Over the past week or so we’ve been on a mission to help you improve the experience of file browsing by introducing you to interesting Finder alternatives. We started with TotalFinder, which boosts your Finder’s natural functionality by adding tabs. We then moved on to Raskin, which dramatically redesigns the entire file browsing process.
Today we’ll wrap up this series with an incredibly useful and unique utility called Default Folder X, which helps you navigate your file structure at lightning speed when saving or opening files.
Before Default Folder X
To start this review off right, let’s take a brief look at how the open/save file browsing process currently works. From a given application, hitting ⌘O will bring up a window something like the one below.
To be honest, this isn’t a bad start. In fact, I’ve never really thought enough about it to have any issues with this window. You’ve got a customizable list of favorites running down the side, a quick way to see a folder’s path at the top, a filetype filter and even a search bar. What more could you really need?
After using Default Folder X for five minutes, I realized that the answer to this question is, “a lot.”
Meet Default Folder X
Now that we’ve seen the old way of doing things, let’s take a look at the same window when Default Folder X is activated.
As you can see, Default Folder X keeps your original file dialog 100% intact while surrounding it with a darkened bezel with some additional options. Let’s briefly look at these one by one so you can get a feel for all the awesome tools this app has to offer.
We’ll start with the strip of buttons that appears to the right of the default dialog. Clicking the top button reveals a basic set of utilities and commands that come built-into the app.
As you can see, there are quite a few helpful commands in here. You can reveal/open the selected folder in Finder, rename it, trash it, zip it, and more.
You can also set the folder as the “default folder,” which means every time you open or save a file, the current folder will be the starting destination. This is extremely helpful if, like me, all of your various work projects are housed in a single folder.
Next up is the little icon that looks like an iMac. This is the Disks menu. As you can probably guess, it serves as a shortcut to internal and external disks attached to your Mac in addition to providing extra access to your home folder.
One of the main things that makes file browsing so fast with Default Folder is the folder hierarchy menus can be drilled down into instantly via hovering over them. This saves you from clicking your way through ten different folders in the dialog.
Next up is the Favorites shortcut. Just like your default dialog’s sidebar, this lets you choose special folders that you access often. The primary difference being that you have the bonus of flying through the folder hierarchy in the manner we just discussed.
Perhaps the most useful feature in the whole bunch is the list of recently accessed folders, indicated by the clock icon.
My favorite feature in the app is the little shortcut that you see at the top of this menu. Hitting Option and the down arrow immediately takes you to the most recently used folders. After having this app for a little over a week, I now use this shortcut several times every single day.
Open Finder Windows
Another extremely hand option is the ability to quickly navigate to any folders that are currently open in your Finder.
As you can see, the three Finder windows that I have open appear as options in this menu, the top and bottom of which have associated keyboard shortcuts. Additionally, you can simply click on any Finder window in the background and Default Folder will automatically jump your open/save dialog to that folder.
In another area situated below the default open/save dialog you’ll find a menu containing five different tabs:
This gives you lots of functions and information, such as permissions and meta info, that you normally have access to in the Finder but not in a dialog such as this. You can even go beyond Finder actions and assign tags to files, which makes them far easier to target in a search.
Menu Bar and Preference Pane
The features in Default Folder X are pretty great, don’t you wish you could have access to them outside of an open or save dialog? Well you’re in luck, because the app also comes with a menu bar icon that allows you to quickly browse through folders, preview files and grab what you’re looking for.
For additional control over all the various aspects of Default Folder X, you go to the included preference pane. Here you’ll be able to easily setup your favorite folders, add and exclude applications for Default Folder to work with and even define custom default starting folders for different applications.
To be honest, when I first opened Default Folder X, I wasn’t crazy about all the extra stuff that suddenly floods my screen when I open a file. However, I quickly realized that I could turn off that extra information window at the bottom when I don’t need it, which just leaves the fairly minimal button strip to the side.
I didn’t expect to be really taken with this app but I have to say, after using it for a week, I’m completely hooked. In fact, as an experiment, I tried to turn it off and found that I was lost without it. You really get used to using the extra tools to navigate the file hierarchy quicker. As I mentioned above, the recent folders menu and shortcut have become quite ingrained into my workflow.
Since Default Folder is all about reducing the time you spend in dialogs, it would be useless if it didn’t work at lightning speed. Fortunately, this app does exactly that. It’s really fast and responds to your every whim in an instant.
This is one of those rare utilities that you have no idea you need until you try it, then you’re so dependent upon it that you almost don’t want to use a Mac without it.
Whether or not you think there’s anything wrong with the current open and save dialogs in OS X, you should download the Default Folder X free trial and spend some time getting to know the app. Give it a few days of intentional use and you’ll no doubt find yourself with a greatly improved file navigating workflow.
All praise aside, the one place where I’m not completely convinced regarding this app is the price point. It’s a really useful utility, but it’s also more of a “nice to have” add-on than a standalone app, which makes the $34.95 a lot harder to justify. Like it or not, the Mac App Store has driven down our expectations for app prices. Intensely developed and wildly popular standalone apps like Pixelmator seem like a bargain at $30, but many system add-ons like Growl are selling for under the $2 mark (though that’s a poor example given that it used to be free). Regardless of app pricing arguments that consider the entire market, I think Default Folder X might find a more welcoming audience if they reign the cost in to under $10.