Blog Post

Better Mac File Management With TotalFinder

Much as I like Mac OS X (s aapl), I’ve never been happy with the native Finder. Working in DOS (s msft) and Windows got me used to working with files in a certain way. Even after several years of being a Mac user, some simple things about the Finder still annoy me, like OS X’s habit of interspersing folders with files in an alphabetical list, rather than having the folders come first.

But for some reason, I’ve never liked the best-known Finder replacement, Path Finder. I confess that I haven’t tried it for a while, but it just didn’t work well for me. So while reading the comments to Scott’s latest article on moving to the Mac, I was interested to see that there’s now another replacement for Finder, called TotalFinder. I’ve been trying it out, and so far, I like what I’ve found.

I often have more than one Finder window open; TotalFinder allows me to display these windows in tabs. These can be moved around just as in a browser, and you can go into “dual mode” by double-clicking any tab. Dual mode creates two windows side-by-side; very handy for dragging and dropping files between folders.

The Finder windows in the tabs are essentially unchanged. You can customize the columns displayed and the sort order, just like you can in Finder. One nice thing about TotalFinder: you can set the sort order individually for each window.

TotalFinder can be set to display folders at the top of alphabetical lists, and can display system files with a keyboard shortcut, without needing to restart the Finder.

If you’re in an environment that includes both Macs and Windows machines, TotalFinder also includes a function to manage OS X system files like .DS_Store. Other settings can be tweaked from the menu bar. The developer is also working on other features that haven’t yet been implemented, like copy and paste.

TotalFinder requires Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard. The software is available for $15, or you can buy three licenses for $30. Office licensing, and a 14-day trial, are also available.

Do you use a Finder replacement? If so, which one?

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11 Responses to “Better Mac File Management With TotalFinder”

  1. A small comment regarding PathFinder: I purchased PathFinder in the past and I’m really sorry I did. At first, I thought it was powerful and improved my productivity. Eventually, I found it was too heavy on the machine and very poorly integrated with the actual Finder.

    I haven’t tried TotalFinder since I just recently switched to Snow Leopard (it is not supported in Leopard), but I should.

  2. <>

    Why should the alphabet be so special?

    It makes sense for folders to be separate. It is a common organizational task to take loose files and drag them into their appropriate folders, a project made so more complicated by Finder’s inability to separate folders from files.

    I am equally annoyed by the Finder’s insistence in instantly moving a folder into alpha orderas soon as you hit Enter. If I create a new folder in a large directory, it’s much more useful to have the folder stay put until I put what I need into it– and then I can hit “refresh” when I’m done to alphabetize it. Instead, I have to go hunting for it as soon as I hit Enter, which makes file organization slower and more irritating than in Windows.

    One of my other peeves is that the Finder does not do a Merge Folders action like Windows does. I frequently move job folders into other master folders, and I always have to be careful to not overwrite the entire contents. I wish that the finder would at least ASK if you want to merge folders or replace the entire contents. (I suspect the vast majority of the time, users really need “merge” not “replace.”)

    Overall I’m pleased with the Mac OS’s attention to detail, but the Finder is the glaring exception, and I’m constantly wishing that it were designed like the Windows counterpart.

    Thanks for the review of TotalFinder. I’d tried Pathfinder but ultimately never purchased it; maybe I’ll give this one a try.

    • Charles Hamilton


      You’ve answered DustyMac’s questions very well. Everyone has their own way of working, of course, but it’s nice that TotalFinder gives us more options.

      As for merging folders: I agree, and have been experimenting with moveAddict ( You might want to try it and see if it works for you.

  3. I have been using this since early beta. It is one of the most obvious ideas and helpful software that I have installed on my mac. I truly do not understand why mac and pc don’t come with tabs in the finder/explorer. This keeps thing much more organized during my workday.

  4. I started using TotalFinder within the last few weeks and I really have grown attached to it. The brilliance of this thing is that it doesn’t try to do too much. PathFinder is way overkill. TotalFinder implicitly rejects the common criticism that “the Finder sucks” and instead recognizes that the Finder is generally not so bad, but could really benefit from some obvious improvements. Tabs and putting folders at the top of the list order are two such really obvious improvements. These are really simple things that make using the Finder *much* easier and don’t require the user to learn some new complicated thing (we all know how tabs work).

    The mirror-mode thing is clever, but I haven’t used it much yet.

    There are other things that I’d like to see added to the Finder, but the developer here was smart not to take on too much at once.

    And even if Apple does radically improve the Finder in 10.7, we’re not going to actually see 10.7 until at least the middle of next year, so why not enjoy an inexpensive but really useful enhancement like this in the meantime?

    • Charles Hamilton

      It’s an interesting point, although the developer seems committed to maintaining the product. He says “Due to nature of how TotalFinder works, there is a small risk that TotalFinder breaks with future Finder version. I use TotalFinder myself on a daily basis so I am able to spot any potential problems very quickly. So far Finder updates have introduced just minor cosmetic changes. I am also member of Apple Developer Program and have access to pre-release versions of system updates. I’m committed to keeping TotalFinder compatible with Apple’s updates.”

    • Ben Nash

      No. Actually this is perfect timing. My biggest gripe with the Mac is the Finder and all this discussion about merging os x and ios got me thinking about a better finder. Lion won’t be out for another 8 months or so. Thank you for posting this article now. Perfect timing.