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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.

Powerful Column View

I know many people who swear by Column View. One Macworld colleague jokingly said to me, "You mean there are other views?" Column View (View > As Columns or Command-3) shows your files within their hierarchy; you see the folders and files above and below your current folder, each level in a separate column. This makes it easy to move files without having to open multiple Finder windows. Just drag a file from one spot to another in the hierarchy. So Column View is helpful, for example, when you need to zip up and down your Mac's hierarchy to find specific files and move or copy them to other locations.

However, this view can get confusing, especially because when you click on a folder, the Finder may shift all of the window's columns to display its contents. You may have to scroll back and forth horizontally to keep track of things.

You can arrange files according to name, date, size, and so on in Column View by choosing these options from the View Options window, but only the items' names are displayed. So Column View is not useful when you need more information than just names. However, you can choose to see a useful preview column, which shows a large thumbnail of the selected item. And here you can preview photos and videos along with all the file information List View provides, such as size, creation and modification dates, and more.

Taming Column View

Column View can be tricky. For example, it can be hard to figure out how to make new folders appear where you want. This is just a question of being in the proper column. Make sure you click on an item (not a folder) in a column before pressing Command-Shift-N to make a new folder in that column. If you click on a folder, the new folder will appear inside the selected folder.

If you have trouble with files names getting cut off in columns, there a few quick ways to make them legible. Resize a single column by dragging the very bottom of one of the column dividers until you can see the longest file name. Alternatively, double-click on the divider to make it that size automatically. You can Option-double-click to make all columns as wide as the widest column in the Finder window, but this can make the window unmanageably huge. It's usually better to resize all the columns at the same time by pressing and holding the Option key while you drag.

When you use Column View in an Open or Save dialog box, you have one more way to do this. Control-click on the column divider icon (at the bottom of the divider), and you'll see a contextual menu. Choose from Right Size This Column, Right Size All Columns Individually, or Right Size All Columns Equally.


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