocoatech acknowledges that Path Finder 4’s documentation is incomplete, and they’re right: the help files are simply inadequate.

Nevertheless, I can’t recommend Path Finder strongly enough. It puts the Finder, and Apple Computer, to shame. Coincidentally (or not), Apple has recently posted a job opening for a new Finder Software Engineer to work on the "notorious file browser for Mac OS X." Apple would do well to look at Path Finder, or even hire Steve Gehrman (its developer). In the meantime, Path Finder is the workspace you’ve always longed for and deserved. So download the 21-day demo and try it, right now. Path Finder 4 requires Tiger, and costs $35 (or $18 to upgrade from an earlier version), a superb value.


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