All About ACTION Files
Written and published December 22, 1998
The votes came in after last week's column so here it is, a column all about ACTION Files, a simple utility so helpful you won't want to work without it once you're used to it. I love this utility and highly recommend it for anyone who has many projects or folders. As you know, I am a huge advocate of logical document filing. ACTION Files makes this task a cinch. Last week I talked about the Documents folder option in General Controls. That's nothing compared to this.
Since ACTION Files demo version is fully functioning, you might want to download and install the demo, then come back here and read this article, trying each feature as I talk about it. (Or better, read it first, then get ACTION Files, then read this again. We love having you here.)
I warn you: this is about three times longer than my column should be. I considered splitting it up but I didn't want to be a tease.
Inside the dialog box
Open any folder and notice what you see (to remind yourself what a Finder window looks like). Now, if ACTION Files is installed, open SimpleText, start a new document, and start a Save, but don't do the Save, and take a look.
Inside the dialog box you'll notice a strong resemblance to a regular folder window. There are File, Edit, and View menus and sortable columns that list the content by Name, Size, Kind, etc. As in the Finder, you can choose what columns you see. The View menu inside the dialog controls what columns you see. Just like in the Finder, you can click on any column to sort by those criteria, and resize the columns. (Actually, Action beat the Finder to the latter.)
Notice the bottom right corner has the same slanted lines as Finder windows. As with Finder windows, you can resize Action's dialog box, making it wider and/or longer and the longer it is the more information appears. ACTION's windows remember their shape and locations on an application by application basis. There is also a Control Panel option to center windows' contents in case you prefer. (Try it and decide for yourself.)
Notice the drag bar atop the dialog box. As with any Finder window, you can drag this dialog box. But... Action uniquely redraws the contents that lay below the dialog box. (Have you ever moved an object and seen only a blank white space below it? That's what I mean doesn't happen with ACTION Files.)
If you're like me you're thinking, "Nice, but will that really matter to me?" Oh yes. It matters.
Anything your Finder can do, Action can do at least as well
Normally, once you begin a Save, you are stuck in a very limited dialog box. If you need to do or check something before finishing the Save, you must Cancel, do your thing, then start the Save again. But with ACTION Files, you can do those things while still in the Open/Save dialog box. In fact, you can do more. And you can do all those things while in the middle of opening a file as well as while saving or opening a file.
How do you do all of these things? ACTION Files places all Finder menus' commands right inside the Open/Save dialog box. Instead of clicking on the regular menus you click on the equivalent menu inside the dialog box.
When might this help you? Perhaps when you're mid-save and can't recall the location of your destination folder. You can look inside folder after folder, wasting time - or use Action File's Find command to locate the folder, then get to it. Find is also handy if you want to save the file to the same location as another file, but need to find that other file first. (Or if while opening a file you realize you don't know where it is.) Perhaps mid-save you are warned there's not enough room on your disk. You've already gone through the trouble of setting the destination folder - and now you'd have to cancel, empty the trash, then do the entire save all over again (including navigating to the destination all over again - or you can simply choose File->Empty Trash from the ACTION Files menu. Another convenience is the ability to rename any folder while saving. Perhaps when opening a file you decide it best to work on a duplicate. Using File->Duplicate you can do so. Or maybe you notice a file you wish to discard. While you see it and think of it, you can select and trash a file. There's more for you to discover for yourself.
Getting files directly into your destination folders
Last week reading about navigating to your folder of choice you may have thought, "Boy that's a pain. What if my destination is inside a folder inside another folder, inside yet another. Too much work." You're right. It is too much work. Not difficult, but certainly a time-waster - and the goal of my column is to help you avoid such time-wasters. ACTION Files provides several ways for you to get your files directly into your destination folders.
One thing you can do is set a specific folder as a default so when you give the Save command the Open/Save dialog box will automatically pop to that folder. That's a great head start! But what if you tend to want to save your email files to one folder, your Excel files tend to be for a certain project, while your AppleWorks files tend to be for a different project? No problem. Each application can have its own default. And of course, once one project is complete, you'll tend to want to save files to a different folder by default. Setting and changing the default it simple. Here's how: While in an application, start a Save, Save As, or Open. Navigate within the dialog box until you see the desired destination folder inside the folder list. Select that folder, then go to the Edit menu (inside the dialog box). Select the command that says, "Make "folder name" the default folder for "application name." That's it.
Remember: this folder is just a default - if the default is not where you wish to store your file, you should still navigate to the desired folder.
[Some of you wrote to tell me about a shareware called Default Folder. Yes, it is an option - for setting a default file-landing folder and jumping to an open folder. However, only ACTION Files provides the full array of other advantages.]
Moving to another folder or volume
Here's another frustrating scenario: Inside your "Jobs" folder you have a folder called "Current Jobs" and inside that is one called "Seminar." The Seminar folder happens to be the one you're working in so you happen to have it open on your desktop, or perhaps open as a tab along the bottom of your screen. But when you need to save a new file to that folder you can't just go directly to it. Instead, in the Open/Save dialog box you need to navigate all the way through your folders to get to that folder. But...enter your Action hero!
Picture yourself back in that Open/Save dialog box with ACTION Files running. Can you see your open folder on your desktop? If so, just click in the folder window and the dialog box will pop directly to that folder. Can't see it? Can you see the tab along the bottom of your screen? If so, click on that tab for the same result. Or are you really giving me a hard time and imagining you can't see your open folder at all? No matter... you can't dupe the Action hero. All you have to do is click on the menu called Finder inside the Action-enhanced dialog box, then select the folder by name. That Finder menu lists every folder that you have open in the Finder at any time.
Along the lines of the last examples, maybe you don't have the destination folder open. Instead, you want to save to the Zip disk you happen to have mounted at the moment. Just click on the icon of that Zip and the Open/Save dialog box will pop to that Zip. Of course, the same goes for any disk that happens to be mounted. It also works for hard disks or disk partitions. Just click on the icon of a disk or partition and you're there. This works for icons of folders as well. Just click on the icon of a folder and you're there.
But what if the Open/Save dialog box was covering up your open folder, the icon of your destination folder or volume, or the tab? For that matter, what if you need to check the contents of your document but again, it's covered up by the dialog? Ah...remember you can drag the dialog box or resize it.
The Finder menu does one more thing; it lets you physically open any folder you navigate to.
Designating Favorite or Recent Folders
As I said, that default folder stuff is a good head start, but you probably have more than one project going and have several places to which you wish to save. And so you have it. Once a folder is a Favorite, it appears in the Folder menu so you can jump directly to that folder. You simply begin your Save, Save As, or Open as normal, then choose any folder from the Folder menu to jump directly to that folder. Once there you can save your file or open any file from within the folder's content list. If your exact destination isn't in the Favorite and Recent folders list you might use that list to get close
To set a folder as a Favorite, begin a Save/Save As/Open, then navigate until you see the desired folder. Click on it to select it, then go to the Edit menu and select the command that says Add "your folder name" as Favorite. From now on, it'll appear in the Folder's menu with a diamond beside it. (You can change the diamond designator in the Control Panel.) Another way to set a folder as a Favorite is to select it, then press the space bar. Once a Favorite, pressing the space bar removes Favorite status, as does Edit->Remove. By default Action lets us have 10 favorites but we can change that in the Control Panel.
If you are only using the folder a lot for a while, you can set it as Recent instead. Recent folders also appear in the Folders menu. You can also set the number of Recent folders in the Control Panel. Of course, Recent items also include things you have accessed recently.
By the way, you can set the order in which you see Favorite and Recent items in the Control Panel. Click on the Menus tab, then in the Sort area select the order. I prefer to see all my Favorites first so I choose by Favorite, by Name, then by Date. This way my Favorites are all lumped together, then sorted by name, then date.
Saving and Opening Even Faster!
With ACTION Files installed you will also notice a change to the File menus within each application. The change is a list of your Favorite and Recent folders. To save directly to one of these folders, go to File->Save or Save As, then slide over to the folder to which you wish to save. The Open/Save dialog box will still open but it's just a technicality since you know where your document will land. Just press Enter or Return and you're done. If Opening a file, select File->Open, then slide over to the folder that contains the document you wish to open.
Again, if your exact destination isn't in the Favorite and Recent folders list you might use that list to get close. To save to or open from a folder not listed, just slide over to the repetitive Open or Save command.
A direct path to opening documents
You may notice that the Documents menu is sometimes grayed out. It only comes into play when you select File->Open (not Save or Save As). This is the most direct route to opening a document. The Documents menu lists your recently opened documents that can be worked on in your current application. In other words, when in ImageReady or PhotoShop you will see photos, not word processing documents. (In a program such as AppleWorks when you use the pop-up menu to determine which type of files appear in the Open dialog, you'll notice ACTION Files' list also change.) Choosing a document from this menu directly opens that document, automatically dismissing the Open dialog box.
A great memory
Like the popular Boomerang of old, ACTION Files takes you back to where you've been. For example, from AppleWorks you select File->Open, then choose a file. Later, back in AppleWorks you again choose File->Open, and go to that folder, the same file you last selected will be highlighted - even if you've quit AppleWorks in between! Each program and folder has its own memory. (See "Rebound to previous selection" in the Control Panel.) This may seem small, but if you've ever scrolled through a long list of files to check things out, you'll love it!
[Rebound works in tandem with the Documents setting in the General Controls Control Panel.]
Other great memory tricks
You can open files and folders directly from the File menu, even in the Finder, rather than launching a program, then using Open, or locating a file within its folder. (I know the MacOS gives you Recent Items and even has Favorites now, but it's still nice to have this.) When in an application the File menu's Open command lists only documents that can be opened by that program. When in the Finder you see all your recent documents.
ACTION Files also tells you how much room is available on a drive. Just click on the drive icon to reveal a list of your mounted disks and shows the space remaining on each. Of course, selecting a drive from that list takes you to that drive.
Recognizing that not every application will be fully compatible, the Control Panel comes with some programs' features disabled and lets you disable others. Personally, I've never had to disable anything.
Apple's OS 8.5 introduces Apple Navigation services, which provides a bit of flexibility within Open/Save dialog boxes. (If you are not using OS 8.5 this won't matter to you, unless you've specifically installed NavServices.) However, it's up to each application to apply this functionality, and each may do so differently. Meanwhile, ACTION Files provides more functionality and definite continuity between applications. To avoid confusion or conflicts, the ACTION Files Control Panel will let you override NavServices in it's soon-to-be-out next release, 1.2.
So... As you can see, the more you open and save documents, the more you appreciate ACTION Files. I highly recommend this utility. Try it out. Within any application, go to File->Open and one by one navigate to the folders you access most and set them as Favorites. Then give it a shot.
If you ever want to see what you'd be missing without ACTION Files, press the Control key as you click File to do an Open, Save, or Save As. That'll temporarily revert you back to the Mac's menus and dialog box.
Oh... have you noticed the name of their website and Control Panel is ACTION Utilities, yet I wrote only about ACTION Files? It's because there are other ACTION Utilities coming out. I'll keep up on them and recommend them when appropriate, too. (Was that a tease, after all?)