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Promising Prospect: FinderPop

Some of you are probably looking at the title of today’s Mac Gems column, thinking, “FinderPop…Ah, I remember it fondly.” Back in the days when the Mac OS had version numbers such as 8 and 9, FinderPop was one of the most popular third-party utilities for the Mac. But for a number of reasons, and much to the dismay of FinderPop users, it never made the transition to Mac OS X. Even worse, FinderPop’s developer, Turly O’Connor, actually left the Mac platform…for a while, at least.

Well, if you were a fan of FinderPop, I’ve got some good news: At long last, Turly has returned to the Mac, and he’s brought FinderPop with him. You can thank the Mac mini for this fortuitous turn of events; as Turly writes:

After getting a Mac Mini a few months ago, I was impressed with its silence / unobtrusiveness and how far OS X had come on since I left the fold three years ago. I now use it all the time in preference to my PC. But I missed FinderPop, especially the click-in-unused-menubar feature, and so I braved the horrors of Xcode to bring out a version of FP for X.

The result is FinderPop 1.9.9b4, a beta version that will certainly bring back memories for some Mac users. (As with the “classic” version, FinderPop is donationware.)

In case you’ve never used it, FinderPop is a contextual menu enhancer for the Finder that lets you view and work with the contents of a folder or volume by simply Control/right-clicking on that item in the Finder; its contents are displayed in the resulting contextual menu. For example, if you Control/right-click on your Home directory, you can move the mouse pointer over that directory in the menu to view its contents (and the contents of any of its contents, and so on). Choosing an item from the menu opens it.

FinderPop view of a Home directory

You can also perform a number of standard Finder actions on files instead of opening them. For example, pressing the Command key when you choose an item from the menu reveals the item in the Finder. You can quickly move an item to the Trash by pressing Control+Option+Command as you choose it. And holding down the Command and Option keys while moving the mouse pointer over an item in the FinderPop menu displays some useful information about that item.

FinderPop also gives you a bit more file-browsing power than the Finder itself. For example, you can enable an option—via the FinderPop System Preferences pane—that includes folders in FinderPop’s menus that are normally invisible in the Finder. (That option is enabled in the screenshot above.) You can also have FinderPop display Mac OS X package files as folders. (I find viewing package files this way to be easier than using the Finder’s Show Package Contents command.)

You can also enable options for Desktop and Processes submenus. With the former enabled, a new item named Desktop appears just above the contents of the currently selected folder in the Finder’s contextual menu. This item provides a hierarchical menu that displays the contents of ~/Desktop—in other words, everything sitting on your Desktop—and is a handy way to access such files without having to hide application windows or use Exposé. The latter provides a submenu displaying all currently running applications; choosing an application from this menu switches to it just as if you had clicked on its icon in the Dock.

Finally, FinderPop provides two additional contextual menu enhancements that I find to be very useful: The first lets you add hierarchical menus of the contents of any folder or volume you choose. To do this, you simply place an alias to those folders and volumes in the FinderPop Items folder (located in your home Library folder). Those folders and volumes will then appear in the Finder’s contextual menu, letting you navigate to files contained in them and act on them as you would any other folder via FinderPop. You can even add frequently used documents to the FinderPop Items folder—you can then launch one of those documents by choosing it from the contextual menu. (Items are displayed alphabetically, but FinderPop’s documentation explains how to re-order item display, as well as how to add menu dividers.)

FinderPop Items in contextual menus

The second is an alternative to the Finder’s “Open with” feature: You simply Control/right-click on a document in the Finder, instead of a folder, and then use FinderPop’s submenus to navigate to the desired application. (I’ve added the main Applications folder to the FinderPop Items folder to make this easier.) FinderPop will open the document using the chosen application.

What makes FinderPop especially convenient is that it’s not limited to just the Finder’s contextual menus. Via an option in FinderPop’s preferences, you can choose to have the various FinderPop submenus and Items appear in all contextual menus—this is useful, for example, when you’re working in Word and want to quickly open another document via FinderPop’s hierarchical menus. You can also access FinderPop’s Items, Desktop, and Processes menus by clicking, Shift-clicking or Command-clicking, respectively, a blank area of the menu bar.

FinderPop menu-bar menu

That said, FinderPop doesn’t have the same monopoly on “browsing files via contextual menus” functionality that it did in days of yore. There are a good number of similar utilities for Mac OS X nowadays, including FolderGlance, QuickAccessCM, OpenMenu, and Folder Contents CM. When a final version of FinderPop is released, I’ll compare it with these products to see which offers the best mix of features and usability. But I will say that thanks to its menu-bar functionality, I’ve already replaced several other utilities on my own computer with FinderPop.

(Keep in mind that FinderPop is currently in beta, so you shouldn’t expect it to be bug-free; however, after a week or so of use, I haven’t had any problems.)

FinderPop is compatible with Tiger (Mac OS X 10.4) and Panther (Mac OS X 10.3).

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