OS X Tips: Navigating Column View from the Keyboard

July 21, 2003 - 2:00am ||| 0 Comments | Add new

It took me a while, but I've really grown enamored with the "column view" (the one with the side-by-side columns that all appear in the same window) in Finder windows in OS X. It's a relief not to have to continually open new windows to find what I want in my 60GB hard drive.

I like columns even more so these days, since I discovered how to navigate them via the keyboard instead of always having to drag the jellybean scrollbars around.

In addition to Finder windows, most of the same keyboard shortcuts I'll talk about also work in the OS X's Open/Save dialogs (technically they're called "sheets" now btw) which you may have noticed don't support any view of your hard drive's files other than column view.

But Open/Save usually has two or three fields which can be active (the field where you name a new file, for example). So before you use the shortcuts there, you need to use the Tab key to make the columnar file list active…just keep pressing Tab till you see a blue outline around the entire column view portion.

In a Finder window in Column view, you don't have to do that, the file listing area is always active.

Now you can use the main keyboard shortcuts: the arrow keys. Tap the right arrow key to move deeper into your folders and the left arrow to back out of them. Use the up and down arrow keys, or tap the first letter(s) of a filename, to choose an item in the targeted column.

What's a targeted column? It's the rightmost pane in your window with a highlighted item. (If you can see a horizontal jellybean —the bottom scrollbar — and it isn't flush right, you're not seeing the targeted column. Tap the right arrow once and it'll scroll immediately there.)

With a highlighted file or folder, pressing the Return key will put the filename in edit mode, allowing you to rename the item. Press Return again when you're done renaming it. Pressing Command-Shift-N adds a new untitled folder to the targeted column in edit mode. (Neither of these works in Open/Save dialogs, for some reason, only in the Finder.)

In the Finder, to open the highlighted file from the keyboard, press Command-O (the letter 'o'). In an Open/Save sheet, press Return to open a file.

You don't have to do anything special to open a folder — as opposed to a file — since as soon as you highlight it, its contents appear in a column to the right. That's one of the main features of column view, after all. But to select a file in that folder, you'll have to tap the right arrow key to target that column first.

Remember that in Open/Save sheets, pressing Command-D will immediately target the Desktop folder just like in OS 9; and Command-Shift-H will target your home directory (your user name).

In Finder windows, Command-D doesn't work, but Command-Shift-H does bring you home. The keyboard navigation keys (home, end, page up and page down) all work as expected to scroll hidden column items into view. Command-[ and Command-] are the same as clicking the Back and Forward buttons. Also, don't forget that just like in OS 9, Command-I opens the Get Info window for a highlighted item, and Command-Delete puts it in the Trash. New in OS X, Command-Z undoes the last thing you did in the Finder… including trashing, moving, and renaming files. Love that feature!

Using the keyboard instead of the scrollbars to move through column views really saves time, especially when you're navigating a folder with hundreds of files, like your Downloads or Fonts folders. Just target the column and press the first letter or two of the filename, or one near to it, to get that area of the column in view. (I know I said that already, but it bears repeating!)

BONUS TIP for those of you who read this far:
Did you know you can copy and paste entire files from the keyboard in the Finder, using our friend the Clipboard? With a file or folder highlighted (not in edit mode), type Command-C, the usual Copy command. Now navigate (via keys or mouse) to another folder but *don't* select any item in its contents. Just keep the folder name highlighted and press Command-V. You'll see a copy of the actual file(s) appear in that folder's list of contents. Unfortunately you can only move duplicates of files around this way, since it's only Copy, not Cut, that's supported.


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