Give the Finder the Boot with Path Finder

This post is part of a series that revisits some of our readers’ favorite articles from the past that still contain awesome and relevant information that you might find useful. This post was originally published on July 7th, 2011.

The Finder and I go way back: from my family’s ’96 Performa to my MacBook Pro, I’ve used it to navigate my Mac for well over a decade. Since the initial transition from OS 9 to OS 10, I would argue that the way we use the Finder has changed very little, and a lot of what has changed is purely aesthetic. Though I now have the option to browse through my files with Cover Flow or create smart folders, I still use the Finder in pretty much the same way as I did 10 years ago.

I’ve been very disappointed to see that the Finder hasn’t seen any major improvements in recent versions of OS X, but that doesn’t mean 3rd party developers aren’t hard at work to continue where Apple has left off. Cocoatech’s Path Finder has been around for quite some time and ambitiously tries to replace the Finder altogether to create a more modern, usable means of navigating your computer. Find out if Path Finder successfully replaces the ubiquitous Finder after the jump!

Interface

The Path Finder interface looks very familiar: it has the same layout as the Finder, with the addition of Safari-style tabs and a whole lot more buttons. You can navigate through Path Finder exactly as you would in the Finder without learning anything new, or you can take advantage of Path Finder’s alternative navigation elements, such as bookmarks, breadcrumbs, and tabs. Path Finder brings all the best elements of an Internet browser right to the Finder, so there is pretty much no learning curve: if you’ve used the Finder and Safari, you’ll feel right at home in Path Finder. Path Finder adds more interface tweaks and features than I can cover here, but I’ll go over the most prominent.

Tabs

I think tabs are pretty much the best thing since the graphical user interface, and dream of a day when all apps have tabs (I’m looking at you, iWork and MS Office). Having tabs in your file browser is incredibly handy, not only can you always see which folders you have open and easily switch between them, you can also drag and drop files between tabs. I used to drive myself crazy trying to clean up my folders with multiple Finder windows open, repositioning them all over the screen for optimal drag-and-drop efficiency. Tabs simplify file browsing immensely, and I’m actually better at keeping my downloads folder and desktop uncluttered with Path Finder.

Tabbed file browsing

Tabbed file browsing

Another cool feature I just learned about (after using Path Finder for months) is tab sets. Tab sets are like custom work spaces, you can save a layout of related tabs and re-launch them at any time. For example, if I’m working on a project, I might want to have quick access to related folders, applications, and maybe downloads. With tab sets, I can have all the tabs I need appear just as I had them last time.

Saving a tab set

Saving a tab set

Options for tabs, file navigation and bookmarks are accessed from a small arrow at the right side of each toolbar.

Drop Stack

The Drop Stack simplifies the process of moving files to new directories, especially when you’re not sure where you’re taking something. The Drop Stack is like a temporary holding place, where you can keep files as you’re moving them, very handy for tasks like cleaning out a downloads folder.

Some files in the drop stack

Some files in the drop stack

Dual-Pane View

Path Finder’s Dual-Pane view splits your window into two, so that you can see two folders at once. This view is especially useful for comparing folders or moving files back and forth. Each pane acts as its own file browser, complete with tabs and breadcrumb navigation. You can activate Dual-Pane view from an icon at the bottom-left of the window.

dual-pane browsing

Dual-pane browsing

Modules & Drawers

Modules and drawers allow you to display additional customized information either within the browser or in slide-out drawers. Selecting the modules icon adds a two-panelled division to the bottom of the browser that displays customizable information about the selected file or various functionalities. The default modules are info and preview, but you can use modules to view attributes, hex, iTunes browser, cover flow, permisisons, processes, recent documents or folders, selection path, shelf, sidebar, file size, subversion or a terminal window. Drawers have the same function as modules, but slide out from the browser, either to the left, right, or bottom.

Attributes and info modules

Attributes and info modules

Features

In addition to interface additions and tweaks, Path Finder adds a number of utilities and features that extend its functionality.

Filters and Selections

Path Finder includes powerful filtering and selection features to help narrow down and manage your files. You can filter files by keyword, extension or type from the search box at the top right of the window (which can also be toggled to do spotlight searches). If you’d like to select files based on certain filtering parameters, click the selection icon from the toolbar at the top (I have no idea how that icon represents “selection”, but it looks like a white box with blue lines). You can then select files from a folder based on name, extension, attributes, kind, and date. The selections feature is a bit like making a temporary smart folder to locate the files you’re looking for.

Selecting with filters

Selecting with filters

To make a selection based on more than one parameter, check the “extend selection” box in the selection pane.

Utilities

Path Finder includes some additional tools to perform common tasks from within the browser without opening any other apps or utilities. These utilities include a text editor, basic image editor, application launcher, and Stuffit-powered file compression. If you’re like me and always have too many applications running, it’s nice to be able to avoid opening TextEdit, Archive Utility and Preview all the time!

Built-in text editor

Built-in text editor

Path Finder as a Finder Replacement

I’ve used Path Finder as my primary file browser for several months, and it saves me a lot of time and frustration. I work from my Mac, so anything that can streamline my workflows saves me time, and Path Finder completely eliminates the time-wasting caused by looking for and organizing files. You can set up Path Finder to basically take over for the Finder, and even get it to quit the Finder for you (but you still can’t get rid of the dock icon). There are a couple of integration issues with “reveal in Finder” dialogs from some applications, for example, files downloaded from Google Chrome. I don’t know if this is fixable, but it does make it a little harder to completely replace the Finder.

Dropbox

Like many Appstorm readers, I frequently use Dropbox to back up and share files. Unfortunately, Path Finder doesn’t integrate with Dropbox as nicely as the Finder does. Path Finder doesn’t display the syncing badges on file icons, and doesn’t show the Dropbox contextual menus by default in Snow Leopard. When you update or add a file to your Dropbox, the Finder will be launched instead of Path Finder. Cocoatech has submitted a request for support to Dropbox, but unfortunately that’s all they can do, it’s on Dropbox to allow integration.

Dropbox folder sans badges

Dropbox folder sans badges

You may be able to get Path Finder to display Dropbox contextual menus by manually copying Dropbox.app/Content/Resources/DropboxPlugin.plugin to ~/Library/Contextual Menu Items, then restaring Path Finder. It worked for me!

Alternatives

Finder replacement isn’t a crowded field, there really aren’t a lot of options out there for those of us dissatisfied with the Finder. The options that do exist are quickly aging. A couple of years ago, Josh Johnson wrote a round-up of Finder alternatives, including Path Finder. He mentions a couple of free options that have some of the same features as Path Finder, but also lack some key features and suffer from clunky interface design. If you’re looking for a geekier option with a focus on speed and multiple file system support, check out Xfile, it’s a bit pricier than Path Finder at $59, but offers a lifetime “test drive” with reduced functionality.

If you’re only interested in adding tabs to your Finder experience, take a look at TotalFinder, an enhancement that brings Chrome-like tabs to Finder.

Conclusion

Though other Finder alternatives are worth checking out, in my opinion, none of them come close to being as fully-featured and seamless as Path Finder. Path Finder gives you everything you could want in a file browser, if you’ve ever wished the Finder had feature x, Path Finder probably has it.

After a hard drive failure and forced wipe of my entire laptop, I was forced to go back to the Finder while waiting for the Internet to be installed at my new apartment (it was a rough week), and I was amazed at how much I’ve come to rely on Path Finder for all the frequent tasks I have to perform on my Mac. Path Finder is not just an “enhanced” Finder, it’s a much more powerful replacement.

Going from Path Finder back to the Finder is like going from downgrading from Firefox to Internet Explorer 6: you can perform the same basic tasks, but everything takes longer and is way less convenient. Though the lack of Dropbox integration may deter some, I still say its worth checking out if you’ve ever found yourself frustrated at the Finder’s lack of functionality.

I really do hope that Apple some day takes a cue from Path Finder and seriously updates the Finder, but until that day, Path Finder is a fantastic alternative.


Summary

Path Finder is a file browser and management application for Mac OS X that seeks to replace the Finder in your daily file navigation tasks.

9
  • Anthony

    Having used Path Finder in the past, I can appreciate it’s functionality and power; but at the same time, you’re adding in complexity where the Finder generally works very well. Yes, for those who need it, it is great; but even for those who do, the Finder is more powerful then many often think to try out.

    The analogy of moving from Firefox to IE6 is interesting (for a Windows reference, it is apt); on a Mac, it might be from Firefox to say Camino.

  • Aaron

    I use it all of the time. So much stronger of a utility than Finder itself. I too wish that it could integrate a bit better with DropBox. All things being said tabs, dual pane browsing, cut & paste files, are worth the price alone. If we could get FTP support, this app would be unstoppable.

  • Chris

    While I really like the features Path Finder adds to your browsing experience, I feel like the interface is really bloated. Thats why I enjoy using TotalFinder which feels very clean. It also adds a split view and several other features to the Finder.

  • Nate

    “You can set up Path Finder to basically take over for the Finder, and even get it to quit the Finder for you (but you still can’t get rid of the dock icon).”

    From Path Finder Menu: -> Path Finder -> Finder -> Enable Finder’s “Remove from Dock” did it for me.

  • mcdevy

    Lion has plenty of new features for finder, you should maybe, oh I don’t know, ‘try it’ before you begin knocking it.

    • Tessa Thornton

      sure… I’ll do that.

  • Ivy

    I use PathFinder since I like the 2 column feel so I can files between my laptop and main Mac.
    Unfortunately, I find PathFinder has a big problem reconnecting to the main machine. It behaves inconsistently when asking for the folder on another machine sometimes popping up the Finder(!) instead of just giving me the folder within PathFinder.

  • http://www.axelmaurice.fr Axel

    I’ve used PathFinder for several weeks before but I finally got back to the original Finder for most of the tasks. PathFinder was slowing down my machine (MacBook unibody late ’08) a little bit and to be honest I didn’t really need all these fancy features.

    Most of the time, I now use ForkLift instead of PathFinder because it has all the main features that I are really useful for me : tabs, drop stack, dual-pane view… And the big advantage is that it can connect to my website storage space since its main goal is to be a FTP client :-)

    • Tessa Thornton

      Hmm interesting. Never seriously considered using an FTP client for local file browsing.

  • J.C. Hendee

    A nice write up, and general fair in pointing out some of the limitations. I’m a PF advocate since almost day-one when I switched to a Mac (I still regularly run other OSs via VM, as there are softwares for those that leave Mac options in the dust).

    PF isn’t for everyone, and for a few it may be like using an 18 wheeler when what you really need is just a good dependable pick-up, jeep, or even scooter. But there is no underselling its versatility and potency… and as it grows, so yes does the requirement from the machine on which it is run. But that’s the case with all good… growing… applications (and developers who know that good is never just “good enough” at any point in time).

    Here’s hoping PF continues to grow… and spread. And of course DropBox integration would be great, if DB would be willing to collaborate. There are many PF users who’ve bugged them about this.

  • Luis Martins

    Used PAthFinder for a long time, but since TotalFinder came out i find PF heavy and a overkill for what i use of it. Mostly tabs.

  • Stanley

    Thanks for the extensive review. I’ve used Path Finder for years (even when it held the ungainly name “Snax.” The application tends to be a bit overwrought and cumbersome, but it’s a solid compliment to the persistently clumsy file manager Apple unveiled with Mac OS X.

  • Dix Huit

    TotalFinder all the way for me.

  • Joe C

    Bloated.

    TotalFinder is the what I use now. Option+z and i’m greeted with a dual paned window that rises from the bottom of my screen to about a quarter of it. Oh yeah, and it has tabs. It’s actually just a finder add-on thats has a small footprint AND integrates with Dropbox natively (Badges, contextual menus…)

    :-)

  • bArt

    The one thing I miss and I think really was a beautiful feature of OS 9 was the “Stateful Finder”. Every folder opened in EXACTLY the same view, size and position as it was the last time it was opened. Therefore you could ALWAYS see the downloads folder in list view sorted by date or size, and the Applications folder could ALWAYS be viewed as Icon view only (or at least until the User decided to view it differently). Most OS “improvements” always seem to introduce new annoyances so for me (started with OS 7.1) at least half of the “improvements” seem like they actually are genuine “improvements”.

  • nomac

    Path Finder sucks ass, Total Finder is the way to go, a truly aswome App and it integrates nicely with the built in Mac Finder. Path Finder will never be a replacement for the finder. Another thing I dislike about it is when you uninstall Path Finder, you find that it messed with the Mac Finder and when the system needs to open something with Finder, it tries to pull up Path Finder instead even when Path Finder is no longer on the Mac. That’s not cool.

  • Pingback: Total Finder | The future belongs to those who prepare for it today

  • soccerislife8

    TotalFinder is a lot better imo. http://imbyter.com/2012/02/app-review-totalfinder/

  • http://johnnysgarden.co.uk/ Norton

    I love Path Finder however the lack of full Dropbox integration has always bothered me. Your tip to copy the Dropbox plugin has worked perfectly for me. Onepoint to note is that in Dropbox.app/Content/Resources/ my DropboxPlugin.plugin exists as DropboxPlugin.plugin.tgz. I copied this to ~/Library/Contextual Menu Items and expanded it then restarted Path Finder.

  • Sigilist

    Been using pathfinder for 3 years now, and other than snatching DropBox link, I never use Finder anymore. Admittedly, for some, PF is like using a Semi when they only need a Jeep, but anyone who spends a little time with PF finds it is reasonably adaptable to even rig it for some simplicity. One thing I like is that it isn’t a dumbed down one size fits all approach like so many default system utilities.

    I have heard of some of the problems others are reporting herein, though I haven’t seen them myself on three different machines with PF installed on my household network. In most cases, such things as delay connection to network devices etc., it is sometimes another memory resident utility getting in the way. Check into that if you can, and perhaps some might solve this minor problem.

  • me

    Path finder rocks but it is missing a few things.

    There is no Delete in the centext menu.?

    Few others. Forget right now..

    It would be great if they added two finger swipping to navigate up/down folders.

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