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Get the most out of Finder views

Kirk McElhearn | March 3, 2016
You can save time by learning when to use Icon, List, Column, or Cover Flow view.

One program you use all the time is the Finder. It's your Mac's filing system, organizational structure, and overseer. We all know how to open, move, and copy files, but most of us go about our business without ever considering the most efficient way to get these tasks done.

As a prime example, you can use the Finder's View menu options to view files and folders in four different ways, but most people don't know why they'd bother. They stick to one view for all their windows when, in fact, there are valid reasons to use each. Here's how to use the right view at the right time, and save time and trouble in the process.

Flexible Icon View

OS X uses Icon View by default. Select it by choosing View > As Icons, pressing Command-1, or clicking on the Icon View button in a Finder window's toolbar. This view shows your files as familiar icons.

Some people like Icon View because they can arrange file icons as if they were objects on a desk. For example, one group of related items on the left side of a Finder window, and another on the right. Some people don't like Icon View for the same reason; icons can get messy and confusing. They're easy to straighten up, though. Choose View > Clean Up and the icons snap into a grid formation.

Icon options

You can not only place icons wherever you please, but also change how this view looks. From the View Options inspector (View > Show View Options or Command-J), you can, for example, adjust grid spacing (how close together icons appear) and choose a color or picture as a folder background.

Another option lets you set, say, a green background for folders containing important files, and a blue background for folders containing documents you need to edit. Just press Command-J, click on Color (in the Background section near the bottom of the View Options window), and then click on the color well. When the color picker appears, choose your color and click OK. With different backgrounds, you can tell multiple windows apart at a glance.

The options you set in the View Options inspector apply only to the selected folder, unless you select the Use As Defaults option; this applies the change to all folders that use the current view and that haven't already been customized in some way. (It will also apply to new Finder windows you open using File > New Finder Window or Command-N.) This can come in handy when a certain option proves useful for only certain types of files. For instance, choose the Show Icon Preview option to make the Finder display a thumbnail of files' contents (for file types it's familiar with). Since this is most useful for photos and videos—you can see their contents at a glance—you can turn previews on only for folders that contain them.


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