Eight ways to save time with proxy icons

Sharon Zardetto, Macworld
14 April, 2010
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Have you ever noticed the miniature icon that sits next to a window’s name in its title bar? It’s more than just a decoration. In many instances, you can work with this icon — known as the proxy icon — just as you would a full-size file icon in the Finder, which can often save you the hassle of navigating back to the original item to copy or move it. And document proxy icons offer their own unique opportunities.

Here are some of my favourite time-saving tricks:

1. Move an opened folder

Say you open a folder to check its contents, realise you don’t need any of it any more, and then decide to delete the whole thing. There’s no need to access the original folder, which necessitates opening a different window or moving back in the current one (depending on your window setup). Instead, drag the proxy icon from the window’s title bar to the Trash icon in the Dock, making what would otherwise be a multi-step procedure a cinch.

You can drag a folder proxy icon into another folder (including those in other open windows, on the Desktop, and in a Finder window’s sidebar or toolbar). You can also put a folder in the sidebar by dragging its proxy icon into the Places category.

2. Make a copy or an alias of a folder

In the spirit of “anything you can do to a folder, you can do to its proxy,” you can make a copy or an alias of the proxy icon’s folder by using the correct modifier keys. To make a copy of an opened folder, drag its proxy off the title bar to a new location while holding down the Option key. To make an alias, drag the proxy icon while pressing Command and Option.

3. Take advantage of Info window proxy icons

You have four versions of a document, each in a different folder. You’ve opened Info windows (using File -> Get Info) for each one so you can compare their various attributes, and you identify two of them as totally useless. Now that you’re ready to delete them, you don’t have to go back to their original locations to do so. Just drag each extraneous document’s proxy icon from the title bar of its Info window to the Trash.

You can also use the proxy icon (for a folder or a document) in an Info window to move the original item to a new location by simply dragging it there. Command-drag it to make a copy, or Command-Option-drag it to make an alias of the original.

4. Put an opened folder in the toolbar

If you make good use of Finder window toolbars, you’ve run into times when you’ve realised that the currently open folder is one that would be handy in the toolbar. You can do this very efficiently by dragging a folder’s proxy icon into the toolbar of its own window, dropping it into the spot you want.

5. Activate a document’s proxy icon 

Finder windows aren’t the only place you’ll see proxy icons. Almost all documents have them, too. The important thing to know is that you cannot manipulate these proxy icons if the current version of the document hasn’t been saved.

You won’t be able to do anything with your document’s proxy icon if you haven’t saved your changes. A saved document has a clear proxy icon and a plain red Close button; a document with unsaved changes has a dimmed proxy icon and a dark dot in the Close button.

The quickest way to confirm this is to check the document window’s title bar. A dimmed proxy icon (as well as a dark dot inside the red Close button) indicates that the document has unsaved changes.

6. Combine document contents in Microsoft Word

Need to copy the copy the contents of one Microsoft Word document into another? There’s no need to select everything and then mess with Copy and Paste. With two documents open in Word, drag the proxy from one window’s title bar into a spot inside the other window.

7. Preview a Web page

If you’re working on a Web-design document in almost any application, you can drag its proxy icon into an Apple Safari or Mozilla Firefox window to see the result of your current design.

8. Move or copy a document

Since you can’t use a document’s proxy icon unless the document has been saved, you can’t drag a proxy to the Finder to save the document. However, you can drag a saved document’s proxy icon to the Finder, which moves the document to the new location. (This is in contrast to the Save As command, which leaves the previous version in place and creates a new version in the target location.) You can also Option-drag a document proxy icon to the Finder to create a copy of the document in the target spot, or Command-drag it to create an alias.

Sharon Zardetto wrote this article with one hand and a couple of broken bones and would like to remind you that seatbelts save lives.

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