Tab Tricks Two

Written and published March 16, 1999

A while back I talked about tabs as an efficient way the MacOS lets us get to our folders. This week I want to go into a bit more detail on the tricks you can do with tabs.

There are two ways to turn a folder into a Pop-up Window, AKA tabbed folder or just plain tab. In both cases, the folder must actually be opened as a window and be the active window (be front most and have the window controls active). You can select the View->As Pop-up Window command - which automatically lines that folder up as the next in line from left to right. Or you can control specifically where the folder lands by dragging the titlebar down to any position at the bottom of your screen until it shows as an outline of a tab. In case you're wondering, you cannot just select a folder and choose View->As Pop-up Window.

Arranging tabbed folders

Once a folder is tabbed, you can drag it anywhere along the bottom of your screen; simply click on the tab, hold the mouse down, drag, then release the mouse when the folder is in the desired location. You can even drag one tab past another, providing there is room for the dragged folder to land when you're done dragging it. If there isn't enough room for a folder, it will just remain in its original position or a dialog will appear; tabs can't be pushed around. To make room for a tab between two existing tabs, you must drag each tab into position individually.

Sizing tabs

By default, when you tab a folder, the tab is large enough to accommodate the entire name of your folder. You can easily run out of room at the bottom of your screen, especially if you use descriptive folder names (as I recommend for projects). There's a trick to making a tab shorter, truncating the folder's name. The secret is to place the folder between two existing tabs. The folder you drag into place between them will squeeze in (unless you leave way too little space) and the name will shorten as allowable. First drag the enveloping tabs into place, leaving just the desired amount of space between the two. A long folder name will shorten to fit into place. However, dragging the tab back to where there is more room will not lengthen the name again. Therefore, if the name shortens so much you don't recognize the name or like the way it looks, you must untab the folder, then retab it. Sometimes it takes a few tries to get the name just right.

The look of tabs

Rather than just relying on the name of a folder, you might like an icon as a visual clue. This is of particular aid when you shorten the tabs, eliminating much of the name. This way you can even eliminate the entire name if you like. You'll notice (with OS 8.5) that when you tab a folder, the icon of the folder appears in the tab. (I seem to recall icons do not appear in tabs in 8.1.) Instead of having a plain folder icon, you can give your folder a custom icon - which will appear on the tab. For example, for my drag and drop folder (called drag), I copied the icon from the Mouse control panel, then edited it down to just the icon of a mouse and pasted the mouse into place on my folder. Now instead of having the word drag, I moved my tabs closer, resizing this tab down to only the image of the mouse. I know the mouse stands for dragging so I'm clued in. (Sorry, I can't go into creating custom icons this week as this is already too long.) In case you're curious, label colors don't appear in the tab. (I tried.)

Moving a Folder

Here's something that may be handy for you someday, but is more likely to confuse the heck out of you before that. If you click on the icon of a folder (whether plain or customized) on a tab, then drag immediately, instead of popping up the tab, you will actually move the folder! For example, if you drag that icon onto the desktop, you'll move your folder from where ever it is in your hard drive, placing in directly on the desktop instead. If you move a folder icon to another volume, such as a second hard disk, a removable disk, or another partition on your hard disk, you will actually copy that folder to the new location. If you find you've unwittingly moved the folder to your desktop, you can click once on that folder to select it, then select File->Put Away to return it to its original location. However, if you copy the folder by accident, you'll need to trash that copy. (Remember having two copies of the same file or folder will lead to confusion when you make edits to one and don't recall which is current or accurate.)

Revealing the Path

Just like with the name of any file or folder in any titlebar, if you Command-click on the name of the folder at the top of a tab, a pop-up menu will appear showing you the path to that folder. If you drag down to any folder in that pup-up menu while still pressing Command, then let go of the mouse (and the Command key), the selected folder will open.


To untab a folder drag it way up off the bottom of the screen. An outline will show you when it has reverted to a regular window. Alternatively, you can click on the tab, then select any other view from the View menu.

What to tab

You can tab any folder you wish. There are no rules, and there is no right or wrong.

As I mentioned in an earlier column, I keep a tab called Drag, in which I have aliases of any application I need to use the drag and drop launch method with. For example, I keep the ever-useful JPEGView in there, allowing me to view JPEGS and GIFs that people send me. I also keep ShrinkWrap there, as I tend to create disk images often.

I tend to tab any project I am actively working on. That way I have easy access to it when I need it. These are folders I might not bother to put in my Apple menu so the tab is my easiest access. After a project is complete, I drag the folder off the bottom of the screen, untabbing it, and close the window.

Sometimes I put an alias to a folder in my Apple menu, but also make that very folder a tab. (It's a funny feeling when I forget it's a tab and choose it in the Apple menu only to see it pop up from the tab.) As mentioned in an earlier column this is useful for the App launcher folder, but it's redundant for projects.

Tab Folder Feedback

Here are some helpful notes from readers that help clarify tabs further.

Brian Caslis writes:

I just wanted to note that on all my Macs running 8.5, when you start
with extensions off (shift key held down) tabbed folders are OK. They do
not revert to plain open folder. I don't remember for sure the behavior
under 8.0 and 8.1, but I believe it was the same. In your column you
stated they revert to regular open folders and I believe this is
Brian Caslis

Deb's Note: Brian is correct that I was incorrect. I should have been clearer originally. It's not when I start with extensions off that I lose the pop-up menus - it is when I restart with extensions back on. Even so, perhaps this only happens with certain monitors. I have a multi-synch monitor. My tabbed folders also untab when I switch to 640x480.

Henry Melton writes:

I have a problem in that I change screen resolutions frequently, in fact
on my G3 at home booting with extensions off caused the screen to be
640x480. This clobbers my popup window layout and throws out any windows
it can't fit on the now smaller baseline. After repairing this several
times, I automated it.

I have a "<space>QuickFind" folder in the Apple Menu Folder, and this
AppleScript to make each folder or alias in QuickFind into a popup.
on run

tell application "Finder"
set theList to every item of folder " QuickFind" of folder "Apple Menu
Items" of folder "System Folder" of startup disk
repeat with i from 1 to the number of items in theList
set theFolder to item i of theList
select theFolder
open selection
set popup of the front window to false
end repeat
close every window
repeat with i from 1 to the number of items in theList
set theFolder to item i of theList
select theFolder
open selection
set popup of the front window to true
end repeat
close every window
end tell
end run

Deb's Note: This is cool! It will automatically locate each folder, open it, then set it as a tab. It won't place them in the exact order you may have had them and can't adjust the tab widths but it gets the folders tabbed! With Henry's permission, here's the actual Applet, Refresh Popups, for you to download (Requires StuffIt Expander 5.x). (Or, if you're into AppleScript you can create your own applet from Russell's script, above.) To use Refresh Popups, download it and keep it handy. Then open your Apple Menu Folder and place a folder called " QuickFind" being sure to include a space in front of the word QuickFind. Into the " QuickFind" folder, place an alias of each folder you want as a tab. Then, whenever you lose your tabs, just double-click the applet the same as launching any program, and sit back while you watch your tabs reappear. If this isn't your cup of tea, read on and try out R. Russell Reed's tip.

R. Russell Reed writes:

In order to have easy access to my pop-up folders when I don't load
extensions, I created a root-level folder labeled "Pop-Up Folders," and
put aliases of my pop-up folders in it. With a small screen like mine,
even window-shaded windows get it the way at times; I find this approach
a reasonable compromise.

Deb's Note: By creating this folder, when he needs to reset his pop-ups
all he has to do is open the one folder, then double-click each alias and
set it back into pop-up position. That way he doesn't have to go
searching for every folder in order to reset it.

Arshad Tayyeb writes:

Hi Deborah,
I just read your MacCentral article on using pop-Up Tabs, and I'd like to
share something I do that might add convenience. I made my "Favorites"
folder from the Apple Menu Items folder, a tab, so that all I have to do
to add to this tab is Ctrl-click on a file/application, and select "Add
to Favorites". Which I find much easier than creating an alias and
dragging it to the right folder (and then deleting the alias if it was
copied because it was on a different partition).

Deb's Note: Good idea!

That's it for now folks

Next week we'll look some more at hard drive organization, with an eye toward efficient back up. Then, if you want, I'll spend a week or two on customizing icons. There are a couple of good programs that help with that task, in addition to the regular finder trick.

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