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"I am running a dual867/512M system (10.2.6) and the Finder is terribly slow at handling large directories and multiple file operations."
The idential system is sitting here in front of me, and I have not experienced any of the problems you mentioned. The finder is definately not slow with the system you (we) are using.
"Moving 500 files from one directory to another should not take the Finder 2-3 minutes (when the command line can get it done in a few seconds). The Finder is slow."
I just did this task and it took.... drum roll.... a few seconds.
Sorry bud, better luck next time.