Here in Mac Gems, I’ve covered a number of ways to manage Finder windows, including Witch (, review, preview), WindowFinder (), and MondoMouse (). But these utilities are focused on letting you quickly switch to particular windows (in the case of Witch and WindowFinder) or easily move and resize any window (MondoMouse). What if you want to manage your Finder windows? That’s where Jon Nathan’s Finder Window Manager 1.9.6 (; $15 ) comes in.
Finder Window Manager is based on the idea that people use different groups of folders for different projects. For example, when I’m working on Playlist reviews, I have four particular folders open; when I’m working on a Mac Gems column, three different folders are open. Finder Window Manager lets you create sets of Finder windows—and the view settings for those windows!—that you can quickly switch between using a simple menu-bar menu.
To create a new set, you just open all the windows to be included in the set (and close all those you don’t want included), arrange the windows in their desired placements onscreen, and choose your preferred view options (icon/list/column view, toolbar visibility, window size, Calculate Sizes, and so on). Then you choose Create New Window Set from Finder Window Manager’s menu-bar menu and provide a name for the set. You can create as many sets as you want.
The process isn’t instantaneous, but it’s still fairly quick, and every window opens in exactly the same position, with the same view options, as when you saved the set. And sets don’t just open windows; they also close any windows that aren’t part of the set. (Although I like this feature, I wish there were a way—for example, by holding down the option key when you choose a set—to keep current windows and open the set’s windows, as well.)
If you move windows around or change their view options, but you decide want to go back to the original layout, you can just choose the set from the menu again and everything will be restored to the original positions. If you want to add or remove a window to or from a set, or change the view options of one or more windows, you can update the set to reflect these changes, although the process isn’t obvious: After making your modifications, you choose Create New Window Set, enter the exact same name as the existing set, and then click the button to replace the existing set. (In other words, you’re actually replacing the set with a new one.) A simple “Update Set” command would be much easier.
Another minor interface issue is that you can’t manually rearrange the order of sets in the menu; however, sets are sorted alphabetically, so you can name sets—either when they’re created or by using the Rename Window Set command—with numbers at the beginning to force them to appear in the desired order.
These window-set features alone will make Finder Window Manager appealing to a good number of users, but the application also provides a number of interesting actions, which the developer calls utilities, for arranging and managing windows. Available from the Utilities submenu, these actions let you, for example, close all but the frontmost window, expand all windows minimized to the Dock, cycle through windows, stack or tile windows, clone a window (making an exact copy next to it for working with and comparing files), and even precisely—down to the pixel—position or resize a window on the screen. Many of these utilities have their own settings in Finder Window Manager’s settings dialog. For example, you can choose, quite finely, exactly how windows should be tiled or stacked.
An especially handy action is Open Special Folder, which provides an extensive list of folders (preferences, caches, Trash, and so on) that are commonly accessed but buried several levels deep in your hard drive; choose one from the list and click Open, and it’s opened in the Finder without having to navigate to it.
Finally, one of the most interesting—and potentially useful—utilities is Parent Cloner, which is designed to let you set up your preferred view options for a folder and then copy those settings to all subfolders (up to nine levels down). Unfortunately, due to a bug in Tiger, this feature doesn’t work reliably on Mac OS X 10.4. The developer says he’s brought this bug to Apple’s attention, but until Apple fixes it, this feature may not work for you.
Finder Window Manager’s other big feature is The Watcher, which watches open Finder windows and automatically customizes them according to your preferences. For example, when you open a new window, The Watcher can automatically change to List-view mode, hide the toolbar, show particular columns (making each your desired width), set the sorting to Date Modified, change the window size and position, and enable Calculate All Sizes. In other words, people who have been waiting for years for the ability to have all windows open a certain way can use The Watcher to approximate this behavior until Apple finally implements it in the Finder. (One feature I’d like to see is the ability to turn The Watcher off but make its apply-these-view-options functionality available—on a per-window basis—via a menu or keyboard command.)
Many of Finder Window Manager’s commands have keyboard shortcuts, and for those that don’t, the developer has provided AppleScripts for use in conjunction with a launcher such as Butler, LaunchBar, or QuickSilver. Finder Window Manager also provides a window that lets you manage sets, access the window utilities, and open the preferences window, but, in my opinion, the menu-bar menu and keyboard shortcuts are much more convenient.
Unfortunately, Finder Window Manager’s features work—as its name suggests—only in the Finder; you can’t use them to manage windows in other applications. But my biggest complaint about Finder Window Manager is that its menu commands are occasionally unavailable. At first, I thought that the commands were simply greyed out whenever the Finder was in the background, which would have made sense. However, there were also times when these commands were unavailable in the Finder, as well. According to the developer, this is an issue with AppleScript Studio—which was used to create Finder Window Manager—when certain third-party software is installed; for example, software that uses the SIMBL plug-in system can have this effect on Finder Window Manager. But apart from this occasional wierdness, Finder Window Manager worked well for me.
Finder Window Manager isn’t for everyone. But if you regularly work with different sets of folders and windows, it’s a handy way to switch between those sets without having to manually close and open everything each time. And those who are particularly particular about their onscreen window organization will appreciate Finder Window Manager’s handy utilities and its Watcher feature.
Finder Window Manager works with Mac OS X 10.3.9 or later and is a Universal binary.
UPDATE 6/13/07 4:10pm: Updated to include information from developer on “greyed-out menu” issue.