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Enhance OS X's Features

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12/11/2012 11:50:47 PM

Frustrated with your Mac? Make it easier to use with these free tools

When it comes to using your Mac on a day-to-day basis, there’s no getting away from the fact that Finder – the Mac’s file-management tool – plays a key role. With each successive release of OS X it gets tinkered with that little bit more, but the end result often comes up short of expectations.

There’s a blossoming market for Finder-enhancement tools, from the excellent Default Folder X to TotalFinder, but they all cost money. Thankfully, there’s also a growing collection of free tools out there that can help you revamp Finder to better suit your needs. In this article we’ll introduce you to the best of them.

 XtraFinder adds a number of much-requested features to the Finder that Apple has yet to deliver

XtraFinder adds a number of much-requested features to the Finder that Apple has yet to deliver

The biggest single improvement you can make to Finder without incurring any cost is to install XtraFinder (trankynam.com/xtrafinder). This app has only been in existence since February, but has already evolved into a viable alternative to paid-for Finder replacement tools. As the annotation opposite reveals, it provides you with a number of different ways to consolidate all those disparate Finder windows into a single, convenient frame, utilizing tabs and a dual-paned window to make it easy to navigate and transfer files.

XtraFinder also adds a number of useful extra features to the finder context menus, allows you to move files via cut and paste, and even lets you change the main Finder navigation pane to a dark background.

On its own, XtraFinder is enough to radically transform Finder for the better, but you can push the boat out even further with the help of more free tools, whether it’s controlling how windows are resized and positioned, renaming large groups of files quickly or replacing Spotlight with something more intuitive. Whatever your needs, we’ve got it covered – and once you’ve discovered how these free apps can improve your workflow, you won’t go back.

Window management

Manually resizing windows can be a pain – perhaps you want to maximize a window without using full-screen mode, or you’d like to place two windows side-by-side on-screen. SizeWell (sizewellplugin.com) is a free SIMBL plug-in that makes it easy to manage all the open windows on-screen by providing a host of options for resizing and positioning windows when you click the green maximize button on an application or Finder window.

SizeWell also introduces a number of tools to help you resize windows manually. These include a handy option that displays the dimensions of a window as you resize it. Snow Leopard users also gain enhancements added to Finder in Lion, such as being able to click on the edge of a window to resize it horizontally or vertically.

SizeWell doesn’t work with all application windows, but if you run into problems with a particular program, you can instruct SizeWell to ignore it via its System Preferences pane. For a guide to installing and using SizeWell to resize windows using its many preset settings, see the step-by-step guide below.

Ditch Spotlight

If you’re looking for a more intuitive alternative to Spotlight, then you should download and install QuickSilver (qsapp.com). Not only does it let you quickly find anything on your Mac, it’s also designed to give you options for actually using what you’ve found.

The setup assistant will take you through all the available options, and there are plugins available that link QuickSilver to key apps such as Mail, iTunes, Address Book and various web browsers, including Safari. Then pick your chosen hotkey – Ctrl + [space] is the default – and you’re good to go.

Whenever you press the QuickSilver hotkeys, it will appear on-screen. Simply start typing the name of what you’re looking for and a list of available files and shortcuts – including applications, documents and web address – will appear. Clicking one performs the default operation – typically opening a program or file – but pressing * followed by ‚ reveals a host of other options, such as Open with, Move to folder and so on.

But it doesn’t end there: over time QuickSilver monitors your habits and learns to anticipate them, so he more you use it, the more useful it’ll become.

Remove programs

The usual option for uninsalling programs from your Mac is o drag the program from the Applications folder into the Trash. A better option, if you like to ensure your Mac’s hard drive doesn’t become littered with leftover detritus, is to employ the services of AppCleaner (freemacsoft.net/appcleaner).

Keep your hand drive free from dutter by using AppCleaner to remove any unwanted programs from your Mac

Keep your hand drive free from dutter by using AppCleaner to remove any unwanted programs from your Mac

Fire up the app, then either drag the program icon onto it or click one of the three options – Applications, Widgets or Others – to manually search your hard drive for items to remove. Tick the box next to an unwanted program, click Search and wait for the results to show up before clicking Delete to ensure most, if not all, of the program is actually removed from your Mac.

A mountain of tweaks

Many hidden Finder settings can be accessed with the help of third-party tools, and TinkerTool (bresink.com/osx/TinkerTool.html) is one of the best freebies out there. It lets you enable hidden settings, like adding a quit option to the Finder menu or showing hidden files and folders by default. It also allows you to streamline Finder by removing unwanted options. You get to control how many items are shown in the Recent Items menus, plus deactivate the Dashboard if you don’t need it. Lion users will also appreciate the ability to control the Resume setting for individual applications.

Tweak hidden settings for both Finder and other parts of OS X with the help of Tinkertool

Tweak hidden settings for both Finder and other parts of OS X with the help of Tinkertool

How to add missing features to Finder

1.    Resize and position windows quickly

Download SizeWell from sizewellplugin.com – double-click the DMG file and follow the instructions to install the program. Once installed, all of the program’s functions are active by default; use the System Preferences pane to disable any you don’t need. When you next come to resize a window, click its green maximize button and the SizeWell menu appears, giving you a choice of standard zoom, plus full screen, half/third/quarter-size options and popular resolutions such as HD 720. Select Positioning and you can choose to pin your window o a particular edge or corner of the screen, or choose Screen to move between desktops.

2.    Rename lots of files, fast

Finder isn’t up to the task of bulk file renaming, but NameChanger (mrrsoftware.com/MRRSoftware/NameChanger.html) is, allowing you to rename files by adding, removing and replacing characters using one of 10 methods. Just select your files or folders by drag-and-drop, choose your rename method from the dropdown menu and then use the original and new boxes to enter the text you wish to remove, add or replace. You can also name files sequentially, insert dates and use wildcards for more sophisticated renaming needs. NameChanger providers a preview of your changes, allowing you to avoid mistakes before click Rename.

3.    Keep an eye on free space

When it to finding out where all that free space has gone, Finder providers some help via the Storage section when you choose About This Mac. If you want help tracking down space-hogging files by their physical location on your hard drive, however, you’ll need to employ the services of Disk Inventory X (derlien.com). Select your drive and click Open Volume, wait while your drive is scanned and then use the graphical chart to help track down large files for archiving or deleting. The scan can take some time, so if you have an inkling of where hose large files are, click the … button to select a folder instead.

4.    Power up Force Quit

The Force Quit function is quite brutal, and while you can also close applications using Activity Monitor, it’s all a bit convoluted. Ctrl Alt Delete (free on the App Store) provides you with an alternative means of monitoring and closing programs via the Ctrl + U + Ö keyboard shortcut or menu bar icon. You’ll have access to a greater number of processes, plus you can attempt to close programs – including Ctrl Alt Delete itself – smoothly first before resorting to the Force Quit option. Ctrl Alt Delete also adds options for logging off, sleeping, restarting or shut down, all with customizable delays.

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