In Depth: Apple's Leopard leaps to new heights

A refined look, revamped apps and new options build on an already solid OS foundation

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The Finder, Quick Look and Cover Flow: Better functionality and eye candy

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Besides a visual makeover, the Finder has received a major usability overhaul that includes a couple of new buttons and a revised Sidebar pane, now sporting a blue-gray background.

Finder
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The Finder's Sidebar pane is now set off with a blue-gray background. (Click for larger view.)

The Sidebar's new hue helps to visually separate the file viewer aspect of the Finder and the area where shortcuts and devices show up. It may sound like a nitpicky addition, but the visual cue will no doubt help new users see that different areas of a typical Finder window have different purposes.

For instance, when a folder is dragged from the file viewer to the Finder Sidebar, a shortcut to that folder appears in every Finder window for easy access -- even though the location of the original folder is unchanged. But when a folder or file is copied to another folder within the file viewer, the folder's location actually moves. While the difference between creating a shortcut and moving a folder is obvious to longtime Mac users, having the visual cue separating the Sidebar and the file viewer should help users who are new to the platform.

The new Sidebar, which seems to have been inspired by iTunes, is split into useful and simply labeled sections, each of which can be hidden or accessed with the click of a triangle. The Devices section shows the Macintosh HD, any removable hard drives and media, and your iDisk if you have a .Mac account.

The Shared section automatically shows any other shared Macs on your network. Selecting any of the computers in that list automatically connects you to that user's Dropbox folder. If deeper access is required, there's a Connect As... button that prompts you for a username and password.

Below the list of shared computers is Places, which is now where you drag folders or files for shortcuts. Beneath that, the new Search For section provides, by default, searches for files created today, yesterday and the past week, as well as Smart Folders, which offer quick searches of all images, all movies and all documents. Searches can be modified and added by using the Command-F key combo or accessing the menu bar's File --> Find command. After selecting your search criteria, you can then save the search for future use, and it shows up in the Search For section of the Sidebar. Each of these options is designed to help users keep better track of their files.

Another new Finder feature is the Quick Look "Eye" button in the Finder window toolbar. Quick Look is a timesaver, allowing you to view any document, movie, image or song without having to launch an application (see image below). This nifty tool even allows for full-screen viewing of pictures and movies, and the browsing of documents, including Office docs and PDFs. Quick Look can also be activated by pressing the spacebar on the keyboard, which offers an enlarged view of the selected file in a semitransparent overlay window.

The biggest visual change to the Finder is a new option that allows folders and files to be viewed in Cover Flow. Cover Flow, which is used in iTunes, on the iPhone and on the iPod Touch already, makes browsing through a folder's contents a snap. It not only provides a friendly and consistent UI across multiple product lines, but it's also surprisingly useful for scanning folders with lots items.

Quick Look
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Quick Look offers a sneak peek at images, movies and more. (Click for larger view.)
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Cover Flow
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Cover Flow at work. (Click for larger view.)
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The Cover Flow pane appears at the top of each Finder window and offers an enlarged view of all of the folders and files you're perusing. As you move a slider button left or right, the files and folders move back and forth in a 3-D fashion. Using Cover Flow in concert with Quick Look, you can rapidly browse through folders and access their contents, even over a network.

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