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Anatomy of a Mountain Lion Window

Windows are a ubiquitous part of using a Mac running OS X Mountain Lion. When you open a folder, you see a window. When you write a letter, the document that you’re working on appears in a window. When you browse the Internet, web pages appear in a window . . . and so on.

For the most part, windows are windows from program to program. You’ll probably notice that some programs (Adobe Photoshop or Microsoft Word, for example) take liberties with windows by adding features (such as pop-up menus) or textual information (such as zoom percentage or file size) in the scroll-bar area of a document window.

Don’t let it bug you; that extra fluff is just window dressing (pun intended). Maintaining the window metaphor, many information windows display different kinds of information in different panes, or discrete sections within the window.

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If your windows don’t look exactly like the one shown, don’t be concerned. You can make your windows look and feel any way you like.

And so, without further ado, the following list gives you a look at the main features of a typical Finder window:

  • Close, Minimize, and Zoom (gumdrop) buttons: Shut ’em, shrink and place ’em in the Dock, and make ’em grow.

  • View buttons: Choose among four exciting views of your window: Icon, List, Column, and Cover Flow.

  • Arrange menu: Click this little doohickey to arrange this window’s icons by Kind, Application, Date Modified, Date Created, Date Last Opened, Date Added, Size, or Label. Or, of course, by None.

  • Action button: This button is really a pop-up menu of commands you can apply to currently selected items in the Finder window or on the Desktop. (These are generally the same commands you’d see in the shortcut menu if you right-clicked or Control-clicked the same items.)

  • Window title: Shows the name of the window.

    Command-click the name of the window to see a pop-up menu with the complete path to this folder (try it). This tip applies to most windows you’ll encounter, not just Finder windows. So cmd-click a window’s title, and you’ll usually see the path to its enclosing folder on your disk.

    You can also have the path displayed at the bottom of every Finder window by choosing View→Show Path Bar.

  • Search field: Type a string of characters here, and OS X Mountain Lion digs into your system to find items that match by filename or document contents (yes, words within documents).

  • Toolbar: Buttons for frequently used commands and actions.

  • Icon Resizer: Use this slider control to change the size of the icons in this window.

  • Scroll bars: Use the scroll bars for moving around a window.

  • Sidebar: Frequently used items live here.

  • Forward and Back buttons: These buttons take you to the next or previous folder displayed in this particular window.

    If you’re familiar with web browsers, the Forward and Back buttons in the Finder work the same way. The first time you open a window, neither button is active. But as you navigate from folder to folder, these buttons remember your breadcrumb trail so you can quickly traverse backward or forward, window by window. You can even navigate this way from the keyboard by using the shortcuts cmd+[ for Back and cmd+] for Forward.

    The Forward and Back buttons remember only the other folders you’ve visited that appear in that open window. If you’ve set a Finder Preference so that a folder always opens in a new window — or if you forced a folder to open in a new window — the Forward and Back buttons won’t work.

    You have to use the modern, OS X–style window option, which uses a single window, or the buttons are useless.

Kudos to Apple for fixing something that needed it. In Snow Leopard and earlier releases of OS X, if you hid the toolbar, the Sidebar was also hidden, whether you liked it or not. Conversely, if you wanted to see the toolbar, you’d have to see the Sidebar as well. Mountain Lion gives you the flexibility to show or hide them independently in its View menu.

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