OS X Mavericks Finder Tags: Why they work the way they do

OS X Mavericks Finder Tags: Limitations and legacy explained

One of several new, pro-user friendly new features in OS X Mavericks is Finder Tags. On the surface, they work like any other tagging system, allowing you to categorize and later find files by association. But they also have quirks and oddities all their own. The reason for that can be found in how OS X handles metadata, both now and in the past. John Siracusa explains it like only John Siracusa can. Ars Technica:

When a Tag that has a color assigned to it is applied to a file in Mavericks, Label information is written to the Finder Info field exactly as described above, making Tags at least partly backward-compatible with pre-Mavericks systems. As more colored Tags are added to the file in Mavericks, the Label information changes to reflect the most recently applied Tag. If a Tag does not have a color assigned to it, the Label information is not modified.

There's a ton more to it - including HEX! - and Siracusa dives deep into not only the implementation, but its history. Like many of Apple's decisions, it's pragmatic. Superficial limitations and annoyances make more sense when given context.

Of course, the entire review is well worth reading, as it is every year.

Source: Ars Technica

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Rene Ritchie

EiC of iMore, EP of Mobile Nations, Apple analyst, co-host of Debug, Iterate, Vector, Review, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Reader comments

OS X Mavericks Finder Tags: Why they work the way they do


I used the color labels previously. I have started using the colored tags and I have found handy at work but not so much at home. I have massively more files at work than home. If this was a system I had in place since I started it would be fantastic but working the tags in now it will take a while before I can use them to their full potential.

I never used labels. I just used the Finder hierarchy at first, then switched to Spotlight when that was introduced.

I like the idea of tags, it just doesn't occur to me to use them. I'll have to make it a point and see how they feel.

I saw the tags, but hid them. I'm going to have to play around with them. Looking at your screenshot has shown me the usefulness of the tagging system that I did not first realize.

I'm still lost as to a good workflow for tag use. Can you do a brief article for though of us who've never used them before? Maybe throwing in a few examples of how they work for you and what you use them for? Thanks Rene.

I've actually been using the older colour labels A LOT for as long as I can remember. Personally, it helped a lot in sorting certain folders & files, making it easy to spot visually. Especially if I had a folder with (for example) movies, I would colour code moves that I haven't watched in 1 colour, & movies I've seen or want to keep (& not delete) in different colours.

However, with the new colour tags, it's difficult to visually spot which files of mine are labelled with certain colours. Before, it highlighted/coloured the ENTIRE file name/folder. Now, there's just a coloured circle/dot at the very right of each file. I love the idea of the tags being grouped in the Finder window, but find it VERY inconvenient that my entire folder or file cannot highlighted anymore.

Unless there IS a way, and I don't know about it. Any help with that...?