Whenever you’ve got a Finder window open, the sidebar can give you one-click access to the items you use most. Items here are arranged by category–Devices, Shared, Places, and Search For. Hide or reveal a category’s items by clicking on the disclosure triangle next to the category name. Click and drag any item away from the sidebar to make it disappear in a puff of smoke. If you want to rearrange items in a category, just slide an item up or down. You can also select Finder: Preferences, click on Sidebar, and then select–or deselect–items in the list there.
Devices: Items in this category include your computer; its hard drive(s); any external drives you have connected; your iDisk (if you have a MobileMe account and have it mounted or use local iDisk syncing); and any CDs, DVDs, or iPods you have connected. This category may also include digital cameras, memory cards, USB drives, and so on.
Using the sidebar’s Devices category, you can quickly eject (or unmount) disks or hard drives. Control-click (or right-click) on a device in the sidebar and select that option in the contextual menu. If the device you want to eject has any open files or is being used–for example, if your iPod is syncing–you’ll get an error message. You can’t eject your startup disk either.
Shared: This category includes other computers or storage devices on your network. Not only Macs show up here; any Windows, Linux, or Unix computers that Apple’s Bonjour networking technology recognizes show up as well. Other shared items will display in this section if you use the Finder’s Go -> Connect To Server command to connect to them. If any computers on your network are missing, you may need to relaunch the Finder: hold down the option key, then click and hold on the Finder icon in the Dock, and then choose Relaunch Finder from the menu that appears. This will update the Finder’s display.
Places: This category lets you access folders and files with a single click. By default, folders such as your Home folder (represented by the house icon with your user name next to it), Applications, Documents, and Desktop will be here. But this part of the sidebar becomes truly useful when you customize it. To add a folder or file to this section–say, for a project you’re currently working on–select it and drag it to the sidebar position you want. Alternatively, select the item in the Finder, press command-T, and then drag it to reposition it.
Move items around so the most important ones are at the top. You’ll notice that the folders at the top level of your user folder (Desktop, Documents, Music, and so on), have custom icons; other folders have plain blue icons unless you give them custom icons. That’s a simple thing to do and makes spotting the folder you need much easier.
You can use one of your own images or get something from the Web. There are lots of free icons out there–from flags to logos to pictures of Apple computers–from sites such as Iconfactory, but you can use any graphic you find. Copy the image. For example, if it’s on a Web page, control-click on the image and choose Copy Image from the contextual menu that appears. Select a folder in the Finder, press command-I, and then click on its folder icon at the top of the Info window. Press command-V to paste the image here. To remove the image, just select the folder in the Finder again, press command-I, click on the custom icon at the top of the window, and then press delete.
The Finder sidebar also appears to the side of Open and Save dialog boxes, making it a great way to save files into folders you use often.
Search For: This section contains smart folders, or saved Finder searches-both the Finder’s default smart folders, such as Today (files you’ve used today) and All Movies (all your video files), and any you’ve created. This is an easy way to access, for example, all of the “hot” projects that you’ve given a red folder label to. Create a smart folder by selecting File -> New Smart Folder. Click on the plus sign (+) underneath the search field, click on the Kind pop-up menu, and then select Other. In the list that appears, select File Label. In the Finder window, click on the red square and then on Save. In the dialog box that appears, name the folder, select the Add To Sidebar option, and then click on Save.