Reclaiming the Finder in Lion

Yes, OS X Lion still has the Finder. Although the latest update to the Mac operating system contains numerous iOS-like features, designed to encourage users to bypass the Finder, the venerable program remains active and even improved in Lion.

It’s true that if you dive head first into the major new features of Lion, such as Launchpad and Mission Control, you’ll wind up spending less time visiting the Finder and the Desktop (a topic I explored more in another column). Even while in the Finder, you can feel the winds of change. For example, the Finder’s new All My Files view organizes your documents by category (e.g., image, PDF, music) without any reference to the drive’s hierarchy or your folder locations.

Despite all of this, if you want Lion’s Finder to behave more or less the way it did in Snow Leopard, you can get it to do so. All that’s required is to modify a few settings. You may already be familiar with these options, as they are also present in Snow Leopard.

Change the All My Files default. In Snow Leopard (and older versions of OS X), if you select New Finder Window (Command-N), the default action is to open a window displaying the contents of the top level of your Home directory. With Lion, the same command opens to the new All New Files view. If you’d rather restore the Home directory view as the default, it’s easy to do: Go to the General tab of Finder Preferences and select the name of your Home directory (probably your username) from the “New Finder windows open” popup menu.

Restore missing sidebar items. In Snow Leopard, the sidebar in Finder windows has the Devices category at the top. Among the items listed in this category are your mounted hard disk(s) and your computer (clicking this opens the same top level view as you get by selecting Computer from the Finder’s Go menu). In Lion, the Devices category is relegated to the bottom of the sidebar. Further, mounted hard disks and computer are no longer displayed by default. This is consistent with Apple’s overall strategy of discouraging users from working with the drive’s hierarchical directory structure. Still, if you want those items back in your sidebars, you can restore them: Navigate to the Sidebar section of Finder Preferences and enable the desired items from the Devices listings.

• Return hard disk icons to the Desktop. Traditionally, an icon for your internal hard disk appears in the upper right corner of the Desktop by default. Other mounted drive icons may appear as well. Actually, I’m not certain this was a default in Snow Leopard. But it’s how my Desktop is setup. If you have drive icons on your Desktop, you may find them gone after updating to Lion. At least that’s what happened to me. Not to worry. You can get them back: Go to the aforementioned General tab of Finder Preferences and select “Hard disks” from the “Show these items of the desktop” options.

• See your Home Library folder. Lastly, in what is perhaps the most dramatic change to the Finder, the Library folder in your Home directory is no longer visible! The folder is still there. It’s just that Apple has hidden it from view. This is another consequence of Apple’s intent to keep mainstream users away from the more “technical” contents of a drive (similar to the UNIX folders which have always been invisible). It’s probably true that the majority of Mac users find the Library folder to be more a source of confusion and intimidation than of help. Still, there are good reasons for maintaining access to the folder’s contents (e.g., plist files, iTunes updates, Internet Plug-Ins, PreferencesPanes). If you’re among those who still want to get inside the Library folder, you have at least two solutions.

The first method is to navigate to the invisible folder. To do so, enter Command-Shift-G in the Finder. This drops down a Go to Folder sheet. From here, type: ~/Library. You’re in. [Update: Thanks to the reader comment below, I can offer an even easier solution: Hold down the Option key after selecting the Finder’s Go menu; the Library item will appear, directly below Home.]

While the first method works, the Library folder itself remains invisible. If you’d rather restore the folder’s visibility, you want the second method. Launch Terminal and type:

chflags nohidden ~/Library

Bingo. When you now view your Home directory in a Finder window, the Library folder will be visible, just as it always was before Lion.

Update added July 25:

More on Library. Yet another alternative of dealing with the invisible Library folder is to drag the Library folder icon (after you access it via one of the other methods) to the Favorites section of the Finder sidebar.

Status bar. To return the status bar to the bottom of Finder windows, go to the Finder’s View menu and select “Show Status Bar.”