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Using Tabs in the Mavericks Finder

One of the marquee changes in OS X 10.9 Mavericks is the addition of tabbed windows to the Finder, bringing to file organization and manipulation the flexibility we’ve become accustomed to in Web browsers and other apps. Each tab stands in for a window, displaying the files and folder in a specific spot on one of your mounted volumes. If you often have multiple Finder windows littering up your Desktop, tabbed Finder windows may be just what you need.

Luckily, Apple implemented Finder tabs in nearly the same way as Safari tabs, making usage generally familiar, though users of other Web browsers may wish to do a little remapping of keyboard shortcuts using Keyboard Maestro or a similar utility.

There is one setting you need to make sure is enabled before proceeding, since it causes a number of the command and keyboard shortcuts below to work differently. In Finder > Preferences > General, make sure to select “Open folders in tabs instead of new windows.” (This replaces the old “Always open folders in a new window,” and if you prefer to work in numerous windows rather than tabs, deselect this option and check the comments for some usage tips.)

With that done, here’s a quick look at how to use tabs.

Hide and Show the Tab Bar — In a Finder window with only one tab, press Command-Shift-T to show or hide the tab bar. I can’t see people who rely on tabs using this much, except to simplify single-tab windows for screenshots.

Along with some readers, I’m a little sad that this shortcut doesn’t reopen the last closed tab, as it does in Google Chrome and Firefox. But in Safari, Apple oddly mapped that function to Command-Z, the universal Undo, and didn’t see fit to bring the capability to the tabbed Finder.

Create Tabs — You can open new tabs in a variety of ways. As far as I can tell, each new tab honors the view and sort settings associated with the folder being opened, so one tab might automatically open in list view, sorted by date modified, whereas another might open in column view, sorted by name.

  • Press Command-T (File > New Tab) to open a new Finder tab, displaying the contents of the folder selected in Finder > Preferences > General > New Finder Windows Show. If you’re mousing anyway, you could instead click the + button on the right side of the tab bar. Or Control- or right-click any tab in the tab bar and choose New Tab from the contextual menu that appears.

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  • Select a folder in a window (not on the Desktop) and press Control-Command-O (File > Open in New Tab). Or Control-click the folder and choose Open in New Tab. Or select it and choose Open in New Tab from the Action menu in the window’s toolbar. You get the concept.

  • Command-click any folder in the sidebar to open it in a new tab. Frankly, I think this will end up being my go-to shortcut, since my most frequently accessed folders are already in the sidebar. It’s easier than Control-clicking a folder in the sidebar and choosing Open in New Tab from the contextual menu.

  • Command-double-click a folder to open it in a new tab. While this initially seems like a neat shortcut, it’s actually quite awkward, for two reasons.

    • If you’re in column view, with nothing selected, the first of the two clicks selects the folder in the current tab, and the second click opens it in a new tab, giving you two tabs for the same folder. That doesn’t seem particularly useful; perhaps Apple could switch the view to an existing instance of a tab rather than create two identical tabs in the same window.

    • In any view, if you have a file or folder selected before you Command-double-click the folder you want to open, you’ll get a new tab for the desired folder, but you’ll also get new tabs for other selected folders, and any files that were selected will open too, just as if you’d double-clicked them (which you did). This often results in confusion, but it can be helpful — select a couple of folders and Command-double-click them to open all of them in new tabs.

    Apple’s goal here is undoubtedly to mimic the Command-click shortcut in Web browsers, but that can’t work in the Finder, where a Command-click is used for discontiguous selection. I’m not sure Command-double-click is sufficiently successful that I’ll end up using it much.

Move Between Tabs — The most obvious way to move between tabs is of course to click the desired tab. However, moving between them with the keyboard will likely be more efficient for many of us, especially those accustomed to navigating Web browser tabs from the keyboard.

  • Control-Tab (Window > Show Next Tab) makes the next tab to the right active, and Control-Shift-Tab (Window > Show Previous Tab) moves to the previous tab to the left.
  • Although they’re not visible in the interface anywhere, the Command-Shift-[ and Command-Shift-] keyboard shortcuts that work in Safari also move left and right between Finder tabs.

Personally, I use Command-Shift-left/right arrow shortcuts in all my apps (remapped universally via Keyboard Maestro) to switch between tabs. I believe those keyboard shortcuts came from Safari originally (where they still work), although it too now advertises the Control-Tab and Control-Shift-Tab shortcuts. For Google Chrome and Firefox, which prefer Command-Option-arrows, I remap their shortcuts to Command-Shift-arrows. I’ve now used Keyboard Maestro to bend the Finder’s tab-navigation shortcuts to my will too. <insert evil laugh here>

Close Tabs — You won’t have any trouble in this department.

  • The File > Close Window command and its associated Command-W shortcut automatically change to File > Close Tab when the frontmost Finder window has more than one tab showing.

  • If you’re mouse-focused, you can click the little X button that appears when your mouse pointer hovers over the tab. If you press Option when clicking that button, the current tab stays open and all the other tabs in that window close.

  • For a mouse-keyboard combination, Control-click the tab you want to close and choose Close Tab from the contextual menu. Again, you can reverse your approach and Control-click the tab you want to keep open and choose Close Other Tabs.

Tabs and Windows — There will undoubtedly be times when you’ll find yourself with a slew (that’s the technical term) of Finder windows strewn around your screen. One quick way to clean them all up is to choose Window > Merge All Windows, which does exactly what you’d expect.


The opposite action is possible too — choose Window > Move Tab to New Window to break a tab out into its own window. You can also do this by Control-clicking a tab in the tab bar and choosing Move Tab to New Window from the contextual menu.

If you find that a tab isn’t in the spot you want on the tab bar, drag it to a different location. I won’t know until I’ve had more time with Mavericks, but I foresee that I’ll have exactly the same tabs open all the time, in a precise order, so I’ll always know where to click for a particular set of files.

Once you’re dragging tabs around, you may also be interested to note that you can drag a tab off a window’s tab bar to turn it into a new window, or you can drag it to the tab bar of another window to add it to that one.

Working with Tabs — All this opening and closing of tabs may be fun, but the real advantage comes when you want to move files and folders between locations in the Finder. No longer do you have to open multiple windows just to have an easy drag target.

Tabs work like a cross between windows and spring-loaded folders, so you can move files and folders by dragging them from one tab’s listing directly to another tab on the tab bar. If you want to drop into a folder within a tab, pause briefly on the destination tab until it opens, and then drop in the desired folder.

All the standard Finder keyboard shortcuts work when dragging files between tabs, so you can hold down Option to copy instead of moving within a volume, Command to move between volumes (copy and delete), and Command-Option to make an alias in the destination.

If you’ve noticed any other interesting tab-related behavior, let us know in the comments!

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