Software success is fleeting--for every program such as BBEdit that becomes a software staple, you can find countless applications that are all the rage for a year or two and then either stop working or fade in popularity. Longevity is especially rare for software that tweaks your Mac's features and interface: Whenever Apple releases a major OS update, it renders some of that third-party software incompatible or irrelevant.
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In other words, it's tough for system-enhancement software to stay both compatible and compelling. Over the past 20 years, I've installed countless such apps, and I can count on one hand the programs that have been around for most of that time. That's what makes St. Clair Software's Default Folder X so impressive. It's the rare piece of system-enhancement software that has survived multiple major versions of OS X while remaining functional, useful, and stable--in fact, it survived the transition from Mac OS 9 to OS X. I've been using it for almost as long as it has been around.
Why I use it
If you've never used Default Folder, it enhances OS X's Open and Save dialog boxes to make them much more useful. For starters, as its name implies, Default Folder lets you choose a default folder for each application, so whenever you access an Open or Save dialog box in a given app, your favorite folder for that app is already chosen; alternatively, you can have Default Folder automatically navigate to the most recently accessed folder or file in each program. This feature alone saves me countless clicks and hassles every day.
Default Folder also places a bezel (or a toolbar--you can choose) around your Open and Save dialog boxes that contains useful menus and features. The main menu lets you view information about a file or folder from within the dialog box; you can also open a folder in the Finder without leaving the dialog box, rename files or folders, reveal items in the Finder, move items to the Trash, and even compress files and folders--again, all from within your Open and Save dialogs.
Another menu lets you quickly access any mounted volume; the menu is hierarchical, allowing you to navigate to any folder within any volume, as well as to any folder on your Desktop or in your Home folder. The Favorites menu permits you to add frequently accessed folders and quickly navigate to them or to any folder within any of them--you can even assign keyboard shortcuts to favorites, and you can create multiple sets of favorites. The Recent menu lists recently accessed folders, and the Finder menu shows all windows currently open in the Finder. Related to that last item is perhaps my favorite Default Folder feature: While you're in an Open or Save dialog box, if you click any visible Finder window, Default Folder switches the file dialog's location to that Finder window.
Default Folder's bezel includes a resizable preview area for displaying Quick Look previews; that area also lets you view detailed information about the selected file, add Spotlight comments or OpenMeta tags to the file, and even change file permissions. Finally, the program offers menu-bar and Dock menus that provide access to the Volumes, Favorite, Recent, and Finder menus. (If you want to see all this in action, I took a video look at Default Folder X 4.0 a few years ago. The utility is now up to version 4.4.12.)
Default Folder X is one of the first things I install on any of my Macs, and I honestly have a difficult time using a Mac without it. To someone who has never used it, OS X's Open and Save dialog boxes likely seem sufficient; but once you've used Default Folder X for a while, OS X's stock file-navigation dialogs feel crippled and half-baked.