Basics of the Anatomy of a Window in OS X Mavericks - dummies

Basics of the Anatomy of a Window in OS X Mavericks

By Bob LeVitus

Windows are a ubiquitous part of using a Mac and OS X Mavericks. 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), custom toolbars, or textual information (such as zoom percentage or file size) that may appear around the edges of the 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.

The following list gives you a look at the main features of a typical Finder window.


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.

Meanwhile, here’s what you see (clockwise from top left):

  • 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 menu: 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 Command-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, as shown in the active window.

  • Share menu: Another button that’s actually a menu; click it to share selected files or folders via e-mail, Messages, or AirDrop.

  • Tags menu: Yet another button/menu; click it to assign a tag to the selected files or folders.

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

  • Full screen button: Click it to expand the window to full screen.

  • Toolbar: Buttons for frequently used commands and actions.

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

  • Sidebar: Frequently used items live here.

  • Window Resizer: This helpful little visual cue appears when you hover over an edge or corner of a window, or over the dividing line between two panes in the same window (the sidebar and main area of Finder windows, for example). If you click a Resizer, you can then drag the edge, corner, or dividing line to resize the window or pane.

  • 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 Command+[ for Back and Command+] 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.

Top o’ the window to ya!

Take a gander at the top of a window — any window. You see three buttons in the top-left corner and the name of the window in the top center. The three buttons (called gumdrop buttons by some folks because they look like, well, gumdrops) are officially known as Close, Minimize, and Zoom, and their colors (red, yellow, and green, respectively) pop off the screen. Here’s what they do:

  • Close (red): Click this button to close the window.

  • Minimize (yellow): Click this button to minimize the window. Clicking Minimize appears to close the window, but instead of making it disappear, Minimize adds an icon for the window to the right side of the Dock.

    To view the window again, click the Dock icon for the window that you minimized. If the window happens to be a QuickTime movie, the movie continues to play, albeit at postage-stamp size, in its icon in the Dock.

  • Zoom (green): Click this button to make the window larger or smaller, depending on its current size. If you’re looking at a standard-size window, clicking Zoom usually makes it bigger. Click the Zoom button again to return the window to its previous size.