Mac 101: All about windows

You can use these buttons only when you’ve already traveled through a portion of the folder hierarchy. You can’t very well open a brand new folder as we’ve done and expect either the Back or Forward buttons to do anything. You haven’t navigated anywhere so there’s nowhere to go “back” to. Likewise, as you haven’t yet visited another folder within this window, there is no forward as far as the Mac is concerned. Providing a strong hint that these buttons do nothing in such a case, the buttons will be grayed out. If one or the other is black, it means you can click on it to navigate back or forward, depending on your previous travels within this folder.

Up to this point I've avoided providing tips, but I think you can now be trusted with one. Hold down the Command key (the one just to the immediate left or right of the space bar) and click the window name at the top of the window. A menu will appear that shows you the hierarchical path to the folder you're currently working with. This is one way to move up the hierarchy when you can't use the Back button.

View buttons: While looking at the contents of a window, you can view that content in four different ways—as indicated by the four View buttons. The first is Icon view. This shows any items within the folder as rectangular thumbnail images.

The second button represents List view. Click it and the contents of the folder appear, by default, in an alphabetical list.

Next is Column view. This view better shows the OS’s hierarchical structure. Click it and you’ll see the contents of the current folder on the left of the contents area. If there’s a folder within that first column, select it and you’ll see that folder’s contents in the next column. If there’s a folder in that next column, click it and, you guessed it, you’ll see that folder’s contents in the column to its right. And on and on. When you finally select a file in this view, you’ll see a preview of it along with some other file information in the last column.

Column view allows you to more easily see the folder hierarchy

Finally, the last View button is for Cover Flow view. This was inspired by a similar view in Apple’s iTunes music application. In this view you’ll see a carousel of icons in the top portion of the contents area and then a list of items below (see illustration below). Click an icon in the top area and the associated item will be highlighted in the list underneath the carousel. Similarly, click an item in the list and the associated icon will move to the center of the carousel. If your Mac has a trackpad (or you’re using a wireless trackpad with it) you can quickly sweep through the carousel by placing your cursor within it and dragging two fingers to the left or right. If you’re using a mouse, click and drag on the lozenge-looking-thing that appears in the bar (called the scroll bar) below the carousel.

Action menu: To the right of the View buttons you find an icon with the image of a gear inside it. This is the Action menu. When you click it, you see a load of options for performing tasks in the Finder. All of the commands found here are also found within the Finder’s menus. As we haven’t yet covered what all these commands do, just know that the Action menu is simply another way to access common Finder commands.

Item Arrangement menu: Earlier I mentioned that, by default, when you invoke List view you see a folder’s contents in alphabetical order. But suppose you’d like to sort these items in another way—by date created or kind, for instance? That’s the purpose of the Item Arrangement menu. Click this menu and you see that you can organize items by Name, Kind, Application, Date Last Opened, Date Added, Date Modified, Date Created, Size, and Label. This is something else that we’ll discuss at greater length in a future column as this functionality is also duplicated in the Finder’s menus.

One more tip. If you're looking at items in List view, you can click on the column headings above the list (Name, Date Modified, Size, and Kind, for example) to quickly sort the list using that heading.

Send menu: Your Mac provides various shortcuts for moving files and folders off the Mac and to other destinations. That’s why the Send menu exists. Select any item within a window and click this menu. The options that appear depend on what you’ve selected. But you should at least see Email, Message, and AirDrop. Once again, these are things we haven’t discussed so I won’t go into what each does. Just bear in mind that if you later need a shortcut for quickly emailing a file to someone, you can find it within this menu.

Search field: The Mac OS keeps track of all the items stored on your computer. One way to find them is to use the Search field. Just enter the name or a word associated with that item in the Search field and press the Mac’s Return key. A list of results will appear within the contents area.

Sussing the sidebar

On the left side of a Finder window you see a gray pane that includes at least a couple of grouped items. Let’s run through them.

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