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How to Set Finder Preferences in Mountain Lion

You can find Finder and Desktop preferences in Mountain Lion by choosing Finder→Preferences. In the Finder Preferences window that appears, you find four panes: General, Labels, Sidebar, and Advanced.

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General pane of the Finder preferences window

In the General pane, you find the following options:

  • Show These Items on the Desktop check boxes: Select or deselect these check boxes to choose whether icons for hard drives; external disks; CDs, DVDs, and iPods; and connected servers appear on the Desktop. OS X Mountain Lion deselects all four options by default (which differs from earlier versions of Mac OS, which enabled all four by default).

    If you don’t want disk icons cluttering your beautiful Desktop, deselect (clear) these check boxes. When they’re deselected, you can still work with hard drives, CDs, DVDs, and other types of disks. You just have to open a Finder window and select the disk or disc you want in the Sidebar.

  • New Finder Windows Open pop-up menu: Here, you can choose whether opening a new Finder window displays All My Files, your Home folder (which is my preference), the Documents folder, or other disk or folder. (All My Files is the default.)

  • Always Open Folders in a New Window check box: Selecting this box spawns a new window each time you open a folder or disk. (Old-timers may recognize this behavior from Mac OS 9.)

    Don’t enable it and windows open “in place,” which prevents window clutter. If you want a new window, press Command before you double-click. This forces the folder to open in a new window.

  • Spring-loaded folders and windows: This one’s easier to do than to explain, so do this: Select the check box to enable the feature, and then drag any icon (except a disk icon) onto any folder or disk icon. When the folder or disk icon is highlighted, don’t release the mouse button.

    After a delay (which you set via the Delay slider), the highlighted folder icon “springs” open. If you drag the item onto another folder now, that folder springs open. And so on. This continues until you release the mouse button, at which time the item you’re dragging is dropped into whichever folder is open at the time.

    Notice that each time you drag the item onto a different folder the previous folder springs shut automatically. That’s spring-loaded folders for you.

As long as the check box is checked, you can make folders spring open instantly by pressing the spacebar, regardless of the delay you’ve specified with the Delay slider.

Labels pane of the Finder preferences window

The Labels pane lets you rename the colored labels that appear in the File menu. The default names are the same as their color, but you can change them to anything you like by entering new labels in the text boxes.

To assign a label to any icon, select the icon, choose File→Label, and then click one of the colored dots. The selected icon takes on that color. Why would you want to do that? Well, partly because colorized icons are festive, but mostly because you can then use the label as one of the criteria for searches.

Here’s an example: If you apply the red label to every file and folder associated with, say, Project X — all the folders, DOC files, PDF files, JPEG files, and so on — you can later search for items with the red label and see all these items at once, regardless of what folder they’re stored in or what application created them. That said, many users find labels useless and go years without ever applying a single label to a file or folder.

Sidebar pane of the Finder preferences window

The Sidebar pane lets you choose which items are displayed in the Sidebar. Select the check box to display the item; deselect the check box to not display it.

Advanced pane of the Finder preferences window

The Advanced pane is just big enough to offer the following check boxes and a pop-up menu:

  • The Show All Filename Extensions check box tells the Finder to display the little two-, three-, four-, or more-character filename suffixes (such as .doc in summary.doc) that make your Mac’s file lists look more like those of a Linux user. The Finder hides those from you by default, but if you want to be able to see them in the Finder when you open or save files, you need to turn on this option.

  • The Show Warning before Changing an Extension check box allows you to turn off the nagging dialog that appears if you attempt to change the two-, three-, four-, or more-character file extension.

  • The Show Warning before Emptying the Trash check box (on by default) allows you to turn off the nagging dialog telling you how many items are in the Trash and asking whether you really want to delete them.

  • The Empty Trash Securely check box makes Secure Empty Trash the default. The Secure Empty Trash feature overwrites deleted files with meaningless data so neither the files nor their contents can be recovered.

  • The When Performing a Search pop-up menu lets you choose the default search location when you initiate a search. Your choices are Search This Mac, Search the Current Folder, and Use the Previous Search Scope.

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