Using Mac Finder and PathFinder for Appraisal

On March 10, 2010, in Research, by Chris Prom

Over the past day, I continued to work with my files from the OIF, FTRT, and Merritt Fund.  Droid provided me a better understanding of issues I was likely to confront in identifying and migrating important content, so I turned my attention to examining files quickly and efficiently so that I could make appraisal decisions about them.  As I took actions, I recorded them in a file (appraisal actions.txt), in the root of the files, for potential inclusion in the AIP or a descriptive system, at a later time.

Every operating system, of course, includes a built in file manager, such as Windows Explorer, the Mac Finder, or Gnome Nautalis.  In addition, each operating system may have one of more paid or free file managers which can be used to replace or supplement the default application.  For example, Pathfinder is a well-reviewed and powerful file browser for the Mac.

My impressions/evaluation of working with both the MAC Finder and Pathfinder are after the break.  Tomorrow, I’ll review some Windows applications.

MAC Finder

Initially, I started using the MAC Finder bundled on my Mac (OS X, version 10.6.2) to browse through files.  It has several very useful features from an appraisal point of view, in particular its integrated preview option when using the “cover flow” view:

Using Cover Flow to Browse/Preview Documents

Cover Flow would be REALLY useful if you could configure it to show files that have unsupported extensions, but that is not the case.  In any case, it makes it very easy to flip through almost all of the file types that MAC’s preview will support.

Finder’s filter and search feature (in the upper right corner of the window) is also very useful.  For example, if you identify a problematic file extension, you can use the search feature to locate other files with the same extension across an entire folder and subfolder:

Using Finder's search to find .LAB files

Then, if you wish, delete them all in one swoop (as I did with 1,120 .wbk word backup files)

However, finder’s quirks keep it from being optimally useful as an appraisal tool.  One feature that is particularly bothersome: the inability to segregate folders from files (ie. by listing them at the top) when browsing.  Also, there is no included mechanism for dual pane browsing,  and no ‘up’ folder icon, to allow you to quickly move up the file hierarchy (although the path button is pretty close).  Furthermore, it is difficult to configure the application to quickly preview or open unrecognized file types.  Overall ‘score’:

  • Installation/supported platforms:1 7/2o mac only
  • Functionality/Reliability: 16/20
  • Usability: 8/10 inability to view folders first, before the files is extremely irritating to anyone other than  to mac purists.
  • Scalability: 10/10 The searching fildering by file type across folders is intuitive and fast no matter the size of the folder or drive.
  • Documentation: 8/10.  Help file could be better, but you hardly ever need it.
  • Interoperability/Metadata support: 6/10 Not really a way to save reports/aggregated data, that I am aware of
  • Flexibilty/Customizability: 4/10 it really needs a better way to browse up and down folder trees, can’t extend it since API closed
  • License/Support/Community: 7/10 mac

Overall ‘Score’: 76/100

Pathfinder

Pathfinder is a paid application, available only for the Mac, that adds considerable functionality to the Finder and which fixes many of its usabilty quirks while introducing a few of its own.  When I grew frustrated with Finder, I began using a full-featured evaluation copy, which will run for 30 days before a license must be purchased ($39.95).

The basic pathfinder interface is very similar to the Finder, but includes a number of enhancements.  The full path is browsable and accessible at any time, and there are more filtering and searching options in the box in the upper right corner.  Unfortunately, they are not very intuitive to use, and doing something that was simple in filder (such as finding all pdf files within a folder and its children, involves a bit more work in Pathfinder.)

Pathfinder Basic Interface

In addition, a series of buttons near the bottom left allow you to slide out ‘drawers’ such as a terminal window, such as the application launcher, a terminal window, and a list of recent files and folders that were viewed:

Pathfinder Drawers

The terminal feature in particular is useful, if you know advanced command for deleting and copying files. Pathfinder’s “open with” context menus provide an additional useful feature, since they make it much easier to view an unidentified file than the similar feature in Finder or Windows Explorer:

PathFinder 'Open with' Menus

It did take a bit of time for me to get used to the Pathfinder interface, since it holds many buried features, which are easily accessible via a customized toolbar or keyboard shortcuts, once you have acclimated yourself to the application.  After using it for about an hour I had substantially whittled down the number of files by eliminating files that did not meet appraisal criteria for inclusion in the archives.  Given the advanced filtering a search options, it is relatively easy to use the application to copy, move, or delete files based on file extension or other criteria common to the file name (such as ‘backup of. . . ‘).  .  And the smooth operation of the cover low, preview, and ‘open with’ functions make it ideal for quickly browsing files, as if you were flipping through a file drawer and or folder.

In the end, I found Pathfinder very useful, but it left me hungry for more power.  If it included some advanced file handling mechanisms, such as bulk file renaming and duplicate hunting, it would probably serve as a very useful all-inclusive file manager for archives appraisal and processing.  As such, one would need to use specialized Windows applications for these kinds of operations.

  • Installation/supported platforms: 17/20
  • Functionality/Reliability: 15/20 see above
  • Usability: 8/10
  • Scalability: 10/10
  • Documentation: 10/10
  • Interoperability/Metadata support: 6/10
  • Flexibilty/Customizability: 4/10
  • License/Support/Community: 7/10

Overall ‘Score’: 77/100

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