Everything You Need to Know about Finder in OS X Mavericks

Finder’s demise has long been foretold. It hasn’t received much love since Snow Leopard’s release, and the addition of iCloud seemed to spell doom for the way we’ve always managed files. And then, WWDC 2013 happened, and the lowly Finder was back in the spotlight (ahem).

Some of OS X Mavericks’ most exciting new features are in Finder and the ways it can help you find and manage your files more easily. There’s tabs in Finder at long last, along with tags that happen to make iCloud files more accessible to other apps of all things. It’s time to take a deep look at the essential underpinning app to the Mac: Finder.

Files are still Important

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The shift of computing to mobile devices ever since Apple introduced the iPhone in ’07 has changed the way we think about files. iCloud’s app-centric file organization makes sense on iOS, even if we’d like to see a Finder of sorts — or some way to manage files between apps — on the iPad. And suddenly, OS X Mavericks points to a way that just might merge the iCloud and Finder styles of file management on both platforms thanks to Tags.

Tags aren’t a new concept — anyone who’s used Gmail over the past decade, at least, should be used to using tags to organize files and more without having to store a unique copy of said file in different folders. And in Mavericks, Tags piggyback on the color labels that Finder has had for years — colored tags will show up with the correct color label on previous versions of OS X, and any files you had labeled with a color will switch to a color tag when you upgrade to Mavericks. But just colors aren’t too useful — you’ll want to edit the default tags and make them your own so you can use them to find your files easily.

You can add or edit tags at any time from the Finder sidebar, or make new tags when you’re saving files from any app in the new Tags field. Then, you can add as many tags as you want to any file to easily find it anywhere, right from the Finder sidebar. Best of all, tags work perfectly in iCloud documents, and when you add a tag to an iCloud document, it’ll show up alongside your Finder files in that tag’s list in Finder. iCloud files now even work with Automator and AppleScript, so you’ll never have to miss anything by storing your files directly in your apps’ iCloud anymore.

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The addition of tags to Finder changed the way document management works throughout OS X to a degree. Now, when you click the down arrow on the top of a window beside the open file name, you’ll get a rename dialog where you can change the file’s name, add or remove tags, and save it in a different folder or more it to iCloud. If you need to see previous versions or duplicate the file, you’ll need to head over to the File menu instead. That’s a small change that puts tags front-and-center in every app.

There’s only one place that tags aren’t front-and-center: Spotlight. You can’t just search for a tag name to find tagged files in Spotlight, unfortunately. Instead, you’ll need to type tag: followed by the tag name you want to locate to find tagged files via Spotlight. That’s not a big hurdle, of course, but making tag names a universal search query would seem like a nice option as well.

Finder, Meet Safari

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Tags aren’t the only new thing in Finder — there’s also the long-awaited addition of tabs to Finder. These work just like you’d expect. In fact, they work just like Safari tabs. Open a new tab by pressing CMD+T, or right-click on a folder and select to open it in a new tab. Then, you can pop a tab out into its own window if you want just by dragging the tab out, or move a tab into another window just the same as in Safari.

File management with tags also works just like you’d expect. You can drag-and-drop files from one tab directly onto the other tab to drop them in the open folder, or hold the files over the tab for it to open so you can drop files into another folder in that tab. Just about the only other thing you could have asked for is side-by-side views, but honestly I can’t see a need for that when you can line two windows beside each other. This time around, alternate file browser apps should be rather scared.

There’s Something Missing

There’s one Finder feature, though, that should have received attention but didn’t: AirDrop. Apple added their simple file-sharing option to iOS 7, making it easy to send pictures and more between your iPhone and iPad. Oddly enough, though, AirDrop doesn’t work between iOS 7 and any version of OS X, including Mavericks. It’s a very curious oversight, one that I’d assume Apple will fix going forward. But if it takes a core change to AirDrop in OS X, we may have to wait until the next version to see it come. The only hope is that Maps has AirDrop-style sharing to iOS, which would make it seem like the rest of the OS could pick up the same functionality. But it’s not there yet.

Pleasing the Power Users

Honestly, both tags and tabs in Finder are power-user features, ones that even diehard geeks might have trouble remembering to use since we’re so used to organizing files in folders and opening new Finder windows to move files. But they’re both features that could be really useful for everyone once you’re used to them. Plus, it’s exciting to see that Apple’s finally focused again on Mac power users — and that it’s found a way to make iCloud files more accessible throughout your Mac.

So setup tags the way you want, and remember to open new tabs in Finder. It’ll take a bit, but I happen to bet you’ll find they simplify your life if you get used to using them.