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Step by Step Guide to Creating and Using Stacks in Mac OS X

written by: Mike Piero•edited by: Michael Dougherty•updated: 9/20/2010

Creating folders that use "stacks" in Mac OS X (Snow) Leopard is an easy way to organize your files and folders to access what you know quickly and efficiently. This tutorial will show you the ins and outs of using stacks.

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    What Are Stacks and How To Create Them

    Stacks are a new feature in Mac OS X (Snow) Leopard that allow you to create and use folders that pop up to show the contents of those folders in an organized manner. The two standard stacks that show up by default are your Documents and Downloads folders. To get rid of a stack, you click on it and drag it to the desktop. Then poof! It disappears just like a Dock icon that is removed.

    To add a stack, open a Finder window and find the folder that you wish to add. Then, you simply drag the folder to the Dock, but to the right of the gray horizontal lines on the right side of the Dock. Those lines allow you to change the size of the Dock, but they also demarcate which icons are regular Dock shortcuts (left) and which ones are Stacks (right).

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    Configuring Stacks

    stacks Once you have your stack on the Dock, there are a few ways to configure it for your needs. All you need to do is right click (or Command click) on the stack to bring up its options:

    • Sort By: This will allow you to sort the files that show up in the stack in a few different ways. To the left is my Downloads stack, which I sort either by Date Created or Date Added so that the files that I download are immediately shown in the stack.
    • Display As: You can display your stacks as either folders (they just appear as folders on the Dock) or as Stacks, which shows the first two or three items in the stack.
    • View Content As: This allows you to configure your stacks to display themselves as either a fan or a grid. Both of these are pictured below. Grids work well for folders like Applications in which you need to browse through the folder items quickly and frequently. The Fan shows only seven items, which can be nice for folders like Downloads or Documents. With these folders, you generally don't need to see all of the items at once, but usually just new items or the most frequently used ones.

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    Grid and Fan

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    Overview of Stacks

    Creating folders in stacks is a great way to organize and access the folders and files that you use most. When I upgraded to Snow Leopard, I found that this feature saved me a ton of time in getting to my downloads, documents, and applications quickly and efficiently. One problem that Apple will have to work on is that, at present, you cannot right click (or command click) on an item in a stack, which can be problematic at times. If I have an html file in a stack that is set to open in Safari but I want to open in Dreamweaver to edit, I can't just right click on the file in the stack and go through Open With. Instead, I either have to open the file in Finder or drag the file from my stacked folder to the desktop and work on it there.

    Despite this limitation, stacks are easy to set up, fun to use, and a great time saver.