Mac OS X Finder View Modes on Your MacBook - dummies

Mac OS X Finder View Modes on Your MacBook

By Mark L. Chambers

The default appearance of a window in Mac OS X uses the familiar large-format icons that have been a hallmark of the Macintosh operating system since Day One — but there’s no reason you have to use them. Besides the icon view, Mac OS X offers three other window view modes: list, column, and flow.


Mac OS X old-timers will thrill to the slider control at the bottom-right corner of Finder windows in icon view mode. Why? Drag this control to the right to expand the size of the icons within the window, and drag the control to the left to reduce the icon size!

(This is A Big Thing for those who prefer icon view — and it makes quite a difference for those with less-than-perfect eyesight.) The Finder window Status bar must be displayed to see the slider control. If the Status bar is currently hidden, click View→Show Status Bar.

  • List view: Another feature familiar to long-time Mac owners, List view displays the folders on the volume in a hierarchical fashion. To display the contents of a folder, click the right-facing small triangle next to the folder name (called a disclosure triangle, believe it or not).

    It rotates downward to indicate that you’ve expanded the folder. Alternatively, you can double-click the folder icon to display the contents in a Finder window. To collapse the contents of the folder, click the disclosure triangle again; it rotates back to face the right.

    To sort the items in the list by the field in a column heading — such as Size or Kind — click the heading. Click the heading again to sort the items in reverse order.


    You can resize a column by dragging the right edge of the column heading.

  • Column view: Following is the same window in column view, in which the volumes on your Mac OS X system are displayed on the left. Each column on the right represents a lower level of subfolders. Click the volume in the Devices list and then click the desired folder in the first column on the right to display its contents, and so forth.

    When you drill deeper, the columns shift automatically to the left. When you click an item (instead of a folder), the Finder displays a preview and a quick summary of the selected item in the rightmost column.


    Each column has its own scroll bar (for those really, really big folders), and you can drag the column handle at the bottom of the separators to resize the column width to the left. When you hold down Option and drag a column handle, all the columns are adjusted simultaneously.

  • Flow view: When a new software feature or function turns out to be incredibly popular, a developer tries to use it wherever possible — hence the Flow view, which Apple took directly from the Cover Flow view that proved so successful in iTunes (as well as on the iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch).

    Flow view still displays the sidebar, but each document or item is showcased in a preview pane (and with an accurate thumbnail, if possible). You can resize the preview pane by dragging the three-line handle on the bottom edge of the pane.

    The remainder of the Finder window in Flow view works very similarly to list view, complete with the rotating triangles. However, if you like, you can click the scroll buttons or drag the scroll bar under the preview pane to move through the contents of your folder in a very classy visual display!


To switch between the four modes, click one of the four view mode buttons on the Finder window toolbar (the current view is highlighted) or click the View menu and choose As Icons, As List, As Columns, or As Cover Flow.

Mac OS X places a helpful check mark next to the current view mode. (Keyboard lovers can hold down the Command key and press the 1, 2, 3, or 4 keys to switch views.)