Path Finder 4.5, by CocoaTech
Posted: 11-Mar-2007

4 out of 5 Mice

Vendor: CocoaTech Type: SHAREWARE

Reviewer: Robert Zimmerman Class: UTILITY
     
$35   Download

Overview
Path Finder is a shareware program that can mostly replace the Finder on your Macintosh running Tiger (Mac OS X 10.4). It includes many handy features, including built-in access to the Terminal, Console, Text Editor, PDF viewer, and Preview frame. It goes beyond the Finder by having advanced features, including tabs, customizable sidebars, fast find capabilities, and multiple "drawers" for performing actions or keeping track of files and processes. It also has an innovative Drop Stack for moving, burning, and copying files, and a Selection utility that allows selection of files based on multiple criteria. And unlike the Finder, Path Finder allows file sorting and has enhanced sort options in all views, including column view.

Installation
Installation was a breeze - download the disk image, drag the icon to the short cut for your applications folder and you're done. When you run the application, you'll receive a splash screen allowing you to enter a license code, purchase options, or to continue with a 21-day free trial.

Requirements
Any Mac running OS X 10.4 or higher.

Review hardware
2.33 GHZ iMac 2GB memory.

Price
Single user license is $34.95, Upgrades $17.95. Licenses can be purchased from
CocoaTech.

The version reviewed was Path Finder 4.5. Any version numbered 4 and above requires OS X Tiger (10.4.x).

In Use
Path Finder is an application with the capability of being used in place of the Finder, becoming the "Finder on Steroids". The functionality of the Macintosh OS X 10.4 Tiger Finder exists in Path Finder, with the added plus of accessibility of other programs built into this one program. There is instant access to a terminal, the console, a full featured text editor, and viewers for graphics and PDF files. The main Path Finder window, analogous to Finder windows, includes tabs so that access to your files is much quicker than in the Finder itself. Path Finder includes the Stuffit engine, so archiving and unarchiving of files is quick and easy, with support for all types that Stuffit supports.

Tabbed Browsing And the Bookmark Bar
Path Finder has a much requested feature - one due to show up in Leopard - Tabbed Finder Windows, referred to as Tabbed Browsing. This is analogous to the tabbed windows in Safari, but shows up in the Path Finder "Finder" windows, allowing multiple windows to be open within one Path Finder Window, accessible by clicking the appropriate tab in the Tab Bar.


Tabbed Browsing and Bookmark Bar

Along with Tabbed Browsing, Path Finder allows the user to put frequently used folders into the Bookmark Bar (see above). Clicking a bookmark opens a drop-down menu that takes you to the folder the bookmark represents, or any sub-folder.

Special Viewers
Path Finder makes it easy to view file contents with its special viewers. The PDF viewer opens PDF files much faster than Adobe Reader does, right within Path Finder. The Preview window (not to be confused with Apple's "Preview" application) allows the user to preview video, image text, audio, and even HTML files without needing to open a dedicated program like Quicktime Player or Safari.

The built-in Text Editor uses OS X 10.4 technologies to render and edit text files (including Microsoft Word documents) within Path Finder. This includes styled text, paragraph control, and even text-to-speech, all from within the Path Finder program.


Path Finder Text Editor

If you want to look at a file byte-by-byte, the the hex viewer will do just that.

Additionally, Path Finder has a built-in terminal application that allows the user instant access to the OS X terminal functionality without needing to launch Apple's Terminal application. This is a full fledged UNIX terminal, with all the advantages and pitfalls that implies.


Path Finder Terminal Window

Unique to Path Finder are two features that make file management incredibly easy. The first is the Select Tool. With the Select Tool, you have control over what you select well beyond the shift-click or command-click control of the Finder.


Path Finder Selection Tool

You have access to many different criteria, and in what is part Find command and part Selection, you can create individualized selection cases. You can then open, move, copy, or even burn the selection results.

The second true innovation of Path Finder is the Drop Stack. You can select items, place them in the Drop Stack, and then move, copy, or burn items from the Drop Stack - virtually anywhere.


Path Finder Drop Stack

Path Finder also includes a myriad of convenience features. There is a Change Extension Tool that lets you change the file extensions on a batch of files, the aforementioned Terminal and Console windows, and the PDF viewer that is far faster than Preview or Acrobat Reader. Path Finder has a Fast Search that takes over where Spotlight peters out. There is an image conversion facility (PNG to JPG, for instance), an Application menu for quickly finding and switching applications, and .Mac integration. Finally, my favorite feature, non-restrictive sorting of files regardless of view. That means that no matter what viewing mode the user selects (as Icon, as List, or as Columns), the Path Finder program allows you to sort by name, date, size, kind, etc., either up or down.


Path Finder's Sort Criteria

While it is hard to find anything associated with the Finder that Path Finder does not do, there are a couple of limitations. While it is possible to quit the Finder within Path Finder, if something within Tiger calls for the Finder explicitly, it will open the Finder, not revert to Path Finder. An example of this is downloading files via Safari. When the download is complete, Safari activates the Finder, and the Finder pops open and into the foreground, an annoyance. For those who like using the Finder's virtual desktop environment and are looking for something to resolve associated known bugs in the current version of Apple's Finder (bugs that have been around since Mac OS 10.0), Path Finder does not fill that specific need.

The Path Finder interface is definitely more complex than Apple's Finder, but still maintains an intuitive feel. A beginner would quickly pick up enough to be able to operate a Macintosh with Path Finder installed - and find the resulting "Finder on Steroids" superior to the OS X Finder. The help facility can walk the new user through many of the features, and curiosity reveals more features that are not well documented. I've now used Path Finder for over 8 months and have not had a single problem with it. The interface represents a good mix of simplicity with advanced features.

Summary

CocoaTech's Path Finder is a worthy tool for the Mac OS X user. It sports an intuitive yet feature-rich interface that truly brings you the "Finder on Steroids".
It improves the Finder experience with features such as tabbed browsing and enhanced sort options, while also including built-in access to the Terminal, Console, Text Editor, and special viewers. Path Finder's advanced features truly enhance the Finder experience in OS X. Path Finder is not perfect, but CocoaTech is continually making improvements. My biggest complaint about Path Finder is the lack of a comprehensive manual. There is so much to this program, that it is hard to know everything that is possible to do with it. This review has only touched the surface, and many aspects were only found by "rummaging" through the program's menus and acceptably deep help file. Whether you are looking for a quick dip into the Terminal, frustrated by Apple's Finder limitations in sorting, or looking for what is almost an all-in-one browsing experience, Path Finder does it all.

Pros

  • Great Finder Replacement
  • Many Special and Unique Features
  • Fast PDF Viewer
  • Unrestricted Sorting

Cons

  • Lack of comprehensive manual
  • Annoying pop-ups from Finder
  • Does not address virtual desktop experience

Overall Rating

4 out of 5 Mice