First time Mac user. I am confused by the fact that the finder application is always open. For example, when switching apps with Cmd+Tab, it is always there, even when there are no windows opened for the app. Cmd-tabbing to Finder with no windows/tabs opened for it has no effect (it seems to me it would more intuitive to open a new tab when this action is chosen).

Furthermore, there is no 'Close app' option when I right click the Finder icon in the dock. Am I misunderstanding something about the Finder app? Is it required for proper functioning of Mac OS? From what I see, Finder is just a file browser, which by no means should be forced to be open 100% of the time.

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    At first I didn't see anything, but I see now that the desktop in itself is a Finder window. Makes sense, just like with Gnome, etc. – levesque Feb 28 '17 at 15:59
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    See it as explorer.exe which is also always open on Windows – Stéphane Bruckert Feb 28 '17 at 17:08
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    Thing is you don't see explorer.exe in Windows unless you open the task manager. It is there, but behind the scenes, you don't see it when alt-tabbing. – levesque Feb 28 '17 at 17:45
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    @levesque That's actually not true. Since Windows 7 (almost 10 years now), "Desktop" has been included in the Alt-Tab list. That's explorer.exe. – Andrew Medico Feb 28 '17 at 22:37
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    @levesque Alt-tabbing to Finder does do something, just not everything it does in Windows. You are now in the Finder, and can do things like open up new finder windows, make folders on your desktop, and call "hide others", thus displaying the desktop. – Logarr Mar 1 '17 at 15:26

The main reason it's always open is that it displays the icons on the desktop. You can check what the finder does by enabling the "Quit" menu feature. To do this, launch the Terminal application and enter the following commands:

defaults write com.apple.finder QuitMenuItem -bool YES

Hit return. Then restart the Finder by running

killall Finder

Close the Terminal. Click on the Desktop, choose "Finder" in the top bar, and "Quit Finder". Now you're running without Finder. First thing you'll notice is that all Desktop icons will be gone.

To get your desktop icons back, just click on Finder in the Dock.

If you want to remove the "Quit Finder" menu item, you can do that with:

defaults write com.apple.finder QuitMenuItem -bool NO

It's not only a "file browser", but it's responsible for quite a bit of GUI functionality such as the Desktop, following paths and connecting to servers. Finder is always running, and a launch service will relaunch it if it is quit unnaturally. Much like File Explorer (explorer.exe) on Windows, you shouldn't quit it. Quit functionality can be added back to Finder, but you really shouldn't unless you have a very good reason for it.

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    Actually, Finder is not auto-relaunched, regardless of the QuitMenuItem setting. I've observed this in 10.9 through 10.12. – Bob Mar 1 '17 at 1:32
  • Haha, I find myself quitting explorer.exe quite often XD I find my way around without the GUI fairly easily since clthe command prompt can still be used – Brevan Ellefsen Mar 1 '17 at 23:02
  • Quit functionality can be added back to Finder, but you really shouldn't Why not? Aside from the GUI functions, no part of the system depends on the Finder. IMO the Finder is just a file browser -- the GUI functionality of displaying icons on the desktop is just one of the functions of that file browser. – Josh Mar 2 '17 at 17:24

Think of the background process for Finder akin to that of the 'Windows Explorer' background process on Windows. As mentioned above, it is essential for the MacOS UI & GUI elements on the desktop. If you are new to Mac, take a look at the Activity Monitor App in your Utilities folder. This is essentially the Mac equivalent to Task Manager on Windows and can help organize/debug processes in the background.

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