Use the Mac’s Simple Finder for Young Children and Other Limited Users

by Sarah Dobson on November 30, 2020

The Mac’s Finder offers an abundance of features, but some people do better with fewer choices. In particular, preschoolers who are new to the Mac—as well as older people who struggle to understand it—may prefer a more streamlined computing environment that offers fewer opportunities for mistakes. To make the Finder simpler and easier to use, enable Simple Finder.

Introducing Simple Finder

With Apple’s Simple Finder applied to a user account, the user can access apps and documents easily, but in a stripped-down interface that offers fewer menus, simplified windows, and a basic Dock, as you can see in the image below.

Simple Finder eliminates the Finder’s Edit, View, Go, and Window menus, leaving only Finder, File, and Help, and even those menus contain a subset of their usual commands. The only command on the File menu is Close Window!

The Dock shows the Trash and three folders: My Applications, Documents, and Shared (for sharing files with other accounts on the Mac). If any apps are running, you’ll see their icons on the Dock. To launch an app or open a document, click the appropriate folder on the Dock to open its window, and then click the item. The Simple Finder user can’t change the view in these windows or resize them, rearrange icons, or make new folders. To “scroll” in a window, use the arrow buttons at the bottom.

By default, My Applications provides access to most Apple apps—Mail, Safari, Pages, and so on—but not to third-party apps on the Mac, except for the Chrome and Firefox Web browsers if they are installed.

Turning on Simple Finder

Want to turn on Simple Finder? Begin by enabling Parental Controls for the account in question (see our article How to Keep Your Kid from Running Amok on Your Mac). If that account happens to be logged in, log out.

Now, working within an administrator account, follow these steps:

  1. Open System Preferences > Parental Controls.
  2. Click the lock icon in the lower-left corner, and enter the administrator’s credentials.
  3. From the left sidebar, select the account for which you want to use Simple Finder, and on the button bar at the right, click Other.
  4. In the Other view, select “Use Simple Finder.”

The next time the user logs into that account, Simple Finder starts up in place of the usual Finder.

You will likely want to use the normal Finder in that account on occasion to make folders, delete files, empty the Trash, and so on for the user. To switch to the normal Finder from Simple Finder, choose Finder > Run Full Finder and enter the credentials for an administrator account. To switch back to Simple Finder, choose Finder > Return to Simple Finder.

Adding an App

What if you want to add an app—a favorite game, for instance—to those that Simple Finder offers by default? Follow these steps:

  1. Choose Finder > Run Full Finder.
  2. Navigate to the main Applications folder, and launch the app that you want to add to My Applications.By default, Parental Controls allows only a subset of apps to launch in this account. Because this app is not yet allowed, two alerts appear.
  3. In the top dialog, which says the app can’t be opened, click OK.
  4. In the remaining dialog, click Always Allow and enter your administrator credentials when prompted.

The app launches. Next time you switch to Simple Finder, the icon for the app appears in My Applications.

Removing Apps and the Dock Workaround

The only way to remove apps from My Applications is to uninstall them entirely—but this prevents all accounts on the Mac from using them. Plus, uninstalling most core apps, such as Messages, Mail, and Safari, is either impossible or impractical.

A better approach may be to put apps you want to highlight on the Dock, where they are even easier to click. You can’t add an app’s icon to the Dock as you would normally because Simple Finder will remove it next time the account is logged in to, so try this workaround:

  1. Launch the app so that its icon appears in the Dock.
  2. Click and hold on the icon in the Dock to open the app’s Dock menu.
  3. Choose Options > Open at Login.

Now, whenever the Simple Finder account is logged in to, the app will launch automatically and its icon will appear on the Dock.

In a nutshell, Simple Finder reduces clutter and choices, making it helpful for anyone who needs limited options in order to use the Mac successfully.

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