Time is money and navigating your operating system is likely your most common activity. Optimizing it for your workflow means spending more time working and less time navigating folders, files and applications.
In this tutorial I’ll introduce you to OS X’s Finder toolbar and droplets as well as how to customize them to look great and amp up your workflow productivity.
OS X’s Finder Toolbar
If you’re not already familiar with it, this is the Finder toolbar in OS X (outlined in red).
As you can see, it definitely doesn’t look “stock”. There are several new icons there and some of the default ones have been moved or removed. You can easily customize the toolbar by right clicking the top section of your finder window and selecting “Customize Toolbar…”. You’ll get a menu like this.
All you have to do is drag and drop to customize the toolbar however you would like. However, there are many more advanced features you can add to the toolbar using applications and applescripts as “droplets”.
Droplets are applications or applescripts integrated into the Finder toolbar for addtional functionality, shortcuts, etc. There are many applications you most likely use every day that include or support many droplet functions. These are quick and easy but won’t always solve the workflow problem. That’s where applescripts come in very handy.
Here is an example of an application droplet provided by Panic’s popular FTP application Transmit.
Many applications like Photoshop, Transmit and others have support for this. If I’m not mistaken, I believe this is also possible in Windows (creating a droplet, not the finder stuff).
Once you’ve created the droplet, you simply drag it into the Finder toolbar.
That’s not all you can do though. You can also drag an entire application (well, the icon) into the Finder toolbar. This is really useful if you drag documents over applications in the dock to open them.
Then you can drag documents onto the application icon to open them, right from the Finder toolbar. Or in the case of the Transmit droplet I created, I can drag and drop files onto the droplet and the custom application droplet will automatically upload the files. Much faster! We’re picking up speed now.
For those of you more familiar with OS X, you’re probably yawning by now since most of you probably already know about droplet functionality. So, we’ll step it up a notch and get into customizing our workflow with applescripts.
The best definition of applescript for those of you unfamiliar with it is from the Apple Developer Connection website.
“AppleScript is Apple’s powerful and versatile native scripting technology for Mac OS X. With AppleScript, you can control, and communicate among, applications, databases, networks, Web services, and even the operating system itself. You can make your Macintosh applications scriptable so that users can write scripts to automate operations they would rather not do manually, from simple tasks to complex workflows involving multiple applications.”
While applescripts are powerful and versatile, we’ll be using them in some very basic ways so you’ll need to research it more on your own for more complex tasks.
Creating An AppleScript Application
There are an infinite amount of tasks you could perform with AppleScripts so I’ll go through some of the ones I’ve created or downloaded for examples.
I open 100+ HTML, CSS, PHP, JS, etc. files on a daily basis. I have Finder set to view files by name from A-Z so I can quickly find files alphabetically. The problem I run into is that I need to select all the HTML or PHP files in a downloaded website template and open all of them in Coda or another application.
This means either scrolling over to the “Kind” column, reorganizing by the file type then Shift + clicking to select them all or Shift/Cmd + clicking the files as necessary to select them all. This may seem silly, but perform this task 30, 40 or more times per day and it slowly eats away at your time.
So here’s what we’ll do. We’ll open the AppleScript Editor application and enter the following in a new document.
This applescript will select all the files of the same extension as the current file selected. Next, we need to create the application by File > Save As, name it and select “Application” for the File Format.
After being saved, the code will change colors and look like this.
Then all you need to do is put the application in your Applications directory (I put all my droplets in a “Droplet” folder) or wherever you would like to and drag it into the Finder toolbar. Then when you select a file and click the droplet, it will run the script and select all the files in the foremost Finder window with the same extension.
Open In Editor Droplets
Now that I can quickly select all the files of the same extension, I want to be able to open those files in Coda or TextMate by clicking a droplet. We can drag Coda or TextMate into the toolbar but that requires us to drag the files onto the icon. We want to have this ability as well.
We can create a new droplet ourselves or, for some common editor droplets, we could head over to Shiny Frog and download their Mac Editor Droplets collection which also includes custom icons to match Leopard or Snow Leopard.
If you really want to create it yourself, use the code below (setup for Coda) to create the droplet as described above. If you use another application, replace “Coda” (in both spots) with the name of your application of choice.
As you can see, I have droplets setup for TextMate, Coda, V.A.C. Validator and way over to the right (away from all the commonly used ones) AppZapper.
With these droplets I can quickly select all of the same extension files and open them in TextMate, Coda or V.A.C. Validator. I can also quickly delete apps with AppZapper with this droplet.
File & Folder Droplets
The last two droplets I haven’t covered yet are pretty basic, but still useful. The first is the “Downloads Folder” directly on the left of the Finder search bar.
This isn’t technically a droplet I suppose. All you need to do is drag a folder of your choice into the Finder toolbar. I use my downloads folder very frequently and placing it in the Finder toolbar allows me to quickly navigate there in the current Finder window or hold Cmd + Shift and single click to open it in a new window.
The next one creates a new blank file (named New File.tmp). This is a droplet called “Touch”, which I downloaded from Manas Tungare. There are some other great droplets there as well. I also customized the icon, which I’ll cover later.
To create an applescript to do this, use the following code (use in Manas’s Touch droplet, public domain).
Customizing Droplet Icons
As you probably noticed, all the droplets I have in my Finder toolbar use custom icons. Most of you probably already know that you can customize the icons for pretty much everything in OS X but I’ll go through customizing them for droplets real quick anyway.
Right click on the application (or folder) that you want to change the icon for and select “Get Info”. Once you have the icon you would like to use, open it in “Preview” (the OS X application). Click the icon and push Cmd + A (select all). Copy (Cmd + C) the icon and go back to the application (or folder) info. window. Click the icon (it will outline in blue) in the top left and push Cmd + V (paste).
Once you paste the icon it will replace the old one and update in the Finder toolbar. All the icons I’ve used for my droplets either came with the original droplet application, I created it myself or I found a set on the web. Here are some really great ones.
If you want to create your own, you can create a PNG or similar in something like Photoshop and use iConvertIcons.com to convert them into .icns, .hqx and other file types (size options also available).
So there you go. Some quick and easy ways to customize your Finder toolbar to work better with your workflow so you’ll spend more time working and less time navigating around Finder or selecting/moving files. The possibilities are pretty endless so dig in!
If you have any custom applescripts, icons or droplet ideas that you think would help others, please share them in the comments below. I hope you enjoyed the article and I appreciate all your comments!