This article refers to Mac OS X 10.4 (Tiger); some details may be a bit dated. Update, February 2008: Leopard added some new features to the sidebar. Watch for an updated article.]
The point of owning a computer is to make it do as much work as possible so you can do fewer of the tedious tasks and have more fun. Most of us would rather spend more time looking at our photos, listening to music or making a DVD and less time finding files and dealing with tidying up.
Display the Sidebar
The Finder Sidebar is more than just a pretty strip of icons. Make sure the Sidebar is visible by clicking the ‘lozenge’ in the top right corner of any Finder window.
Remove unused icons
Visit the Finder Preferences (
Command comma) and choose what you want to see in the Sidebar. Drag folders you don’t need away from the Sidebar and the icon will disappear in a puff of smoke. This does not remove the folder from your hard drive.
Add folders you often use
I often need to visit folders for client projects, websites I create, my accounts, downloads and email attachments so I’ve added these to the Sidebar. One click and I’m in that folder, even if it’s buried deep inside my Documents folder.
Just drag any folder on to the Sidebar to add it as a target destination (a shortcut or alias). You can move files and folders into any folder on the Sidebar by dragging them on top of the icon.
Warning: Watch for the horizontal line which shows you will drop the item between two other folders. If you drop a folder directly onto a highlighted icon then the folder you’re trying to add to the Sidebar will move into that targeted folder.
Use the Sidebar in Open and Save
Using the Sidebar in the Finder is useful enough but its real strength comes when you want to Save or Open from inside another application. Inside the Open or Save dialog box click on the Sidebar to be instantly taken to the relevant folder, however deeply hidden it may be on your hard drive.
Change the sequence
From any dialog box it’s easiest to reach the Sidebar items which are closer to the top. It’s very efficient to put your most commonly used items at the top and move less used folders down.
Open any Finder window and just drag icons around in the Sidebar. In Tiger the other icons will move out of the way to let the newcomer in.
Tiger (Mac OS X 10.4) brought us Smart Folders. Go the the File menu and choose New Smart Folder. Enter some search terms and the Finder will locate relevant files and folders. Now click the Save button and be sure to check the Add To Sidebar box. Now you can always access those files from the Sidebar.
While the Sidebar displays on the left side of a window and holds icons for folders, files and saved searches the Toolbar lies across the top of the window. You can customise it to hold the functions you find most useful.
Choose Customize Toolbar… from the View menu or Control click on the Toolbar itself.
If there are icons you don’t need then drag them out while you’re in the Customize mode. Drag new icons from the Customize window. Click Done when you’re finished.
I frequently need to Get Info on files so I’ve added a Get Info button to my Toolbar. You can also drag files and folders onto the Toolbar for easy access. I’ve added my Anti-virus software to the Toolbar so I can easily check files.
To remove icons from the Toolbar hold down the Command key and drag them out. This only removes the icon from the Toolbar, not the file itself from the machine.
Use the Sidebar and Toolbar so your Mac works harder while you take it easy.
First published in Macguide magazine Issue #25 January / February 2006 and republished with permission. This article may have been modified from the original.