Q How can I change the sorting order used in the Finder so that it places all folders before individual files, when listing a folder’s contents?
A You cannot alter the Finder’s sorting order in this way, which is one of the options offered by Windows.
You have a range of different properties on which you can order the sort, but if you opt for items to be sorted by name, all items will be placed in a single sequence, with folders intermingled according to their names. The Finder will group different types of items, separating folders, if you use the View / Arrange by / Kind menu command, and this is different from using the Show View Options command in the View menu. The latter also allows you to Sort by Kind, but the effect of Arrange and Sort are different.
You can alter the linguistic base on which the sort is ordered, in the ‘List sort order’ popup menu in the Language & Region pane, but this will still be applied irrespective of whether items are folders or files.
Some users manipulate the order in which items appear by adopting their own naming conventions, for example prefixing those you want to appear at the top of the list with 00 characters, although this requires discipline. If you opt for this, it is worth avoiding non-alphanumeric characters, as these can cause problems with some software. Finder substitutes might be worth a look, but are seldom worth the effort, and are still likely to use the system sorting order.
If you fancy hacking the Finder itself (I would advise you not to, though), Jason Verly gives detailed instructions as to how you can do so to list folders before files on MyGeekDaddy.net. But the next time that there is an OS X update it is likely to break, and it could potentially break other things.
Updated from the original, which was first published in MacUser volume 27 issue 18, 2011.