- 1.4. Icon View
In an icon view, every file, folder, and disk is represented by a small picture—an icon.
This humble image, a visual representation of electronic bits and bytes, is the cornerstone
of the entire Macintosh religion. (Maybe that's why it's called an icon.)
1.4.1. Icon View Options
Mac OS X offers a number of useful icon-view options, all of which are worth exploring.
Start by opening any icon view window, and then choose View Show View Options (
126.96.36.199. Always open in icon view
In Mac OS X Leopard, it's easy—almost scarily easy—to set up your preferred look for
all folder windows on your entire system. With one click on the "Use as Defaults" button
(described below), you can change the window view of 20,000 folders at once—to icon
view, list view, or whatever you like.
The "Always open in icon view" option lets you override that master setting, just for this
For example, you might generally prefer a neat list view with large text. But for your
Pictures folder, it probably makes more sense to set up icon view, so you can see a
thumbnail of each photo without having to open it.
That's the idea here. Open Pictures, change it to icon view, and then turn on "Always
open in icon view." Now every folder on your Mac is in list view except Pictures.
Note: The wording of this item in the View Options dialog box changes according to the
view you're in at the moment. In a list-view window, for example, it says "Always open
in list view." In a Cover Flow–view window, it says "Always open in Cover Flow." And
so on. But the function is the same: to override the default (master) setting.
188.8.131.52. Icon size
- Mac OS X draws the little pictures that represent your icons using sophisticated graphics
software. As a result, you (or the Mac) can scale them to almost any size without losing
any quality or clarity.
In the View Options window (Figure 1-13), drag the Icon Size slider back and forth until
you find a size you like. (For added fun, make little cartoon sounds with your mouth.)
Figure 1-13. Mac OS X lets you choose an icon size to suit your personality. For
picture folders, it can often be very handy to pick a jumbo size, in effect creating a
slidesorter "light table" effect. Just use the slider in the View Options dialog box,
184.108.40.206. Grid spacing
Listen up, you young whippersnappers! When I was your age, back when computers used
Mac OS 9, you could control how closely spaced icons were in a window. Why, if I
wanted to see a lot of them without making the window bigger, I could pack'em in like
That feature disappeared—for seven years. But it's finally returned to Mac OS X. Figure
1-14 shows all.
220.127.116.11. Text size
Your choices range only from 10 to 16 points, and you still can't choose a different font
for your icons' names. But using this slider, you can adjust the type size. And for people
with especially big or especially small screens—or people with aging retinas—this
feature is much better than nothing.
Figure 1-14. Drag the "Grid spacing" slider to specify how tightly packed you want
your icons to be. At the minimum setting (top), they're so crammed that it's almost
ridiculous; you can't even see their names. But sometimes, you don't really need to.
At more spacious settings (bottom), you get a lot more "white space."
- In fact,you can actually specify a different type size for every window on your machine.
(Why would you want to adjust the point size independently in different windows? Well,
because you might want smaller type to fit more into a crammed list view without
scrolling, while you can afford larger type in less densely populated windows.)
18.104.22.168. Label position
Click either Bottom or Right to indicate where you want an icon's name to appear,
relative to its icon.
In its own quiet way, this tiny, unheralded feature represents one of the most radical
changes to the Finder since the invention of the Mac. As shown in Figure 1-15, it lets you
create, in effect, a multiple-column list view in a single window.
22.214.171.124. Show item info
While you've got the View Options palette open, try turning on "Show item info."
Suddenly you get a new line of information (in tiny blue type) for certain icons, saving
you the effort of opening up the folder or file to find out what's in it. For example:
• Folders.The info line lets you know how many icons are inside each without
having to open it up. Now you can spot empties at a glance.
• Graphics files.Certain other kinds of files may show a helpful info line, too. For
example, graphics files display their dimensions in pixels.
• Sounds and QuickTime movies.The light-blue bonus line tells you how long the
sound or movie takes to play. For example, an MP3 file might say "03' 08," which
means three minutes, eight seconds.
• .zip files.On compressed archives like .zip files (Section 5.12), you get to see the
archive's total size on disk (like "48.9 MB").
You can see some of these effects illustrated in Figure 1-15.
Figure 1-15. The View Options dialog box for an icon view window offers the chance
to create colored backgrounds for certain windows or even to use photos as window
wallpaper (bottom). Using a photo may have a soothing, annoying, or comic effect—
like making the icon names completely unreadable. (Note, by the way, how the
icon's names have been set to appear beside the icons, rather than underneath. You
now have all the handy, freely draggable convenience of an icon view, along with the
more compact spacing of a list view.)
- 126.96.36.199. Show icon preview
This option pertains primarily to graphics, which Mac OS X often displays only with a
generic icon (stamped with the file type, like JPEG, TIFF, or PDF). But if you turn on
"Show icon preview," Mac OS X turns each icon into a miniature display of the image
itself, as shown in Figure 1-15. It's ideal for working with folders full of digital photos.
Tip: A small but delicious point: You can tell just by looking at a PDF file's icon whether
it's longer than one page. The icon for a one-page PDF has a curled upper-right corner.
But on a multi-page PDF, only the first page's corner curls down. And in the gap it
reveals, you can see a tiny bit of the actual Section P3.1 showing!
188.8.131.52. Arrange by
For a discussion of this pop-up menu, see the next section.
Here's another Mac OS X luxury that other operating systems can only dream about: You
can fill the background of any icon view window on your Mac with a certain color—or
even a photo.
Color-coordinating or "wallpapering" certain windows is more than just a gimmick. In
fact, it can serve as a timesaving psychological cue. Once you've gotten used to the fact
that your main Documents folder has a sky-blue background, you can pick it out like a
sharpshooter from a screen filled with open windows. Color-coded Finder windows are
also especially easy to distinguish at a glance when you've minimized them to the Dock.
Note: Background colors and pictures disappear in list, column, and Cover Flow views.
Once a window is open,choose View View Options ( -J). The bottom of the
resulting dialog box offers three choices, whose results are shown in Figure 1-15.
• White. This is the standard option (not shown).
• Color.When you click this button, you see a small rectangular button beside the
word Color. Click it to open the Color Picker (Section 5.13), which you can use to
- choose a new background color for the window. (Unless it's April Fool's Day, pick
a light color. If you choose a dark one—like black—you won't be able to make out
the lettering of the icons' names.)
• Picture.If you choose this option, a Select button appears. Click it to open the
Select a Picture dialog box, already open to your Library Desktop Pictures
folder. Now choose a graphics file—one of Apple's in the Desktop Pictures folder,
or one of your own. When you click Select, you see that Mac OS X has
superimposed the window's icons on the photo. As you can see in Figure 1-15,
low-contrast or light-background photos work best for legibility.
Incidentally,the Mac has no idea what sizes and shapes your window may assume
in its lifetime. Therefore, Mac OS X makes no attempt to scale down a selected
photo to fit neatly into the window. If you have a high-res digital camera,
therefore, you see only the upper-left corner of a photo in the window. Use a
graphics program to scale the picture down to something smaller than your screen
resolution for better results.
184.108.40.206. Use as Defaults
This harmless-looking button can actually wreak havoc—or restore order to your
kingdom—with a single click. It applies the changes you've just made in the View
Options dialog box to all windows on your Mac (instead of only the frontmost window).
If you set up the frontmost window with a colored background, big icons, small text, and
a tight grid, and then you click Use as Defaults, you'll see that look in every disk or folder
window you open.
You've been warned.
Fortunately, there are two auxiliary controls that can give you a break from all the
First, you can set up individual windows to be weirdo exceptions to the rule; see "Always
open in icon view," above.
Second, you can remove any departures from the default window view—after a round of
disappointing experimentation on a particular window, for example—using a secret
button. To do so, choose View Show View Options to open the View Options dialog
box. Now hold down the Option key. The Use as Defaults button magically changes to
say "Restore to Defaults," which means "Abandon all the changes I've foolishly made to
the look of this window."
- 1.4.2. Keeping Icons Neat and Sorted
In general, you can drag icons anywhere within a window. For example, some people like
to keep current project icons at the top of the window and move older stuff to the bottom.
If you'd like Mac OS X to impose a little discipline on you, however, it's easy enough to
request a visit from an electronic housekeeper who tidies up your icons by aligning them
neatly to an invisible grid. In Leopard, you can even specify how tight or loose that grid
220.127.116.11. Grid alignment
Mac OS X offers an enormous number of variations on the "snap icons to the underlying
rows-and-columns grid" theme:
• Aligning individual icons to the grid.Press the key while dragging an icon or
several highlighted icons. (Don't press the key until after you begin to drag.) When
you release the mouse, the icons you've moved all jump into neatly aligned
• Aligning all icons to the grid.Choose View Clean Up (if nothing is selected) or
View Clean Up Selection (if some icons are highlighted). Now all icons in the
window, or those you've selected, jump to the closest positions on the invisible
These same commands appear in the shortcut menu when you Control-click or right-click
anywhere inside an icon-view window, which is handier if you have a huge monitor.
Tip: If you press Option, you swap the wording of the command. Clean Up changes to
read Clean Up Selection, and vice versa.
Note, by the way, that the grid alignment is only temporary. As soon as you drag icons
around, or add more icons to the window, the newly moved icons wind up just as sloppily
positioned as before you tidied up.
If you want the Mac to lock all icons to the closest spot on the grid whenever you move
them,choose View Show View Options ( -J);from the "Arrange by"pop-up menu,
choose Snap to Grid.
- Even then, though, you'll soon discover that none of these grid-snapping techniques move
icons into the most compact possible arrangement. If one or two icons have wandered off
from the herd to a far corner of the window, they're merely nudged to the grid points
closest to their current locations. They aren't moved all the way back to the group of
icons elsewhere in the window.
To solve that problem, use one of the sorting options described next.
Tip: You can always override the grid setting by pressing the key when you drag. In
other words, when grid-snapping is turned off, makes your icons snap into position;
when grid-snapping is turned on, lets you drag an icon freely.
18.104.22.168. Sorted alignment
If you'd rather have icons sorted and bunched together on the underlying grid — no strays
allowed — make a selection from the View menu:
• Sorting all icons for the moment.If you choose View Arrange By Name,
all icons in the window snap to the invisible grid and sort themselves
alphabetically. Use this method to place the icons as close as possible to each
other within the window, rounding up any strays.
The other subcommands in the View Arrange By menu work
similarly(Size,Date Modified, Label, and so on), but sort the icons according to
As with the Clean Up command, View Arrange By serves only to reorganize
the icons in the window at this moment. If you move or add icons to the window,
they won't be sorted properly. If you'd rather have all icons remain sorted and
clustered, try this:
• Sorting all icons permanently.You can also tell your Mac to maintain the sorting
and alignment of all icons in the window, present and future. Now if you add more
icons to the window, they jump into correct alphabetical position; if you remove
icons, the remaining ones slide over to fill in the resulting gap. This setup is
perfect for neat freaks.
- To make it happen, open the View menu, hold down the Option key, and choose fromthe
"Keep Arranged By" submenu(choose Name,Date Modified,orwhatever sorting criterion
you like). As shown at left in Figure 1-16, your icons are now locked into sorted position,
as compactly as the grid permits.
(This Option-key trick, new in Leopard, is a shortcut for choosing View Show View
Options, and then, in the resulting dialog box, choosing from the "Arrange by" submenu.)
Tip: The Option key is up to its usual tricks here; as happens so often in the Finder, it
means, "reverse the usual logic."For example, when you open the View menu, you see
either "Arrange By" (which temporarily sorts the current batch of icons) or "Keep
Arranged By" (which locks present and future icons into a sorted grid). The wording
depends on whether or not you've already turned on permanent sorting.But the point here
is that pressing the Option key once the View menu is open changes the command —
from "Arrange By" to "Keep Arranged By," or vice versa.
Figure 1-16. Use either the View menu (left) or the View Options dialog box (right)
to turn on permanent cleanliness mode. From now on, you're not allowed to drag
these icons freely. You've told the Mac to keep them on the invisible grid, sorted the
way you requested, so don't get frustrated when you try to drag an icon into a new
position and then discover that it won't budge.
Although it doesn't occur to most Mac fans, you can also apply any of the commands
described in this section—Clean Up, Arrange, Keep Arranged—to icons lying loose on
your desktop. Even though they don't seem to be in any window at all, you can specify
small or large icons, automatic alphabetical arrangement, and so on. Just click the
desktop before using the View menu or the View Options dialog box.
Note: There's only one View Options dialog box. Once it's open, you can adjust the icon
sizes or arrangement options of other windows just by clicking them. Each time you click
inside a window, the View Options dialog box remains in front, changing to reflect the
settings of the window you just clicked.
- Incidentally, you can get rid of the View Options box the same way you summoned it: by