It’s coming up on two years since we first took a look at an interesting Finder replacement app called TotalFinder, which was in its initial stages of development at the time. It was a little shaky back then but it has come a long way and is definitely worth another look.
In case you’ve never used it, we’ll walk through what TotalFinder is and why it just might make you leave the normal finder behind for good.
What’s Wrong with Finder?
The Finder app is a large part of the OS X experience. It defines how we interact with the system and even our impressions about the overall aesthetic of current Mac software. It does all of this in an almost invisible fashion. Finder is the Helvetica of apps, you see it a million times every day but you don’t really notice it.
However, when you really start to think about it, it’s easy to find some downfalls. For instance, overlapping windows may have been a revolution in 1982, but these days UI developers tend to look to tabs to help keep things clean and user friendly. Outside of a web browser, Finder is perhaps the most natural place for tabs exist. However, despite years of user demands, Apple has yet to implement them. TotalFinder is the best attempt I’ve seen to do just that.
Is This Safe?
Replacing Finder is no easy task. You can use a third party file browsing app, but it’s nearly impossible to escape your instincts to just use the default file system. For this reason, TotalFinder actually takes over and puts itself in the place of your Finder.
This sounds scary, and to be honest, there’s no way around that. However, the good news is that it doesn’t actually modify your actual Finder app. Since TotalFinder is super easy to uninstall, you can always go right back to the way things were should any problems arise (even a killall dock command does the trick of returning things back to normal). Also, it’s important to note that the developer is a daily user of his own app, which means he’s really on top of it if an Apple update ever causes any issues!
That being said, plenty of OS X users would never touch an app with such seemingly deep control and indeed Apple likely wouldn’t let it anywhere near the App Store. Personally, in a time when Apple is trying to control developers as much as possible, I think it’s awesome that we still have enough freedom to dig in and make OS X whatever we want it to be. This might not always be the case.
A Seamless Transition
When you open up TotalFinder for the first time, your overall impression will no doubt be surprise at how much everything feels just about like it always did. This is intentional, TotalFinder seeks to blend into the system by emulating Finder as much as possible while still adding improvements that users really want.
The user experience here is 100% seamless. You open new windows, browse and perform other actions just like you always would, even the Finder dock icon still functions though it has been updated slightly to reflect TotalFinder’s presence.
TotalFinder has a decent feature set, but its claim to fame is built on a single idea: tabs. If you only appreciate one thing about TotalFinder it’ll be this.
The Chrome-style tabs are perfectly integrated into the visual interface and don’t add any unwanted clutter. They operate exactly like you’d expect. You can use ⌘T to open new tabs and ⌘W to close them, rearrange them via drag and drop and easily transfer files between them. Also, ⌘N still brings up a new window and Spacebar still launches Quick Look so your old keyboard shortcut habits will still function just fine.
Windows users will be glad to know that TotalFinder brings cut and paste capability to files and folders in Finder, making it easier than ever to move files around using only the keyboard.
Hitting ⌘U will bring up Dual Mode, which merges two tabs into a side-by-side format in a single window. This is perfect if you’re doing a lot of file shuffling.
As you can see, this view allows for each column to have its own separate view mode, even the sidebar is carried over and flipped to the other side; a nice touch.
Under the TotalFinder Preferences menu you’ll find a few more features that you can enable and experiment with. On the right below you can see the “Tweaks” tab, which contains great options like always keeping folders on top of a list, showing hidden files and forcing user actions to open new windows instead of new tabs (freelance windows).
On the left above you can see the options for a really cool feature called The Visor, which allows you to set up a keyboard shortcut that quickly slides up a Finder window attached to the bottom of the screen. You pull up this window when you need a quick look at the Finder and it disappears as soon as you’re done with it. Even as a standalone app this would be great, built into an already great app like TotalFinder it’s just icing on the cake.
Same Old TotalFinder?
The last time we looked at TotalFinder, it was a free beta app. Now, it’s in version 1.3, will cost you $18, and the feature set is about the same as it was back then. What gives?
The thing about the TotalFinder beta is that while it was fun, it wasn’t always usable. Comparing the features above to those in the early releases, you won’t find many discrepancies, but the experience is an entirely different matter.
I used TotalFinder for a while during the beta and it was (like any true beta app) always crashing or behaving in an unpredicted way. One day it simply stopped working altogether on my Mac.
Comparatively, version 1.3 is a dream. I’ve been using it without any real hitches. It’s smooth, highly functional and is the Finder replacement I’ve been waiting for. Other apps seem so far away from the Finder that I can never quite get used to them, TotalFinder on the other hand is the same old Finder you know and love, just better!
Another thing that you should keep in mind is that OS X has evolved quite a bit over the past few years, especially with the Lion release. TotalFinder has evolved right with it and is now fully Lion compatible. You’ll notice in the screenshots above that the Finder windows are styled just like they should be and haven’t lagged behind in the old Snow Leopard design.
To be fair, TotalFinder is not 100% perfect yet, but it’s close enough for me to use daily. I have two primary complaints. First is speed. There’s a slight lag when opening a new tab that’s just enough to be annoying. It’s still quick, but not instant.
Also, while I love the idea of the Visor, every time I enable it I encounter somewhat erratic behavior that eventually leads to me turning it off. This feature still needs to be ironed out. Otherwise, TotalFinder works great and is a pleasure to use.
If you’ve tried other third party file browsers but keep returning back to OS X’s default Finder due to feature bloat or interface wearies, it’s time to give TotalFinder a run through. Even if you tried the beta, the latest release is worth a fresh look.
If you have any doubts about TotalFinder’s usefulness, try disabling tabbed browsing in Safari for a week and see if you don’t go nuts. This is what it’s like to use TotalFinder, you almost can’t go back to the plain old Finder once you’ve seen the light.