Is there such a thing as an indispensable application? Most people will answer with a resounding “Yes” and list a whole lorry full of them. But if you insist and demand that they list only one or two applications they can't live without, I doubt if Path Finder would make it with the first two. I mean, it's just a Finder replacement, right? Wrong! Path Finder is a life saver --and I'm being very polite, because if this wouldn't pretend to be a serious and professional information resource, I'd have used a different name instead of “life”.What is indispensable on a Mac? Not in terms of programs, but in terms of functionality. I’d say good backup capabilities, compression capabilities to decompress at least, something that makes disk images, a permission adjustment tool, something that keeps your disks healthy, and in general anything that enables you to take full control of your Mac. Translated into products, applications like DiskWarrior, FileBuddy and TechTool Pro will come to mind, but Path Finder?
And yet, Path Finder does belong in this list. It started life as Snax, a Finder replacement in Mac OS X 10.0. Path Finder was a Cocoa application, and back then, the Finder was a Cardboard—excuse me, a Carbon, application. The regular Finder would crash when you copied several files simultaneously. Path Finder would not. Over the years, the people at Cocoatech kept adding new functionality to Path Finder, which slowly but steadily changed from just a Finder replacement to a full-scale Swiss knife of file tools.
Path Finder 5 doesn’t seem to be adding much new, except for the cosmetic update that brings the application into the Leopard era. You also don’t need it for daily Finder operations anymore, but as soon as you go outside the usual, like scrolling, copying, moving files, Path Finder may prove to be a true life saver. Let me give you an example that I experienced only days ago.
I have an identical copy of my system on a FireWire disk. This copy was installed several months ago, when I still ran a program that uses the PACE anti-piracy system. Every time I start up from that external disk to run DiskWarrior—about once every week—the system would complain that the PACE extension couldn’t be started properly. This message annoyed me greatly as it also affected the running application, DiskWarrior, so I decided to throw it off the disk.
Getting rid of stubborn filesThat was a no-go when started off the FireWire disk with the extension. But it also was impossible to get rid of the extension when I started up from my usual startup disk. The Finder would simply not allow me to throw it away, not even when I logged in as root (in the Terminal “sudo” didn’t work either).
What I did to eventually get rid of this locked file with permissions set to root and group to some esoteric non-existent user group on my system, was fire up Path Finder and take action in there. Path Finder allowed me to unlock the file, change the owner and group settings and finally remove the file from the FireWire disk.
This does make Path Finder a dangerous application in the hands of the ignorant, but if you’re going to buy Path Finder, I’m pretty confident you’ll already have some experience and knowledge of the Mac OS X system, and so I trust you won’t go tamper with files without actually knowing that you can. The end-result is that you get full control over your files, including the ability to remove stubborn files that you know don’t belong in the system folders anymore. Path Finder was the only application that worked, by the way. Nothing else did.
Path Finder 5 offers a lot more than this functionality only. The new version uses the newest Stuffit engine to decompress and compress Stuffit files. I hear you say one doesn’t need Stuffit anymore. Have you ever received a password-protected Stuffit archive? If you have, you’ll know you need Stuffit to at least expand those pesky archives.
Path Finder 5 remains a good Finder replacement as well. Instead of only showing you one view on files at a time, Path Finder is far more generous—you do need some screen real estate, but 20 inches will suffice—by offering you dual panes (two panels side by side with potentially different content—great for ‘de visu’ comparing synchronised folders) and at least two panels in which you can list information or a sort of Apple menu mode on steroids. Take a look at the screenshots and you’ll see what I mean.
Full tool chestPath Finder allows you to move files by “cutting” them from one window and pasting them in another—the Finder only offers copy and paste—as a measure of security; but as I said, in Path Finder you’re in charge. The application comes with a Process viewer in a drawer, and an image editor in a separate window. The image editor is more or less as capable as Preview’s.
The expanded Get Info window shows you whether a symbolic link is absolute or relative. Folder contents are calculated faster than in the normal Finder, and you can see the invisible files in the system as well as the visible ones. Making invisible files visible, can help you pinpoint problems with the system. In the same league you’ll find that viewing bundled applications—you know, the ones that really are folders with an application extension and icon—as folders is a faster way then first having to select the option “Show Package Content” from a contextual menu.
Another great addition in version 5 is that you can actually preview SVG files; the Finder cannot.
In short, Path Finder 5 is a must have if you want to be able to get full (and better) control over your Mac OS X system than without. I’m not saying Path Finder 5 is without flaws. I mean, I still can’t figure out why a file stack—which allows you to collect files from different locations and than paste them all at once in one folder, for example—would be more efficient than creating a smart folder and collect those files in there, but nothing is perfect.
I also wouldn’t swear that Path Finder still outperforms the Finder by a large margin—the margin has become much smaller. But I do find Path Finder an indispensable tool from a system management perspective. At under 40.00 USD for the full version and under 20.00 USD for an upgrade, I don’t think you can go wrong. And if you’re worried you won’t be charmed anyhow, do download the demo version and see for yourself.