The weird way Finder tabs and folders work in OS X

Finder iconApple introduced tabs to Finder windows with OS X Mavericks, which is a fact that is very easy to forget. This is partly because old Mac users aren’t used to them and partly because the feature is hidden. It is very easy to simply carry on exactly as we always have completely oblivious to the fact that there are tabs. They also work in non-obvious ways.

To see what I mean, open a finder window, then go to Finder, Preferences and on the General tab is the option Open folders in tabs instead of new windows. Tick it, then go to the Finder window and double click a folder to open it. Did it appear on a new tab? No, the new folder’s contents replaced the current Finder window contents just as it always did. Turning this option off also has no effect.

Finder preferences in OS X

This is non-intuitive and non-obvious, and it is easy for people new to OS X, and even old timers, to completely miss the folders feature.

To open a window in a folder, first enable the feature in Finder, Preferences, General. Then in a Finder window, hold down the Command key and double click a folder. A tab bar appears and the folder appears on a new tab.

Finder in OS X

If you turn the option off in preferences, Command+double clicking a folder opens it in a new window. So the preferences option only effects Command+double clicking.

Right click (Ctrl+click) a tab and a useful menu is displayed. You can open a new tab, close the one you clicked, or close all other tabs except this one. Tabs can be moved out into their own window, but instead of going through the menu it is easier to just click and drag a tab out of the Finder window. Drag and drop a tab onto the desktop to open it in a separate window.

Tabs in Finder in OS X

If Command clicking a folder does something special, you might wonder whether other keys like Shift, Ctrl and Option do something. Shift and Ctrl don’t, but Option is has an interesting effect, although it is hard to imagine a scenario where it might be useful.

Hold down Option and double click a folder. This opens the folder, but without the history. This means that you cannot click the back arrow button to go back to the previous folder.

There is a brief flash as you Option+double click a folder and what appears to be happening is that the new folder is opened in a new Finder window, which therefore has no history, and the old Finder window is closed.

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