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Monday, October 08, 2007, 09:40 am PT (12:40 pm ET)

Road to Mac OS X Leopard: Finder 10.5


Leopard Toolbar: Cover Flow and Quick Look

In addition to the existing forward and back buttons of the existing Finder, and its Icon, List, and Column views, the new Finder offers a Cover Flow view. It's not always the most useful view, but is handy in some circumstances. It's more useful than one might imagine because Leopard now generates dynamic icon previews for files (below), similar to Windows Vista. Previously, generating a preview required a helper application, and was not dynamic. In Leopard, the icon displayed shows a live preview of the actual contents of the file.

Leopard Finder


If you're looking through a directory of images, Cover Flow makes a lot of sense. However, it's also useful for scanning through a huge pile of HTML files with unintelligible names; Cover Flow very rapidly renders each page so you can visually peruse the directory contents looking for the page you need. It doesn't just show tiny album art versions either; enlarge the Finder window, and it will display live previews of documents at about 75% of actual size. The glossy black background and reflection on the polished virtual floor adds a nice touch, too.

Leopard Finder


To view more of the document, or multiple pages of a document, mouse over and select pages. Movies will play directly from the Cover Flow view. Hit the spacebar and the new Quick Look pops up a window containing a full sized, read-only view of the document, instantly.

Quick Look weaves throughout Leopard, not just within the Finder. Additionally, any third party developer can build Quick Look plugins for the custom file types they create, allowing users to preview specialized files beyond the basic filetypes Apple supports natively.

A Quick Look button (the unblinking eye, below) can also be added to the Finder window using Customize Toolbar. An Info button that pops up the classic Get Info panel is also an option, along with a Path button, which drops down a listing of the file's enclosing folders. This path drop down has long been a hidden feature revealed by Apple-clicking on the document's proxy icon in middle of the window bar. The Finder Toolbar also functions as a shelf, allowing files, folders, and applications to be dragged into the Toolbar as they can be in existing versions of the Finder.

Leopard Finder


Finder Spotlight Search

Currently in Tiger, entering a Spotlight query into the menu bar and then selecting "Show All" opens up a special Spotlight search window. In Leopard, this search is opened in a standard Finder window, which makes a lot more sense. Entering a search query into the search bar of a Finder window is now consistent with using the menu bar Spotlight.

In both cases, you now get search results in a Finder window, which can be isolated to a specific folder, disk, or to a server. A simple search menu bar button lets you select between searching against file contents or file names. Additional search criteria can be added, and a query can be saved. Be default, saved searches are added to the Finder sidebar, and also to the users' ~/Library/Saved Searches folder.

Spotlight searches from menu bar can also now accommodate more complex searches. On its Leopard page, Apple notes, "From the Finder or the menu bar, Spotlight in Leopard lets you search for more specific sets of things. Use Boolean logic to narrow search results by entering “AND,” “OR,” or “NOT” into a search request. You can also search for exact phrases (using quotation marks), dates, ranges (using greater than [>] and less than [
The More Things Change...

What is interesting about Leopard's Finder is that despite its appearance update and practical new features, there isn't a lot that has obviously changed. There aren't piles of features tacked on, or lots of new preferences, or slide out drawers that provide access to the Terminal, or a clutter of new buttons to learn. Despite being "all new," the Finder is really a clean refinement of what we already have in Tiger.

There are lots of subtle, useful updates and new technologies. For example, it's now possible to set user permissions on files using Access Control List-style permissions. While ACLs were supported in Tiger, there was no way to set or change them in the Finder; it could only set Unix style permissions. ACLs allow arbitrary read and write rights to be granted to any user, not just the Unix style user/group/everyone permissions.

There are also a series of other helper applications that integrate into the Finder or desktop that are so tightly bound to it that they appear to be part of the Finder itself. For example, the Archive Utility is called to create or unpack archive files such as Zip archives, and CD and DVD disc burning and DMG file mounting are Finder features provided by other helper apps.

Perhaps most striking about the Leopard Finder is that it continues to use the old Amelio-era, two tone blue grinning heads logo. Apple wiped away a variety of other icons and replaced them with new ones — including the System Preferences icon that adopted the new iPhone style gears icon. However, it left the old Mac OS face at the end of the Dock. Surely Steve Jobs can't like that goofy icon, but it appears to be stuck there.