In past versions of OS X, Apple offered an obvious item count indicator that showed the number of items in a given folder. This feature was present by default in the Finder, which made it convenient to use for managing folder contents. However, Apple has changed this in Lion so that there is no obvious item count indicator.
This setup was done as part of Apple's more minimal approach to the user interface; it has removed toolbars and scroll bars among other items in order to present as much content on screen as possible. Unfortunately, some convenient aspects have been taken out by default, and without much documentation by Apple, it takes hunting around for people to either find these items or find alternatives to them.
In the case of the item count indicator, its default location is on the Finder Status bar, which when enabled is at the bottom of each Finder window. In addition to this location, there are other ways to look up the number of items in a given folder in OS X.
- Enable the Finder "Status" bar.
The best option for viewing items in a folder is to use the Finder status bar, which can be enabled in the View menu or by pressing Command-forward slash on the keyboard. When you do this, the status bar will appear under every Finder window, which will show the amount of free space on the hard drive along with both the number of items in the current folder and the number of selected items.
- Get information on the folder.
If you don't need to always see selection number and total item counts, then you can select the folder itself and press Command-I to get information on it. In the information window you will see an item count listing displayed in the "Size" line of the "General" section.
Do keep in mind that this calculation will include the folder itself, and therefore show the number of items plus one. It will also only work for folders, and not for other items such as disks.
- Use the inspector.
Similar to the OS X Info window, you can use the Inspector panel to quickly get information on selected items and thereby get a count of the number of selected items. To do this, first invoke the inspector by pressing Option-Command-I, and then select the folder in question. When you do this, the inspector window will resemble the Finder's Info window.
Another approach is to open the folder in question and press Command-A to select all items with the inspector window open. Doing this will have the inspector display information on the selected items, including the number of them.
A final option for determining the number of files in a folder is to use the Finder's drag indicators. To do this, select all items and then click and drag them so your pointer hovers over another folder. When you do this, you will see a red circle appear next to your pointer that indicates the number of items that will be affected by the move/copy action, and can get your item count from here.
This approach may not be the most desired because an inadvertent release of the mouse can result in moving or copying items, though there are a couple of ways to prevent this. The first is to press the Escape key before releasing the mouse, and the drag event will be cancelled. The second approach is to press Command-Z to undo any copy or move action that happens if you do release the mouse too soon.
These approaches should be enough to help you determine the number of items in a folder, but if there are others please post them below in the comments.