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Chapter 4. Programs and Documents > The Save and Open Dialog Boxes

4.7. The Save and Open Dialog Boxes

When you choose File→Save, you're asked where you want the new document stored on your hard drive. In Panther, the resulting dialog box is crystal-clear—more than ever, it's a miniature Finder. All of the skills you've picked up working at the desktop come into play here.

To give it a try, launch any included Mac OS X program that has a Save or Export command—TextEdit, for example. (Not all programs from other software companies have yet updated their Save dialog boxes.) Type a couple of words and then choose File→Save. The Save sheet appears ( Figure 4-13).


In Mac OS X, a quick glance at the Close button in the upper-left corner of a document window tells you whether it's been saved. When a small dot appears in the red button, it means you've made changes to the document that you haven't yet saved (time to press -S!). The dot disappears as soon as you save your work.

4.7.1. Sheets

In the days of antique operating systems like Mac OS 9 and Windows, the Save dialog box appeared dead center on the screen, where it commandeered your entire operation. You weren't allowed to switch to any other document until you clicked Save or Cancel to close the dialog box. Moreover, because it seemed stuck to your screen rather than to a particular document, you couldn't actually tell which document you were saving—a real problem when you quit out of a program that had three unsaved documents open.

All of this struck Mac OS X's designers as user-hostile and unnecessarily rigid.

In most Mac OS X programs, there's no mystery regarding which document you're saving, because a little Save dialog box called a sheet slides directly out of the document's title bar. Now there's no mistaking which document you're saving.

Better still, you can think of this little Save box as a sticky note attached to the document. It will stay there, neatly attached and waiting, even if you switch to another program, another document within the same program, the desktop, or wherever. When you finally return to the document, the Save sheet will still be there, waiting for you to type a file name and save the document.

Figure 4-13. Top: The Save dialog box, or sheet, initially appears in a compact view. Right (inset): If you open the Where pop-up menu, you'll find that Mac OS X neatly lists all the places it thinks you might want to save your new document: on the hard drive or iDisk, in a folder that you've put into your Sidebar (Section 1.2.1), or into a folder you've recently opened.

Bottom: If you want to choose a different folder or create a new folder, click the downpointing triangle to expand the dialog box. Here, you see the equivalent of the Finder—with a choice of list or column view. (In this view, the Where pop-up menu now reveals the folder hierarchy—the folder path—that you've descended to reach the folder location before you.)

4.7.2. Simplified Navigation

Of course, you, O savvy reader, have probably never saved a document into some deeply nested folder by accident, never to see it again. But millions of novices (and even a few experts) have fallen into this trap.

When the Save sheet appears, however, a pop-up menu shows you precisely where Mac OS X proposes putting your newly created document: usually in the Documents folder of your own Home folder. For many people, this is an excellent suggestion. If you keep everything in your Documents folder, it will be extremely easy to find, and you'll be able to back up your work just by dragging that single folder to a backup disk.

But as described in Figure 4-13, the Where pop-up menu gives you direct access to some other places you might want to save a newly created file. (The keystrokes for the most important folders work here, too—Shift--H for your Home folder, for example.)


The Save box always displays whatever places you've put in your Sidebar. (In compact view, the Where pop-up menu lists them; in expanded view, you see the Sidebar itself.)

The bottom line: If, on some project, you find yourself wanting to save new documents into the same deeply buried folder all the time, press F11 to duck back to the Finder, and add it to your Sidebar. From now on, you'll have quick access to it from the Save dialog box.

4.7.3. Column View/List View Navigation

When you save a file, the options in the Where pop-up menu have you covered 90 percent of the time. Most people work with a limited set of folders for active documents.

But when you want to save a new document into a new folder, or when you want to navigate to a folder that isn't listed in the Where pop-up menu, all is not lost. Click the large black triangle shown in Figure 4-13.

After a moment, a familiar scene appears: a compact version of a Finder window. You should be on reassuring turf here: There's your Sidebar (Section 1.2.1), there's your toggle switch between list and column views (although no icon view), there's the Back button, and so on. No other operating system on earth makes it so easy to navigate your folders from within the Save dialog box.


In column view, your first instinct should be to widen this window, making more columns available. Do so by carefully dragging the lower-right corner of the dialog box. Mac OS X will remember the size you like for this Save sheet independently in each program.

Most of the familiar Finder-navigation shortcuts work here, too. For example, press the right and left arrow keys to navigate the columns, or the up and down arrow keys to highlight the disk and folder names within a column. Once you've highlighted a column, you can also type to select the first letters of disk or folder names.

Highlight the name of the folder in which you want to save your newly created document. Alternatively, you can click the New Folder button to create a new folder inside whatever folder is highlighted in the column view. (The usual New Folder keystroke works here, too: Shift--N.) You'll be asked to type the new name for the folder. After you've done so, click Create (or press Enter). The new folder appears in the rightmost pane of the column view. You can now proceed with saving your new document into it, if you like.

The next time you save a new document, the Save sheet will reappear in whatever condition you left it. That is, if you used column view the last time, it will still be in column view. At any time, you can collapse it into simplified view, shown at top in Figure 4-12, by again clicking the fat black triangle to the right of the Where pop-up menu.

4.7.4. Insta-Jumping to a Folder Location

Whether you're using the mini-sheet or the expanded view, you can save yourself some folder-burrowing time by following the tip shown in Figure 4-14. This feature is totally undocumented—but well worth learning.


If, when the Save box in its expanded condition, you click the name of an existing file, Mac OS X thoughtfully copies the name of the clicked file into the Save As: text box (which otherwise said "Untitled" or was blank).

This trick can save you time when you're saving a second document with a slightly modified name (Oprah and Me: The Inside Story, Chapter 1 and then Oprah and Me: The Inside Story, Chapter 2). It's also useful if you want to replace the original file with the new one you're saving. Instead of having to type out the entire name of the file, you can just click it.

Figure 4-14. The quickest way to specify a folder location is to drag the icon of any folder or disk from your desktop directly into the Save or Open sheet. Mac OS X instantly displays the contents of that folder or disk. You'll see by the Where pop-up menu that Mac OS X has indeed understood your intention.

4.7.5. The File Format Pop-up Menu

The Save dialog box in many programs offers a pop-up menu of file formats below the Save As box. Use this menu when preparing a document for use by somebody else—somebody whose computer doesn't have the same software. For example, if you've used a graphics program to prepare a photograph for use on the Web, this menu is where you specify JPEG format (the standard Web format for photos).

4.7.6. The Open File Dialog Box

The dialog box that appears when you choose File→Open is almost identical to the expanded Save File sheet (see Figure 4-15). Because you encounter it only when you're opening an existing file, this dialog box lacks the New Folder button, Save button, file name field, and so on.

Most of the other Save File dialog box controls, however, are equally useful here. Once again, you can begin your navigation by seeing what's on the desktop (press -D) or in your Home folder (press Shift--H). Once again, you can find a folder or disk by beginning your quest with the Sidebar, and then navigate using either list or column view. And once again, you can drag a folder or disk off your desktop directly into the dialog box to specify where you want to look.

When you've finally located the file you want to open, do so by double-clicking it or highlighting it (which you can do from the keyboard), and then pressing Return, Enter, or -O.

In general, most people don't encounter the Open File dialog box nearly as often as the Save File dialog box. That's because the Mac offers many more convenient ways to open a file—double-clicking its icon in the Finder, choosing its name from the → Recent Items command, and so on—but only a single way to save a new file.


In Panther, Apple removed the Go To box from the bottom of the Open sheet. That is, you can no longer type a folder path (such as ~/pictures or ~/pi and a Tab) right into the blank—or at least that's what you're supposed to think. In fact, though, you can still summon that old friendly "Go To" dialog box by pressing Shift--G.

Figure 4-15. Mac OS X's Open dialog box shows you only icons for disks, folders, and documents that you can actually open at this moment. For example, when using Preview as shown here, Word and TextEdit documents appear dimmed and unavailable, while picture files show up fine.

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