Although there are several applications for Mac OS X designed to deal with file management, the Finder remains one of the easiest ways to process your documents thanks to its simple and efficient design. Considering that it comes integrated with the system, the Finder will also run as smoothly as it gets. As a result many users do not go through to the trouble of learning how to use an alternative application, although it may bring many more features.

Still, that does not mean that the Finder could not use some improvements. TotalFinder is a great application/plug-in that brings a rather common notion to your Finder in order to provide a more organized look to your desktop: tabs. The tweak is apparently available only for Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard since this particular version had the Finder rewritten in Cocoa.

In fact, TotalFinder actually integrates into your default Finder application, while placing customization options in the panel added to the default ones in the Finder Preferences window. That does not mean that your Finder is irremediably altered. As a matter of fact Antonin Hildebrand, the application's developer, is pointing out that you have at least two ways of properly uninstalling the application: through the option available in the TotalFinder status bar menu or via the uninstaller that can be found in the application's archive.

If you do not want to use TotalFinder but you want to keep the application installed, just remove it from the login startup items list and launch it whenever you feel the need. When you are done all you have to do is restart the Finder and every thing goes back to normal.

The Finder can be restarted via the TotalFinder status bar menu or through the Terminal by using the killall Finder command. Note that the Finder could also be restarted by other applications installed in your system, but TotalFinder will react exactly the same no matter who is performing the action. TotalFinder is able to deal with all this surprisingly well considering that it is still in development.

The Looks

TotalFinder is making its presence known through a status bar menu that allows you to access the application's Preferences window, check for updates, see when is the current Alpha version expiring or restart the Finder. An important part of the application is connected to the Visor feature and the status menu icon is displayed in black and white if the feature is disabled, and in color if it is active.

Still, the most obvious thing that lets you know TotalFinder is installed is the presence of tabs in your Finder window. Currently the tabs are supposedly following the Opera tabs design but if you are not pleased with their appearance the developer is taking into consideration adding more skins. The top of the window can be adjusted using the Use narrow Tabs Bar feature, although it has an experimental status at the moment.

The Works

It is very important to understand that TotalFinder is working on top of Finder's default features, so before using the TotalFinder's tweaks the user must acknowledge the Finder's dynamic. Each Finder window displays the toolbar on top, the sidebar on the left, the folder content on the right, the information bar on the bottom and on the top right corner the button that allows you to toggle the sidebar.

That is almost everything you need to know to get around, but if you want more you can always go to the Preferences window to set the types of items you want to see on your desktop, the default location of a new Finder window, if you want your folders opened in a new window, the loading delay, the default label names or the items you want to see in your sidebar. On the same note you can choose to see the filenames extension, warnings before changing an extension, before emptying the trash, choose to empty the trash securely and set the perimeter of the search processes.

All these features are there before TotalFinder and will be there after. For example, if you set your Finder to open all your folders in a new window, TotalFinder will respect that but open them in a new tab. The same will happen if you simply add a new tab to the window through the add button situated at the end of the tabs line (or via the universal Command+T shortcut): TotalFinder will open a new tab at the default new window location you specified in the Finder's Preferences.

That does not mean that TotalFinder only adds the tab feature to the big picture. The second most important feature is the Visor: once enabled it will display a system wide window sliding from the bottom of the screen. You have the possibility to toggle the window via your own custom keyboard shortcut, choose to hide it on ESC or pin it through a hotkey.

The same area allows you to specify if you want the window to be situated on top of the Dock, if you want it to be animated through fade or slide effects, the animation duration, and gives you the possibility to enable the FreeForm Window feature. If you are working with Spaces you can choose to see the screen on all of them. Unfortunately there is a certain flinch that accompanies the revealing of this window, even if the animation is disabled, that makes it rather annoying.

TotalFinder is also offering the possibility to stop the creation of .DS_Store files on local folders or to network. Last but not least TotalFinder is providing a set of tweaks that allow you to use keyboard combinations to see the system files, folders on top, toggle the dual mode, choose to always maximize the window, remove the TotalFinder icon from the status bar and keep the original Finder Dock icon.

The dual mode feature might prove to be very useful in certain situations because it gives you the possibility to have two tabs opened in the same window at the same time. An alternative solution is to enable the Freelance Windows feature (experimental at the moment) that allows you to open windows separately for each folder. At the same time, if you drag and drop a certain tab outside the main window it will become a separate window. The action is also working backwards: if you drag and drop a window on another one the first will become a tab in the second window.

Most of these optimizations are self explanatory but if you have doubts on how a certain option affects your workflow just try for yourself: there is nothing that can go wrong. Unfortunately at the moment the developer does not provide a manual so that is the only solution.

Note that you also must take into account the way in which TotalFinder interacts with the entire system. For example if you choose to see the desktop and you open a certain folder or archive you will only see a window that display the content of that particular folder. The other tabs will remain hidden until all windows become active once again. If the folder or archive already has a tab opened in the Finder and you try to open it again from the desktop, you will see the window only when all the other windows become active. It may take a while to get used with the new rules, but your Exposes look will improve almost instantly.

The Good

TotalFinder is extremely easy to use and gives you the possibility to dramatically improve your workflow. Probably the best part is that all your windows are in the same place and, most of the time, the window even keeps its location on your desktop making things a lot easier to find.

The Bad

TotalFinder has not yet reached a stable version and the developer is still experimenting. Also the way in which TotalFinder deals with some situations (the show desktop feature and so on) can be a bit frustrating.

The Truth

TotalFinder's features are extremely useful and provide an improved user experience. At the moment TotalFinder can be used free of charge due to the Alpha status, but I am sure that many of the current users will remain fans for a long time, even when they will have to pay for the application.

Here are some snapshots of the application in action: