Everyone knows of Mac OS X’s Finder file manager, but not many know of a third party file manager by CocoaTech called Path Finder. Path Finder is one of the most interesting products that I have come across lately. It’s a file manager, but with a lot of extras. It can reside happily next to Finder, or it can replace it completely, drawing its own desktop, by unloading the Finder altogether.
Description and features
The default window includes the main body and two drawers (a widget found on OSX’s Cocoa API). The drawers can be opened or closed with a click of a small arrow just below the main toolbar of the program.
The left side drawer has three sub-views, the first one is named “Volumes” and includes shortcuts to all your hard drives, optical and disk images and network. Clicking on them, they will open their contents to the main window.
The second sub-view is called “Processes” and it lists all currently running applications, it is literally a taskbar. Right clicking on them, you will get options like “Get Info”, “Show Original in a file manager window”, hide it, quit it etc. Underneath this list, you get the Trash icon, and all its accompanied actions (Empty Trash, view trash for User XX).
The main file manager window has six views, and includes an icon option-rich toolbar, two status bars (!), the Shelf window, the Path Navigator and the main file view. The Shelf includes two sub views, the Drop Stack, where you can drop files and folders in there (copies their path), and then do other stuff, and whenever you feel like moving these objects elsewhere, you can drop them out of the drop stack. The drop stack is a temporary placeholder for files and folders if you want to use your Clipboard for other operations. Underneath the Drop stack you will find the Shortcut Shelf. There, like in the new Finder, you get easy access to widely used folders with a single click. You can create your own sets of shelves, so for example you can have a shortcut set for graphics apps or folders, another set for games etc. Please note that drag and dropping works great, you can move or copy items on any sub-view from any other sub-view. This is how I put my Volumes to show on my Shelf, because I needed them to be accessible at all times, without having to have open the drawer on the left (cause it takes space).
The next view is the Path Navigator, a fantastic idea and innovation: maybe the best feature found on Path Finder. When navigating into a folder, and then into another, and then into another, your path is recorded and displayed in the form of a button, as you can see in the screenshot above the main view. It is the path you followed. By clicking any of these automatically placed buttons you can navigate faster than any “Back” or “History” button or drop-down menu! It is truly such a simple idea and at the same time so outstanding and functional that is beyond description!
The main view of the file manager has all three modes (list view, icon view, hierarchical) and with the help of the context menus you can do all the traditional stuff (copy/move files etc) but also a whole lot more. You can create shortcuts, you can CopyTo and MoveTo (with a file-selector window popping up to guide it where to perform the action), email it, compress/decompress it, create disk images, enable AppleScript’s folder actions, open the current directory on the Terminal, label files, get long and advanced information via “Get Info” (allows “touch”, permissions etc), open with a running or an application from a list or with the default etc.
Path Finder supports spring folders, for all you BeOS and OS 9 users who learned to love it. It also incorporates a “hot spot” (grey rectangle next to the file name) which when single-clicked it loads the default open action for this item. More over, PF supports plug-ins. Version 3.x includes a brand new API where third party developers can write their own plugins and extend the functionality of the file manager. Currently, PF includes two plugins, “Convert Image” and “View as Hex”. At this point we should mention that parts of PF have been open sourced recently. Check Cocoatech’s site for more info.
PF’s Preferences are really vast and it should please many tweakers. It can be told to open folders in new windows or not (spatial mode), enable/disable spring folders, always show file extensions, automatic resolve of shortcuts, change font preferences, terminal preferences, set default permissions for new files and much more.
We should also mention that PF comes with its own terminal application and its own text editor. I found its Terminal pretty lacking for power users, and slow, but the text editor is fine for simple editing and viewing. Other new additions include a simple image editor, PDF viewer, hex viewer, ability to see hidden files, easy access to documents and favorites, etc.
PF also features a 16×16 icon in the notification area with a menu that lets you access the /Applications, the Favorites and the currently running applications. Other features of PF include ability to zoom in and out icons, modify their layout while you can apply color themes to the applications. Unfortunately, except the default Cocoa color theme and maybe the “Black in Black” one, all other offerings are terrible looking or bad in the accessibility area.
Path Finder is a full-featured application, but it doesn’t come without its problems.
Problems include the inability to Undo a move or copy you just made via drag-n-drop, while the kind of labeling PF does is downright ugly. It applies a color to the icon itself (rather than to the filename), making the icon look very alien and unattractive.
A small feature missing is also when using the PF desktop and the Dock is docked on the sides. I can’t place my desktop icons on the same vertical row where the Dock lives. Also, when in icon mode, I would like to have the total sum of bytes for the selected items in the status bar.
Performance is fine for all operations except when opening a new PF window, it takes about 1 second on my Cube G4, while Finder on Panther is instant.
Another small gripe is when you are moving down a file list with the arrow keys and you happen to select an image, PF will try to create a thumbnail for its preview window and that will resort to about 0.5-1 second of application unresponsiveness. This is of course normal, but the application should have the ability to measure how much time a file stays selected (that’s in milliseconds) and only then decide to preview it or not.
But the above problems are not really as important as the following one: Contextual Menu Bloat. Unfortunately, a lot of smaller important options have made it to the main contextual menu and this is PF’s biggest problem. The user has to roll his/her attention through a large number of options when right-clicking a file or folder, which makes using it at all an ordeal. For example, I would personally declare inappropriate for the general context menu –for my day-to-day basis work– 8 items out of the default… 24. Twenty four menu items is just too many for a menu that is accessed all the time. Usability experts advocate that the average human mind can not “process” more than 12 menu items instantly, and anything that is not instant on such generic operations is not well-designed. Options like the “Reports”, Open with Text Editor, Open in Terminal, Copy Path, Email, Compress and Email, Decompress, Compress, Volume Listing, Directory Listing, New HTML file, New Text File and Secure Delete should all move to the Plugins and/or on the menu’s Command sub-menu. While these options are not using the plugin API (so from the developer’s point of view they don’t belong there), from the user’s point of view, these are just extra options that complement the file manager and not part of the core daily usage for most people.
I truly like Path Finder. It has some very good ideas in it. I encourage all Mac users to download and try it, and developers to start developing small plugins for it (get ideas for plugins here). If just not for the Path Navigator feature, I find PF not only innovative, but a joy to use.
File managers should be simple, and as it stands right now, I find Apple’s Finder simpler to use and more inviting than PF’s for new users, but PF gains usage points with advanced users. If PF’s developers cut some of the bloat and move a few options around by “grouping similar items by usage patterns”, I believe that PF can appeal to all users, not just advanced and unix users. When this happens, Finder will have to face much stiffer competition and Path Finder can gain even more prestige and recognition. But even as it stands today, PF is one of the best applications on the Mac OS X platform.
Good points: Path Navigation very clever, Plugin API, terminal integration, many advanced features.
Bad points: Some operations slower than in Finder, UI-loaded default interface, bloated contextual menus.
I tried it and trashed it ’cause i did not like the feel of it.
Anything is better than the Finder in OSX. Windows explorer, Nautilus, browsing using the command line; anything.
Path Finder in my opinion is a major step foward.
Eugenia loved this feature, but tends to look down on interesting features that were previously implemented, so i felt i had to point out that her favorite feature was already done. I could be mistaken, but i think that the equivalent of the path buttons existed in the old Next file browser (i’m pretty sure that it was a view with the full icon of the folder). The more things change….
I have a NeXT machine here, but I haven’t seen this…
… while the kind of labeling PF does is downright ugly. It applies a color to the icon itself (rather than to the filename), making the icon look very alien and unattractive.
This is the way pre-OSX labels always worked (admittedly bizarre.) Many of us were so desperate to have labels back again that adding a colored party hat to the icon would have been acceptable.
Panther’s new label scheme works well except for list views, which are kind of eye slamming.
you are kidding me right?
are you talking abut the old finder or the new finder?
if you are talking about the old finder, then yes I would certainly agree with you, but the new finder is SOOOO much better than Windows Explorer. it is faster to navigate, you have quicker access to your important folders and drives, and searching in it is super fast.
Is it just me, or does that ‘home’ icon in the screenshot look like CrystalSVG? Can anyone with a Mac tell me if OS X has that icon? Either way, the SNs look very nice. Its nice to see that they have an Aqua style — IMHO it looks much better than the Brushed Metal version.
Next innovation we need for pathfinder: option to not use the evil brushed metal interface, it really gets to me
There is already such an option.
I’m talking about the one in Jaguar. I have not tried the one in Panther. I use a G4 everyday at work (video editor) and I just find the Finder super anoying. I often find myself just opening the terminal browsing with that (I’m a Linux user at home).
If it wasn’t because of the price of these computers and because of the Finder I would have bougth myself one.
The definite dealbreaker against Path Finder, for me, is the fact that it does *not* integrate everywhere. I know that it’s because Apple doesn’t make the APIs more open, but that doesn’t matter to the user.
The most common example is the common “Reveal in Finder” command. I don’t think it’s possible to re-map this to Path Finder. Especially when talking about the Dock…
My main gripe w/ Finder column view is that going back “up” means long side scrolls while trying to spot the desired column.
Path Buttons are a big help here, and I agree that they may be the best feature of PF. Windows Explorer’s separate folder-only list has advantages (shows the whole tree) but it takes up a lot more space and I find it more awkward.
I just noticed an unusual feature in PF: column view can be “combined” with list view (“Enable disclosure triangles in column view” in Column Prefs.) You can drill thru layers of folders in one column using the triangles, and jump to another column if things get messy. It’s much faster than column view alone when something is deeply buried, without the jumble of using list view alone.
I don’t mind installing and running a small third party utility once in a while [something like Konfabulator]. But I tend to shy away from anything that screws around with my OS plumbing. Such tools are only a small OS update away from wreaking total chaos on our machines. When that happens, we can’t swear at Steve Jobs and Apple. Anyone who complains about the new Finder in OS X deserves what he/she gets with those other tools.
>But I tend to shy away from anything that screws around with my OS plumbing.
Path Finder is not a haxie, it is a real application with beta testing cycles. Bugs are to found on all apps of course, but I found PF to be stable and trouble-free. Problems _might_ arrive if you choose to completely unload Finder, but the default behavior is to have it loaded too, so it should be ok.
Hardly new. TKDesk had it, and I used it for years with Linux then with FreeBSD (it was my darling then). In fact, Path Finder has a lot of TKDesk features.
That said, I love this little app. I downloaded it some days ago (Eugenia, I virtually bend and kiss your feet, I didn’t know it before you talk about it). There is room for improvement, but it’s pretty good already. And it didn’t wreck anything on my machine.
i just love PathFinder. it’s probably the best file manager i have ever used! i like the path line and the terminal and preview windows. PF 2.1 (before) and now PF3.0 run very stable on my 10.2.8.
it’s a great replacement of the Finder (which simply sucks)! can anybody tell me please if there is an option in the new Finder (in 10.3) to sort ALL folders BEFORE files in column view??? i checked screenshots of Panther and it seems that this feature is still unavailable. this was the first reason why i switched to PF.
Yeah, tkDesk was based on the Next file browser. Given Eugenia’s scepticism, i dug up a screenshot at http://www.mactech.com/articles/mactech/Vol.13/13.07/Jul97-GettingS… . The second row of icons from the top represents the path. Probably even more useful than PathFinder, since it provides more visual cues.
Ah, I see what you mean now. Yes, NeXT’s browser had this, however I do prefer PathFinder’s version, as it is way more compact and gets into the point instead of having different icons for almost each folder which can be confusing.
“My main gripe w/ Finder column view is that going back “up” means long side scrolls while trying to spot the desired column.”
Why don’t you just use: left and right arrow?
I thought context menus should be short and simple. Now look at those… *count entries in menu*… 25 items in the menu!
(warning: The following is based on my jagwire, I have not bought panther yet)
For me I find finder ok for light useage, but I have to load up konqueror for the heavy stuff.
Konqueror is in a league of its own when it comes to dealing with more complex operations. The kioslaves support for seamlessly browsing remote computers through pretty much any protcol I throw at it. The amount of icons it can generate previews for. Being able to partition the window to browse more that one thing at one. Being able to transparently browse archives. And countless more little things. It seems to surprise me everytime I use it.
That said I find konqueror too featureful for small tasks, and am glad I can use simple old finder for them.
Thank you apple for going with a unix core and porting X11. And thank you kde developers for konqueror.
You can’t put the whole shebang in one view and expect responsiveness. Ever tried copying files? How long does it take before they appear at the destination? This app is much too ambitious and much too busy. For the anti(pode/dote), look here: http://rixstep.com/4/0/xfile/.
The more I read about Mac OS X, the more I view Eugenia’s Mac OS X screenshots, the more I am tempted to buy a Mac box or laptop.
Eugenia, you sure adore Mac OS X, don’t you?
>Eugenia, you sure adore Mac OS X, don’t you?
Not really, it is a fine system, the best Windows alternative today, but it has its problems. Make sure you come back tomorrow and read my new OSX article.
Seriously. I think that would satisfy most of the OS 9 diehards out there. ‘Course, it would be sort of crippled without BFS, but still…
– Stephen, who refuses to use any filemanager that lacks a “Resize window to fit contents” command + keyboard shortcut.
I purchased Pathfinder in it previous version and upgraded to the current one. It was good before, it’s terrific now. The path breadcrumb trail across the top is invaluable, especially if you are doing multimedia work where you may have large sets of identically named folders and files that only differ up at the top of the hierarchy. In Pathfinder you can tell where you are at a glance, whereas in the Jaguar finder you wind up scrolling columns up and down like the tumblers in a combination lock. The drop stack is VERY useful, and the favorites shelf lets you customize the places you want one click access to. Panther supplies some of these features, but not all.
One drawback: I usually drop back to the Apple finder to deal with CD’s, especially for burning and for reading Joliet formatted CD’s (the MSFT standard). PF doesn’t handle these properly.
Hey, Eugenia, thanks for the kind words!
I’m not the developer of Path Finder (there is only one developer, did you know that?), but I do help Steve out with web design stuff and marketing, and I often point out things that Steve should consider “priorities” to be addressed in future updates.
I agree with most of what you’ve said about Path Finder’s deficiencies: the contextual menus are definitely in need of an overhaul, and PF definitely needs to integrate better with other applications. As someone has already mentioned, much of this was outside of Steve’s ability to change: many of the API’s are / were closed, and Applescript support for Cocoa applications frankly sucks in 10.2.
The good news is that 10.3 remedies a bunch of this, and Steve is already hard at work at a new, heavily optimized version for Panther. The goal is to be able to handle any application calls for Apple’s Finder in PF seamlessly, so that it truly can act as a finder replacement. There’s still a ways to go to reach that, but we’re getting there.
Steve’s at the O’Reilly Mac conference, so I can’t pass this onto him until the weekend, but I’ll make sure he reads the review and these comments, and I’ll start working on a re-jigged contextual menu layout. No promises on when these will be rolled into PF, or when the next release is due, but it’s coming, and we’re listening.
“Seriously. I think that would satisfy most of the OS 9 diehards out there. ‘Course, it would be sort of crippled without BFS, but still…”
Yeah, uh, given that quite a lot of BeOS’s GUI is basically based off Mac OS Classic, that may be true.
But as you say, it’s only half worth it without BFS.
“Stephen, who refuses to use any filemanager that lacks a “Resize window to fit contents” command + keyboard shortcut.”
Finder has that. I don’t know about Path Finder, though.