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OS X El Capitan: The Missing Manual by David Pogue

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List View

In windows that contain a lot of icons, list view is a powerful weapon in the battle against chaos. It shows you a tidy table of your files’ names, dates, sizes, and so on (Figure 1-17).

You get to decide how wide your columns should be, which of them should appear, and in what order (except that Name is always the first column). Here’s how to master these columns.

You control the sorting order of a list view by clicking the column headings (top). Click a second time to reverse the sorting order (bottom). You’ll find the or triangles—indicating the identical information—in email programs, iTunes, and anywhere else where reversing the sorting order of a list can be useful.

Figure 1-17. You control the sorting order of a list view by clicking the column headings (top). Click a second time to reverse the sorting order (bottom). You’ll find the or triangles—indicating the identical information—in email programs, iTunes, and anywhere else where reversing the sorting order of a list can be useful.

Sorting the List

Most of the world’s list-view fans like their files listed alphabetically. It’s occasionally useful, however, to view the newest files first, largest ones first, or whatever.

When a desktop window displays its icons in list view, a convenient new strip of column headings appears. These headings aren’t just signposts; they’re buttons, too. Click Name for alphabetical order, Date Modified to view the newest first, Size to view the largest files at the top, and so on.

Don’t miss the tiny or that appears in the column you’ve most recently clicked. It shows you which way the list is being sorted. When it’s , then the oldest files, smallest files, or files beginning with numbers (or the letter A) appear at the top of the list, depending on which sorting criterion you have selected.

Tip

It may help you to remember that when the smallest portion of the triangle is at the top (), the smallest files are listed first when viewed in size order.

To reverse the sorting order, click the column heading a second time. Now the shows you that the newest files, largest files, or files beginning with the letter Z appear at the top of the list.

Note

You can also change the sorting order using the Sort By command described earlier (in the View menu, the pop-up menu, or the View Options dialog box). But, honestly, clicking the column headings is much faster.

Arranging the List

You can arrange your list view into groups by name, date, kind, and so on, with tidy headings that help you make sense of it all. This unsung feature is described under Arrange By and Sort By.

Flippy Triangles

One of the Mac’s most attractive features is the tiny triangle that appears to the left of a folder’s name in a list view. In its official documents, Apple calls these buttons disclosure triangles; internally, the programmers call them flippy triangles. (They don’t appear if you’ve sorted the window using the View→Arrange By menu.)

When you click one, the list view turns into an outline, showing the contents of the folder in an indented list, as shown in Figure 1-18. Click the triangle again to collapse the folder listing. You’re saved the trouble and clutter of opening a new window just to view the folder’s contents.

Click a “flippy triangle” (left) to see the list of the folders and files inside that folder (right). Or press the equivalent keystrokes: (to open) and (to close).

Figure 1-18. Click a “flippy triangle” (left) to see the list of the folders and files inside that folder (right). Or press the equivalent keystrokes: (to open) and (to close).

By selectively clicking flippy triangles, you can in effect peer inside two or more folders simultaneously, all within a single list-view window. You can move files around by dragging them onto the tiny folder icons.

Tip

Once you’ve expanded a folder by clicking its flippy triangle, you can even drag a file icon out of the folder so that it’s loose in the list-view window. To do so, drag it directly upward onto the column headings area (where it says Name, for example). When you release the mouse, you see that the file is no longer inside the expanded folder.

Your Choice of Columns

Choose View→Show View Options. In the dialog box that appears, you’re offered on/off checkboxes for the different columns of information OS X can show you, as illustrated in Figure 1-19:

  • Date Modified. This date-and-time stamp indicates when a document was last saved. Its accuracy, of course, depends on the accuracy of your Mac’s built-in clock.

    Note

    Many an up-to-date file has been lost because someone spotted a very old date on a folder and assumed that the files inside were equally old. That’s because the modification date shown for a folder doesn’t reflect the age of its contents. Instead, the date on a folder indicates only when items were last moved into or out of that folder. The actual files inside may be much older, or much more recent.

    The checkboxes you turn on in the View Options dialog box determine which columns of information appear in a list-view window. Many people live full and satisfying lives with only the three default columns—Date Modified, Kind, and Size—turned on. But the other columns can be helpful in special circumstances; the trick is knowing what information appears there.

    Figure 1-19. The checkboxes you turn on in the View Options dialog box determine which columns of information appear in a list-view window. Many people live full and satisfying lives with only the three default columns—Date Modified, Kind, and Size—turned on. But the other columns can be helpful in special circumstances; the trick is knowing what information appears there.

  • Date Created. This date-and-time stamp shows when a document was first saved.

  • Date Added. This option shows when a file was added to this folder or window.

  • Size. With a glance, you can tell from this column how much disk space each of your files and folders is taking up in kilobytes, megabytes, gigabytes, or terabytes—whichever the Mac thinks you’ll find most helpful.

    Tip

    For disks and folders, you see only a dash—at first. You can, however, instruct the Mac to reveal their sizes, as described on Rearranging Columns.

  • Kind. In this column, you can read what kind of file each icon represents. You may see, for example, Folder, JPEG Image, Application, and so on.

  • Version. This column displays the version numbers of your programs. For folders and documents, you just see a dash.

  • Comments. This rarely seen column (Figure 1-20) can actually be among the most useful. Suppose you’re a person who uses the Comments feature (highlight an icon, choose File→Get Info, type notes about that item into the Spotlight Comments box). This column displays the first line of those comments about each icon, which comes in handy when tracking multiple versions of your documents.

  • Tag. Tags are colors and identifying phrases that you can slap onto icons, wherever they appear, to help you categorize and group them. For details, see Broken Aliases.

Even with this column turned off, you can still see an icon’s color, of course. But only by turning on this column do you get to see the text phrase you’ve associated with each label.

If your monitor is big enough, you can expand the Comments column to show several paragraphs, all in a single line–enough to reveal the full life history of each icon. (To enter some comments about an icon, type into the Spotlight Comments box in its Get Info, as shown here at bottom.)

Figure 1-20. If your monitor is big enough, you can expand the Comments column to show several paragraphs, all in a single line–enough to reveal the full life history of each icon. (To enter some comments about an icon, type into the Spotlight Comments box in its Get Info, as shown here at bottom.)

Other View Options

The View Options for a list view include several other useful settings; choose View→Show View Options or press ⌘-J.

  • Always open in list view. Turn on this option to override your system-wide preference setting for all windows. See Icon View Options for details.

  • Browse in list view. Ensures that any folder inside this one will also open up in list view, even if its regularly scheduled view is something else.

  • Icon size. These two buttons offer you a choice of icon sizes for the current window: either standard or tiny. Unlike icon view, list view doesn’t give you a size slider.

    Fortunately, even the tiny icons aren’t so small that they show up blank. You still get a general idea of what they’re supposed to look like.

  • Text size. You can change the type size for your icon labels, either globally or one window at a time.

  • Show columns. Turn on the columns you’d like to appear in the current window’s list view, as described in the previous section.

  • Use relative dates. In a list view, the Date Modified, Date Added, and Date Created columns generally display information in a format like this: “Tuesday, March 5, 2016.” (The Mac uses shorter date formats as the column gets narrower.) But when the “Use relative dates” option is turned on, the Mac substitutes the words “Yesterday” or “Today” where appropriate, making recent files easier to spot.

  • Calculate all sizes. See the box below.

  • Show icon preview. Exactly as in icon view, this option turns the icons of graphics files into miniatures of the photos or images within.

  • Use as Defaults. Click to make your changes in the View Options box apply to all windows on your Mac. (Option-click this button to restore a wayward window back to your defaults.)

Rearranging Columns

You’re stuck with the Name column at the far left of a window. However, you can rearrange the other columns just by dragging their gray column headers horizontally. If the Mac thinks you intend to drop a column to, say, the left of the column it overlaps, you’ll actually see an animated movement—indicating a column reshuffling—even before you release the mouse button.

Adjusting Column Widths

If you place your cursor carefully on the dividing line between two column headings, you’ll find that you can drag the divider line horizontally. Doing so makes the column to the left of your cursor wider or narrower.

What’s delightful about this activity is watching OS X scramble to rewrite its information to fit the space you give it. For example, as you make the Date Modified (or Created) column narrower, “Wednesday, March 9, 2016, 2:22 PM” shrinks first to “Wed, Mar 9, 2016, 2:22 PM,” then to “3/9/16, 2:22 PM,” and finally to a terse “3/9/16.”

If you make a column too narrow, OS X shortens the file names by removing text from the middle. An ellipsis (…) appears to show you where the missing text would have appeared. (Apple reasoned that truncating the ends of file names, as in some other operating systems, would hide useful information, like the numbers at the end of “Letter to Marge 1,” “Letter to Marge 2,” and so on. It would also hide the three-letter extensions, such as Thesis.doc, that may appear on file names in OS X.)

For example, suppose you’ve named a Word document “Justin Bieber—A Major Force for Humanization and Cure for Depression, Acne, and Migraine Headache.” (Yes, file names really can be that long.) If the Name column is too narrow, though, you might see only “Justin Bieber—A Major…Migraine Headache.”

Tip

You don’t have to make the column mega-wide to read the full text of a file whose name has been shortened. Just point to the icon’s name without clicking. After a moment, a yellow, floating balloon appears—something like a tooltip in Microsoft programs—to identify the full name.

In fact, now you can move your mouse up or down a list over truncated file names, and their tooltip balloons appear instantaneously. (This trick works in list, column, or Cover Flow views—and in Save and Open dialog boxes, for that matter.)

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