Default Folder X

tldr; if you use a Mac as more than a glorified Chromebook, buy Default Folder X.

Default Folder X in action. I’ve moused over an open Finder window in the background, and Default Folder X is showing the name of folder in that window’s active tab. The icons on the right give you access to recent or favorite folders and files and most of Finder’s functionality. The left side lets you collect disparate objects.

As I was tediously navigating folders in an “Open…” dialog today, it struck me that I was doing something stupid and unnecessary. Whatever happened to Default Folder, the shareware app I used to install on every Mac as soon as I first logged onto it? Didn’t I have a current license FFS?

Now, Default Folder X requires a lot of permissions. In today’s buttoned-down world, it needs to ask for permission to do lots of things that seem suspect—it is, after all, keeping track of every file and folder you look at. As a result of this, I’ve not been installing it on computers managed by IT departments and, for the last several years that’s been most of my work computers.

So, when I started using my new Macbook Pro in 2021 I forgot to install it. And because I’d gotten so used to dealing with file dialogs without it, I just never got to it.

Let me just say this: if you use a Mac as more than a glorified Chromebook, get Default Folder X. It’s the next best thing to Apple fixing file dialogs (which they’re never going to do—I literally had an argument with the Human Interface team at WWDC about it back in the 90s).

What is Default Folder X?

Waaay back in the 90s there was a collection of UI hacks for the Mac called NOW Utilities which did some amazing things. I won’t go into it, but some of those things are still sorely missed. The most useful of these was called Super Boomerang (itself a refinement of Boomerang). Boomerang had two main tricks:

  • Remember where you were in a folder last time you opened or saved a file there
  • Remember the last n folders you visited in any given program and in any app and let you get to them instantly

So, for example, if you wanted to load a picture from Photoshop into Quark XPress you could go to Photoshop, export the picture. Then you could jump into Quark XPress and import, find the folder you just saved the picture to and VOILA it was already selected (it was the last thing you saved in that folder) and done.

Similarly, if you were going through a folder full of documents it would keep your place for you.

Boomerang is long gone but its functionality (and then some) lives on in Default Folder, which became Default Folder X when Apple transitioned to Mac OS X (now macOS).

Aside from its major improvement over Super Boomerang (i.e. it still works and you can buy it) Default Folder two truly magnificent features and a bunch of useful but less important stuff.

  • If you are in a file dialog (open, save, etc.) and you mouse over a Finder window in the background, it will tell you its name. If you click on it, the dialog will switch to that folder.
  • You get access to all the standard Finder functionality inside any file dialog (so you can move, rename, etc. stuff inside an open dialog).

My Biggest Argument with Apple

The user interface of Apple’s file dialogs has been a sore point with Apple’s Human Interface Group for decades. They’ve tried to provide people with partial replacements like minifinder, launchpad, spotlight app launching, the sidebar, and so forth. The fact is that while Finder itself (especially the spatial Finder pre Mac OS X) is an absolute triumph of usability, the open save dialogs are borderline incomprehensible to most people.

During a feedback session at WWDC I got up and told the Apple Human Interface Group that the answer was staring them in the face. Replace file dialogs with the Finder. When you clicked open, just switch to Finder and visually filter what the user could see with the file handling properties of the application you were in. When you clicked save, just switch to finder and put the file in a tray or default destination and let the user drag it where-ever they wanted it.

Most of the audience got it immediately, but the Apple Human Interface Group simply couldn’t wrap their brains around this idea.

They’ve had 25 years to convince themselves they thought of it and it clearly isn’t going to happen. Who knows, perhaps my reader has contacts in Apple. If so, I have a really great idea for the Contacts app…