5 Alternatives to the OS X Finder

The Finder is an excellent file browser that keeps getting better and better with every new version of OS X. However, many Mac users find OS X’s default file browser to be lacking in a few essential features like tabs, a dual window view, fast loading image previews, etc. As a result, several third party file browsers have sprung up bringing a lot of innovation to the table.

This article will briefly introduce five alternatives to the Finder. I’ll go over each app’s unique features and shortcomings so you can decide which solution works best for you.

Xfolders

If you’ve ever used a Mac FTP client like Transmit or Captain FTP, you’ll feel right at home with Xfolders. The dual window interface allows you to easily move and copy files from one place to another. There are also keyboard shortcuts and dedicated buttons for functions like copy, move, new folder, delete, and rename along with a menu for quickly accessing system utilities. Xfolders contains a built-in image browser and terminal port as well.

XFolders

XFolders

Feature Rundown from Developer Site:

  • Full integration of the Finder, thus support of all file operations from and to the Finder.
  • Drag & Drop between both filelists and the Finder.
  • Support for all important file operations.
  • Info dialoge for simply changing the file and folder attributes.
  • Intelligent path navigators for both file lists.
  • Bookmarks & manager for folders.
  • Direct access to importend system utilities.
  • Navigation with the keyboard ala Norton Commander.
  • Integrated, detailed Spotlight search.
  • Integrated image browser.
  • Integrated terminal.
  • Versatile search and compare possibilities.
  • Zip archive support.

Verdict

The dual window system is definitely a handy feature, though tabs would be nice. Most of the rest of the features (like keyboard shorcuts and image viewing) are already present in the Finder where, in my opinion, they are much more user friendly and “Mac like”.

As a graphic designer, I was particularly annoyed at how the image browser is a separate function contained in a different window. Leopard’s integration of images through large icon previews, quicklook, and coverflow is simply a much better system for browsing lots of images. Since it’s a free app, it’s definitely worth downloading to see if it functions for your particular workflow.

Price: Free
Developer: Kai-Heitkamp
Requires: Mac OS 10.4 or later

muCommander

muCommander’s interface is very similar to that of Xfolders. Strips of buttons run along the top and bottom of a dual panel window. However, muCommander takes this idea a bit farther by adding buttons/keyboard shortcuts for features like setting bookmarks, emailing files, showing a particular file in the Finder, etc.

muCommander

muCommander

Feature Rundown from Developer Site:

  • Virtual filesystem with local volumes, FTP, SFTP, SMB, NFS, HTTP and Bonjour support
  • Quickly copy, move, rename files, create directories, email files…
  • Browse, create and uncompress ZIP, RAR, TAR, GZip, BZip2, ISO/NRG, AR/Deb and LST archives
  • ZIP files can be modified on-the-fly, without having to recompress the whole archive
  • Universal bookmarks and credentials manager
  • Multiple windows support
  • Full keyboard access
  • Highly configurable

Verdict

Though very similar in concept to Xfolders, I found muCommander to be a bit more enjoyable to use. The feature set seems a bit fuller and the interface is a little brighter. However, most of the shortcomings I listed for Xfolders still apply. Since this app is also a free download I encourage you to give it a shot and tell us what you think.

Price: Free
Developer: Maxence Bernard
Requires: Mac OS 10.3 or later

Disk Order

Disk Order is a dual window file browser/FTP client with strips of buttons for basic features running along the top and bottom (sound familiar?). Just like the two previous apps there is support for single image viewing, file archiving, file compression/decompression, Terminal commands, and just about every basic Finder feature (copy, move, etc).

Disk Order does bring some innovation to the table though with an integrated iPod browser (although it doesn’t seem to support my iPod Touch) and a plugin system that leaves room for useful third party add-ons. My favorite feature is the ability to have multiple tabs. Dual windows is nice, but I always find myself opening ten different finder windows and shuffling them around my screen. Like in Safari, the use of tabs takes all this clutter and contains it in a compact and easily accessible area.

DiskOrder

DiskOrder

Feature Rundown from Developer Site:

  • Tabbed interface
  • Copy/Move/Delete/Link operations
  • Built-in Viewer (viewing html, rtf, mov, mp3, jpg, gif, tiff etc.)
  • Built-in Editor
  • Built-in FTP-client (create, upload, download, CHMOD, transfer mode, encodings, viewing files and so on…)
  • Multi-Rename Tool
  • Archives support (tar, gz, tgz, bz, bz2, tbz, zip)
  • Sophisticated Drag’n-Drop
  • Color Marking support
  • System Index Utilizing Search
  • Command Line
  • Plug-in architecture (Terminal window, Burn CDs, Zip, Unzip, Untar etc.)
  • Very usable interface (Eject buttons by volume names and FTP sessions, customizable toolbar, Drives panel)
  • Customizable main menu shortcuts
  • Two file selection modes (Mac native and Norton-Commander-like)
  • Compare Directories, wildcard selection

Verdict

Disk Order provides a decent all-in-one solution for file browsing. Though not drastically different from the previous apps, it has just enough unique features to set it apart from the others. However, at just shy of $30, you might be better off with one of the free alternatives if you’re on a budget.

Price: $29.95
Developer: LikeMac Group
Requires: Mac OS 10.3 or later

FileBrowse

File Browse is drastically different from the previously mentioned applications. In sharp contrast to the formal tech-ish look of Xfiles, muCommander, and Disk Order, File Browse’s interface is friendly, lighthearted and fun with unique graphics and nifty animations for every click. File Browse also shows you previews for image files (including PDF’s) at lightning fast speeds rivaling that of the Finder.

FileBrowse

FileBrowse

Feature Rundown from Developer Site:

  • 3D Icons/Thumbnails
  • Large In-Context Previews
  • Powerful Grouping and Sorting

Watch this video for more!

Verdict

I was skeptical about File Browse’s seemingly goofy interface. However, after I dug in and used the app for a while I really liked it. It’s definitely not for everyone but if you have $25 just lying around and you don’t like the Finder, you should give it a go.

Price: $25.00
Developer: Kai-R Green Blue
Requires: Mac OS 10.4 or later

Path Finder

Path Finder borrows its interface directly from the Finder. In fact, it feels more like a serious Finder upgrade or plugin than a separate application. Path Finder seamlessly integrates tabs and a dual window interface (only if you choose) into the normal Finder GUI. One of Path Finder’s most innovative features is “Drop Stack”, which allows you to grab files and throw them in a holding area while you navigate to the folder you want to put them into.

PathFinder

PathFinder

Feature Rundown from Developer Site:

  • Dual Pane File Browser
  • Drop Stack
  • Tabs & Bookmarks
  • Command Line tools
  • “QuickLook” support
  • Use Path Finder as your “Default File viewer”
  • Subversion plugin
  • Application Launcher
  • Size browser
  • Selection tools
  • File list filters
  • Integrated Stuffit Engine
  • Create and Convert Disk Images
  • Customize menu keyboard shortcuts
  • Smart Sorting

Verdict

This is where you’ll have to excuse my blatant favoring of one app over the others because in my opinion Path Finder puts all the rest to shame (including the Finder!). I see Path Finder as an open letter to Apple containing everything that the Finder should be. The folks over at Cocoatech have really done an amazing job creating an unmatched Mac file browsing experience that actually adds functionality as opposed to rearranging existing features.

Granted, $40 is a lot to pay, but if these features alone were integrated into a new version of OS X I dare say many of us would fork out the $40 without a second thought. There are a ton more features than those I’ve mentioned here. Do yourself a favor and watch this screencast so you can marvel at the goodness of a file browser that truly gets the job done.

Price: $39.95
Developer: Cocoatech
Requires: Mac OS 10.4 or later

Conclusion

So there you have it. I would like to stress one final time that your choice of file browser depends almost entirely upon your particular workflow. Web programmers have different needs than graphic designers, who in turn have different needs than multimedia (music/video) junkies. I encourage you to challenge my conclusions and tell us what you use, why you like it, and what you spend most of your time on a Mac doing.

One final note regarding a fantastic file browser that I intentionally left out. Adobe Bridge is unrivaled for viewing folders full of graphics files (jpg, png, psd, ai, pdf, etc.). Previous versions of Bridge have been painfully slow but the app has seen remarkable improvement over the past few years and I now use it daily.

The downside is Bridge is only available as a part of the greater Adobe Creative Suite. If you’re not making money with these applications, it’s not easy to shell out the $1,800+ to get them so I recommend Bridge only to those graphics professionals who currently have the app sitting in their applications folder but have never really given it a fair chance.