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Summary:

Many people use Quicksilver as a replacement for Spotlight, but if you’re happy with the native file search and app launcher in Mac OS X, then why change? You probably know that you can access Spotlight quickly with the Command-spacebar keyboard shortcut, but here are a […]

Many people use Quicksilver as a replacement for Spotlight, but if you’re happy with the native file search and app launcher in Mac OS X, then why change? You probably know that you can access Spotlight quickly with the Command-spacebar keyboard shortcut, but here are a few more tricks you might not know exist.

  • Spotlight makes a great calculator and dictionary. Just open the search box, type an equation, and watch the answer appear as you type. It works on long equations with several steps (623+191*87-4), as well as mathematical terms like square root or power. Type a word in the search box and its meaning appears in the results — so you can search for the definition of pi or the numerical value of pi, your choice.
  • By default, Spotlight shows the first 20 results of a search. While you can’t change the number of returns, you can eliminate some of the categories the app checks so the results you get are more pertinent. Select Spotlight in the System Preferences, and click on Search Results. If you typically use Spotlight to search documents and email then uncheck categories like Webpages and Music so they’re ignored in the future.
  • Do you tag your pictures with keywords in iPhoto? Use Spotlight to snag images and drop them right into an email without even opening iPhoto. If your photos contain metadata on what type of camera was used, start your search with the keyword make to get a list of all pictures taken with that camera (for example, make:Nikon).
  • Spotlight can search inside the public files of other Macs on your network, if they’re running Leopard. If they’re running an older version of OS X, or another operating system entirely, it can only search for specific file names.
  • Many popular third-party apps, like OmniOutliner and Intaglio, have plugins for Spotlight to make their files searchable too. Check here for a full list of what’s available, and to find out if your favorite app has a plugin you didn’t know about.

What’s your favorite Spotlight trick? Let me know in the comments.

  1. There’s an important typo in the example about using Spotlight to search for images based on the metadata. Your example was make: Nikon, but it won’t work with the space. The correct format, then, is make:Nikon.

    Related to this search string, one could do a search for images of bread by searching on the following text: bread kind:image. For other file formats, simply replace “image” with the desired type: doc (for documents), pdf, etc.

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  2. If you’re on Tiger (like my G5) and you want to use Spotlight as an application launcher you can enter something like iPhoto and then hit Command+Enter to launch.

    In Leopard the application is already selected so you don’t need the command key.

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  3. Anyone know a way of searching/indexing a VMWare Fusion virtual machine (XP Home) using Spotlight? That’s the missing link for me.

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  4. Tacking on to Murphy Mac’s comment (#2), in Leopard using Command+Enter on a selected file in Spotlight results will reveal the file in the Finder.

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  5. nice lil article good

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  6. When on Tiger Quicksilver was a must. Now on Leopard, its speed is improved enough that quicksilver isn’t needed for app launching, so I don’t use it. I do miss all of the other things QS did though, like controlling my iTunes.

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  7. All I know is I upgraded to Leopard from Tiger and Spotlight was the one thing they ruined. It is so ugly. The Tiger spotlight was 10000% better than Leopard Spotlight. What kind of East Germany-like decision in Apple took place? The results window sucks. And I don’t say sucks often. In Tiger it gave the categories all nicely laid out. Now it just plops them all on top of each other. The results themselves seem worse the Tiger’s Spotlight too. Fix Spotlight please Apple.

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  8. Joey are you high?

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  9. I totally agree with Joey and I shall speak for him when I say no he is not high. Why can’t we list results by creation date? Where the file is located?

    I am so sick of the irrelevant and ridiculous search results that I switched to using Google Desktop.

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  10. My favorite spotlight trick is to not use spotlight at all:

    find /* >> /biglist && grep -i “whatever” /biglist

    Why? Because spotlight has never been as good as grep, that’s why.

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