Your Mac, Your Way

Manage files in OS X your way

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OS X’s basic tools for finding and managing files—the Finder and Spotlight—are fine. But savvy users find ways to make them better. For some, that means making the Finder work better, with smart folders and meticulous filing systems. For others, that means turning to some third-party utilities that let them manage files their way.

Smarter smart folders

In the Finder, I’ve set up a bunch of smart folders that keep track of related files. Some of my handiest smart folders collect Microsoft Word files with Mac 911 in the title (File Name Contains Mac 911, Kind Is Other Microsoft Word); BBEdit files containing blog as a keyword (Kind Is Other BBEdit, Keywords Contains blog); and files larger than 1GB, which I periodically review to see whether any can be archived or thrown away to free up disk space (Size Is Greater Than 1 GB). I keep these and other smart folders in the Finder sidebar; I also plant key ones in my DragThing Frequently Used palette. (The original smart folders can be found at the /Library/Smart Searches folder in my user folder.)—Christopher Breen

Super filing

Some people dump all their files into one folder and then use Spotlight to find the files they need. But for me, Spotlight is too slow and unreliable to use for regular file finding; it’s also of little help when I want to find a document on another networked Mac. I still find it most useful to keep my documents organized meticulously into folders. I have several general ones (Finances, Macworld, and so on) in my user folder’s /Documents folder. Inside each of those folders are folders for each year. Inside each of those folders are folders for specific products and articles—200905 iPhone Tricks, for example, and 20090310 Mac mini Review. I also include dates in my document names. Compulsive? Perhaps. But using that file hierarchy, I can find most documents by myself faster than Spotlight can.—Dan Frakes

Find files with Quicksilver

I use Quicksilver ( ) to quickly access commonly used files and folders. Quicksilver’s Shelf is like a permanent Clipboard; it can store links to files and folders, as well as reusable text snippets. To enable the Shelf, launch Quicksilver, press Command-; (semicolon) to open the Catalog, select Modules, and then select Shelf And Clipboard. That done, you can add a file link to the Shelf by finding the file in Quicksilver (just type the first few characters of its name) and then tabbing to the Action pane and selecting Put On Shelf. (If that doesn’t work, make sure Put On Shelf is activated: press Command-, [comma] to pull up the Preferences pane, select Actions, type shelf in the search field, and make sure Put On Shelf is selected.) To access a shelved file later, type Shelf in Quicksilver and then press the forward slash (/) to get a list of shelved items.—Gina Trapani

Pop-up folders with Butler

Butler ( ) lets me turn any folder into a navigable pop-up menu—like a folder on the right side of the Dock, except it appears wherever my mouse cursor is. For example, let’s say I want quick access to my Macworld Documents folder. First, I open Butler’s configuration screen and drag that folder from the Finder into it. That creates two items in the configuration screen: a container and a folder. After selecting the container named Macworld Documents, I use the Triggers tab’s Hot Key field to assign a trigger—let’s say Option-M. Then I select Opens A Menu Near The Mouse from the drop-down menu below the Hot Key field. If I wanted, I could stop here, and press Option-M to pop up the folder. But as a last step, I assign that same action to one of the buttons on my third-party mouse, using its provided software. Now I can get a navigable pop-up Macworld Documents folder with the click of a button or the press of a few keys.—Rob Griffiths

Buter pop-up menus
With Butler, you can turn any folder into a navigable pop-up menu that can appear wherever your mouse is.

New documents wherever you are

The standard way of creating a new document in a specific folder is clumsy: you open the app, create a new document, select Save, and then navigate to the folder where you want to store the doc. But when I want to create a new document, the folder I want to store it in is usually already open in the Finder. So I use Document Palette ( ). With Document Palette running, I can just press a keyboard shortcut, and a list of document types appears on the screen; I choose one, and a new document of that type is created in the current Finder folder. You can customize the list of document types that appear, and you can include document templates. (For people who prefer a more Windows-like approach, NuFile ( ) lets you create new documents by right-clicking inside a Finder window.)—Dan Frakes

Self-cleaning folders

Although I could use OS X’s built-in Folder Actions to automate file-management chores, I’ve installed Noodlesoft’s $22 Hazel instead, because it lets me do more. Hazel works the same way Mail’s rules do: I define criteria (any file in my Downloads folder that’s older than one month, for example) and an action to run on the files that match it (move them to Trash). Hazel then takes care of the job in the background. Other actions I’ve set up empty my Trash if it hits a certain size, add all MP3 files in my Downloads folder to iTunes, and prompt me to delete related files when I trash an application.—Gina Trapani

Create new Documents folders

Over time, my Documents folder has become cluttered with cruft. I see folders I didn’t create, including Microsoft User Data, Scanner Output (the software for my all-in-one HP printer put that there), My Smilebox Creations, and a WebEx demo file. I don’t like having to wade through it all to find my actual files. So I created two new folders: - Docs and - Files. I then dragged those two folders to the Finder sidebar for easy access; the leading dashes keep them both at the top of my Documents folder list. I also went to Finder -> Preferences -> General and selected - Docs from the New Finder Windows Open drop-down menu; now, whenever I open the Finder, the contents of - Docs are displayed. Whenever possible, I also specify those folders as the default location for documents in specific applications; in Word, for example, that means going to Word -> Preferences -> File Locations and selecting - Docs as the default location for documents.—Mike Glish

Use Path Finder instead

I’ve been using the Mac since System 6 and have always thought the Finder was poorly implemented. I have also used Windows a fair bit, XP in particular, and I prefer its file-navigation tool (Explorer) to the Mac’s. For example, I like right-clicking on files to cut (and move) them, and I like being able to manage files in Save and Open dialog boxes. That’s why I’ve replaced OS X’s Finder with Path Finder ( ). One of my favorite Path Finder tricks is splitting the Finder window, which is much better than creating a new window (as the Finder forces you to do). Path Finder also has more options for placing shortcuts on the toolbar, and I love being able to customize the right-click context menu. My only complaint is that Path Finder doesn’t really integrate with OS X; you have to use it in parallel with the Finder, which can get confusing.—Halvdan Wettre

Path Finder split windows
One of the advantages of Path Finder over OS X's Finder: the ability to split windows.

Move downloaded DMGs automatically

I’ve tweaked my Downloads folder so that applications and updaters—which are typically downloaded as disk images—are automatically moved to another folder (Installers). To do that, I attached a script to my Downloads folder as a folder action. First, I typed the following script into Script Editor (substitute your short user name for username in the fifth line):

on adding folder items to theFolder after receiving theJunk
tell application "Finder"
repeat with aFile in theJunk
if the name of aFile ends with ".dmg" then
move aFile to folder "Installers" of folder "_username_" of folder "Users" of startup disk
end if
end repeat
end tell
end adding folder items to

I then saved it as move dmgs.scpt in my /Library/Scripts/Folder Action Scripts folder. I then created an Installers folder in my Home directory. After that, I right-clicked on my Downloads folder and selected More -> Enable Folder Actions. Right-clicking again, I selected More -> Attach a Folder Action, and chose my saved script in the Choose A File dialog box. Now I don’t have to wade through my overcrowded Downloads folder to find the installer .dmg I want.—Anthony Reimer

Advanced smart folders

I have just one smart folder in the Search For section of my Finder sidebar. It’s named Recent Files, and it shows me the document files that are in my Documents folder and that I’ve updated in the past week. To create it, I ran a Spotlight search in the Finder (Command-F), selected Kind Is Documents, clicked on the plus-sign (+) next to Save, selected Other -> Raw Query from the left-most drop-down menu, and entered this in the query field:

(kMDItemFSContentChangeDate >= $ != *Alias*)

I saved this query as usual, and now I use it all the time.—Kirk McElhearn

Use Automator to batch-process files

While most folks think Automator is good only for automating tasks they do over and over, I use it more for one-off projects. For example, I recently reorganized my old Macworld files; as part of that reorg, I had to rename thousands of files. My files had been named like this: 2008-Mar-20_Thu-Online Review.txt. In my new file-naming scheme, I wanted the month first, not the year; I also wanted to make the day of the week a bit more visible. So the aforementioned file would become 03-20-2008 [Thu]—Online Review.txt. Automator’s built-in file-renaming actions made this batch processing easy; my workflow consisted of two actions from the Files & Folders collection:

Get Selected Finder Items
Rename Finder Items: Replace Text, Find 2008-, Replace **
Rename Finder Items: Replace Text, Find _, Replace -2008
Rename Finder Items: Replace Text, Find -, Replace ]—
Rename Finder Items: Replace Text, Find **Mar, Replace 03

I specified that first action (Get Selected Finder Items) so my workflow would rename only files I’d selected in the Finder; that minimized unintended renaming. I then modified the year and/or month in the workflow as I moved from folder to folder. What could have required hours of tedium took not much more than half an hour. (When you add rename actions to a workflow, Automator will offer to add a Copy To Desktop action before each Rename, in order to create a backup in case the renaming goes awry; you don’t have to, but you can.)—Rob Griffiths

Renaming Automator workflow
With this Automator workflow, Rob Griffiths can quickly rename batches of selected files.

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