Blog Post

5 Things You Never Knew About Spotlight

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.

38 Responses to “5 Things You Never Knew About Spotlight”

  1. + всмысле?
    Замечательно, это ценное сообщение
    Своевременный топик
    это точно !!
    И что из этого следует?

  2. :)Между нами говоря, рекомендую поискать ответ на Ваш вопрос в
    Какие нужные слова… супер, отличная фраза
    можно было бы и без мата..
    Я конечно, прошу прощения, мне тоже хотелось бы высказать своё мнение.
    Это весьма ценное мнение

  3. Охотно принимаю. Тема интересна, приму участие в обсуждении.

  4. To the last comment:

    Dude… you are completely free to think what you want; like or dislike OS X. Nobody will force you to buy and use one. And of course, absolutely no OS is perfect and we would always like some ameliorations.

    i.e., In Finder, I would like an additional type of Arrangement, because I like my habits of having the folder first in alphanumerical order and then the files…. but that’s surely because I’m a old Windows user.

    Of course, there’s some trick and the other type of order that are also very interesting in some way, but it would be great to have this mode and have a button to switch quickly during the browsing.

    So, yes… as you can see, I don’t think Finder is perfect… but I also want to mention we all need to plainly understand how a system work before to give an opinion. Finder is one of the base of OS X, (as Explorer is for Windows), then it’s crucial to forgot some of the habit of one system to work the way we should with the other one.

    The Tree for example is available in some way. There’s the Path View (already mentioned), but also the List View. There’s the little arrow in front of each folder you can expand and then go deeper and deeper in the ‘tree’. BTW, it’s exactly the same design used in Vista tree.
    The only difference? In Windows there’s 2 splited window… one for the tree only and one for the ‘result’. In Finder, the left side isn’t for the tree. But it doesn’t mean you don’t have it in the right, which contain both tree and result if you are in List or CoverFlow View.

    In OS X the left side is used for the “sources”, such the devices, places, etc… To be honest, after some times with, I like it better. It makes senses and that’s pretty fast and easy to access to what I’m looking at.

    Regarding the Task Manager: OS X is a user focus system, where Window is a machine focus system.

    What that means?

    That means in Windows you will have a Task Manager with all of your process (even if you don’t know what they are used for, or even if an application use more than 1 process to run). And that’s how you have over 80 process, exe, dll, etc… listed in the task manager.

    In OS X, there’s a different approach which is User focus… that means, focus on what an User (even the dumbiest user) could understand. That’s why only the applications are listed in the “Task Manager”. A OS X User doesn’t care to know there’s 1 or more than 1 process to run an application he wants to use. The “Task Manager” in OS X is the “Force Quit Application”, which is accessible with CMD+OPTION+ESC. I admit this window is very simple and doesn’t have all information such (CPU use, memory use, etc…)… Honestly, I never need it so far, even thought it would be great to be able to have something a bit complete (at least for the CPU and memory use).

    Regarding the Task Bar now… as explain, it’s the dock. Ok, you probably don’t like the dock… OK, but that’s the way Apple choose to show in OS X. Do you know you can customize the dock a lot? First you just have to drag an icon out of the dock to remove it and then remove everything useless… or even have a complete empty dock (such the Windows Taskbar). Then, you can build your own stacks (such one with your all Application, and called it: START). It would be a bit silly to do that… but it would work fine.

    The Stacks are useful to have lot of icons and save some spaces in your dock… On my “little” 13.3″ screen, I already have 25 icons spaces in the dock… 25 apps in the Windows Taskbar won’t be better anyway. And if you have a look on the Windows 7 Taskbar, it’s just a Windows version of the Dock.

    Don’t get me wrong, everybody knows each company copy what an other company does well. It’s true for Windows, OS X, Linux, etc… Apple also did copy Microsoft for few things in the past… and vice versa.

    Regarding the Delete command… I know you will perhaps not like this reply, but you don’t delete file on OS X. You move them to the trash. So, there’s some logic somewhere why “Del” key doesn’t make sense to move a file… even thought, to move it on the trash.

    And now the last thing (and not the least)… Regarding the reply from Mac Users.

    You know what? Honestly I don’t care because I’ve been a PC Users for over 20 years (including Linux and FreeBSD for my servers, Solaris for my sun rack, QNX and BeOS to test for fun) and a Mac User for few months only. I don’t care what people (both Mac or PC Users) think because I talk on my own. I became a Mac User lately and seriously don’t regret because it’s the first time I enjoy really using a computer and not having to deal with all-day-long. But I’m not a Apple Fanboy and anti-MS or anti-Windows neither…

    The only thing I ever notice is:

    It’s always the same thing… you said Mac guys react always the same way, but let me tell you: Win Guys too! Win Guys always complain about how apple product are expensive, and how great windows is too and how they don’t like OS X…

    So what? Fine… Who cares then? Just don’t buy Apple Product, don’t use Mac OS X and stay with Windows…. period! Do I go to a Windows Forum or Blog to complain how many time I lost my work when my Windows unit crashed, or how many times I lost to try to make it work, and how great OS X is?

    I understand you probably don’t like the reply from Sam, from me or other people. But the fact is, we just explain you how it works and how it is conceived to be used. A system is complex and nobody can claim to know every single trick, tips, command, shortcut, etc… Then, if you don’t like the reply, don’t kill the messenger. Do what you think is great for you. If you don’t like the way Finder works, you can still try some alternative and 3rd party “File Manager” application…. and if nothing works as you wish, just stop using OS X… It’s your right as any consumer.

    But there’s no reason to try to convince someone else to follow a choice you do for yourself… The best way is to know how each system works and choose the one which makes more sense for us… that’s it!

    my 2 cents,

  5. Ok, to Sam – what is it with you mac users that you cannot take criticism? Why am I not allowed to have an opinion – instead of disagreeing with me, you just say I am plain wrong. This is typical of mac users- I am sorry, but I think Finder is the worst file manager program I have used in years. If you like it so much, great- I am pleased for you. I, however, hate it.

    One more thing I’d like to say: A tree view is not pointless – “none is needed in the vase majority of cases” – this is quite honestly a ridiculous statement (misspellings aside). And the funny thing is, if Snow Leopard’s Finder is redesigned to include a tree view, I would bet the mac community would go berserk and praise this wonderful “new” feature (20 years too late).

    Also a taskbar is extremely useful and is not an “archaic notion” – every single OS I can think of uses one, from Solaris to Gnome and KDE – you think that all of those companies are wrong? The dock is a huge waste of space and doesn’t actually do a very good job. Again, try minimizing 10 apps in the dock. Sorry but a taskbar is superior in every way, except looks perhaps. Incidentally all the OSes I mentioned above also have a tree view explorer.

    I am sure after spending so much money on your mac you will want to defend it no matter what- even to the point where any feature or aspect of Mac OS is beyond criticism. This is what I dislike about the mac community so much – comments like your one, Sam – where you cannot think a bad thing about the OS. If I think Finder is useless, I am wrong. If I dislike the dock, I am stupid or I don’t know how to use the system.

    I can give you an example: when I first got my mac I wanted to know how to delete files with a keyboard shortcut, and I wrote in a forum that I thought it was strange that the “Delete” key does not actually delete files, like in Windows, Solaris, and every other OS. One commenter wrote back to me: “delete doesn’t delete an item, it’s command-delete. Deleting items with the delete key makes no sense to me”. Yes I am not joking, the guy thought that the key labeled “Del” makes no sense as the shortcut for deleting files. I was just wrong to assume the delete key would delete a file.

    Another example: I had a problem with cutting and pasting and i found this comment by one mac user about the buggy behaviour of cutting and pasting in Mac OS “avoiding this bug in the Leopard Finder should be easy: Never move a file.” I am not joking, that is a direct quote. Use Google and you’ll find the original post. It is quite hilarious.

    I can’t blame Apple for its users, or its fans. But comments like Sam’s are the main reason I’ll stop using Apple computers.

  6. According to Sam, there’s clearly some anti-mac comment over there without any sense…

    I was a PC user since decades (start on DOS on a 8086) and grow up with all Microsoft OS. The last month, I finally bought a new macbook and switch to OS X.

    Except few tiny little things (some PC habits), I switched VERY VERY quickly to OS X…. and I like it better once I learned the philosophy and trick (shortcut, etc…)

    Spotlight is really awesome and ever great fine to me. For whom wants to search by date, etc… you can easily Option+Cmd+Space bar and then do a spotlight search in Finder and then precise any kind of criteria you want (date of creation, type of search, etc…etc…). And it’s as fast than doing a CMD+space bar to open spotlight on the top right corner.

    For the Tree View? Who the hell still want that one you get OS X? Anyway, you can show the path bar…. or even have it on the top bar with after apply a command line describe here:

    The Task Manager… Again? Who cares to control the background process and all DLL, etc… All we need is something that runs… period! And if you want to know what is open, there’s a little blue shadow on the dock which means the application is open. Also, it’s pretty easy to add or remove application in the auto-start by CMD+Clic on the icon in the dock and check/uncheck the “Open in Login” thing.

    Start Menu? For who like the start menu to find application, you can easily drag and drop your Application folder in your Dock and show it as a List. I currently have 170+ apps (yeah, I install everything I wanted and needed to work) and everything is reachable in two clicks only.

    And there’s also a tons of trick and shortcut very practical to help to use OS X very quickly and easily. Once we know better the philosophy behind OS X, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with this OS or Finder.

    My only concerned was the Maximizing window and double click on the top barre to be honest… I finally install Glims which provide a nice CMD+Shift+M to maximize my Safari windows when I need. (and even some great feature such re-open a window or tab you accidently close), expand the search engine, etc…

    But, of course, there’s always some thing we would like to see better… and that’s what I would like with Spotlight and the fact to be able to expand a category…

    Let’s say I search pictures from my last travel in “New-York”; I will have a lot of result from my email, document and website I consulted before my travel… and I will have few pictures only… I would like a way to Shift or Option + Click on a category to expand it and have more result for this category only.

    Bottom Line? Stop thinking Windows…. and start learning OS X is you bought a Mac!


  7. According to Spotlight, I have Pages, Keynote, iWeb, but not iPhoto or iTunes. All exist in the applications folder, though. I wonder what happened to iPhoto & iTunes? Or what their real names are?

  8. Please ignore the above poster, because as all intelligent Mac users know most of… if not all… of what he said is complete rubbish. I’m sorry, but it really is.

    First of all, Finder is not bad in anyway (obviously there are faults as with everything, but on the whole it is great) and neither is it outdated / obsolete. Why should it sort folders before files? It is giving you a choice, if I tell it to sort in alphabetical order I expect it to do just that regardless of whether it is sorting folders or files. It just makes sense. If you want folders before files, tell it to sort by kind… As to it having icons on top of each other… well this is another preference (that is turned off by default) that is there to give the user the choice to arrange icons anyway they like. Oh, and yes it has no obvious folder tree because none is needed in the vase majority of cases… and if you do need it it is two clicks away (view -> show path bar) – terribly hard to find I know… And actually it is there anyway, all you have to do is right click on the name of the folder in the title bar, or enable the icon that does it. As to up one folder… either press cmd + up arrow, or use the folder path tree thing. In other words it has all the features the above poster thinks it’s missing, not to mention extra ones like quicklook and the much more functional sidebar.

    And anyway, why does it need a taskbar… that is an archaic notion really. The dock achieves the same thing in much greater style. Use stacks to launch any apps you don’t keep in the dock. Just so you know most other OSs use a similar idea to OS X, in the way of having a bar at the top and some form of dock. Infact, did you know that the next version of Windows, Windows 7, is basically changing the taskbar into a rip off of the dock in OS X. Doesn’t that say something? As to alt + tab… well that isn’t right. Cmd + tab switches between apps, cmd + ` switches between windows, so it has both :P

    So really at the end of the day, Mac OS X has every feature that the above thinks it doesn’t (plus so many more), he just obviously never took to time to learn how to effectively use it. Just wanted to clear that up.

  9. Someone with a Brain

    Yeah I agree, the search results window is ridiculously badly designed in Mac OS. I spent $2000 on my apple, and it can’t even perform basic functions. Yeah I was duped, I believed the hype about Mac OS being better than XP, and I bought an Apple instead of a new PC with Vista or XP. If you strip the fancy icons, Mac OS is pathetically archaic. I mean look at Finder! It looks like it was designed 20 years ago! It doesn’t sort folders first before files, (don’t say “just sort by kind”, it doesn’t work), it places icons and folders all over the place wherever it feels it (get this Windows users, icons appear on top of each other sometimes! Imagine a folder in Explorer appearing on top of another folder – well it does in Mac OS). And there is no folder tree!!! NO FOLDER TREE!!!! By default “Finder” doesn’t even show you a folder path in the title bar, you have to set this with some secret frigging menu. Oh & there is no “up one directory” icon – and yes there is a big difference between “Back” and “Up one Folder” – Windows Explorer has both, by the way.

    PS any Windows users reading this, “Finder” is Mac OS’s “Explorer” – oh and another thing is that makes Mac OS look like it was designed in the 70s is the lack of a taskbar. Yep there is no taskbar in Mac – so let’s sum it up, Mac OS has a pathetic, ancient “explorer” that DOES NOT EVEN HAVE A FOLDER TREE VIEW IN 2009!!!! – and the OS has no task bar. Oh and Alt-Tab moves between programs and not between WINDOWS! Don’t believe the hype, stick to windows if you want a usable interface. Mac users are just sour and can’t admit that Mac OS is badly designed because they had to spend so much money to buy a Mac in the first place. Who is gonna admit their brand new $2500 laptop is more difficult to use than a $500 Dell equivalent? Not many.

  10. find syntax

    This command will look for “whatever”, case insensitive in the file contents.
    find /* -exec grep -i “whatever” {} ;

    This command
    find /* >> /biglist && grep -i “whatever” /biglist
    Will look for whatever, case insensitive, in the file NAMES.

    This command
    man find
    will teach you both the correct ways of doing what you’re trying to do properly, one of which is
    find / -ipath ‘*whatever*’ # Those are single quotes

    But spotlight is faster, because it uses an index. So, if all you want is filenames, the command you should be using is probably locate, which also uses a database.

    Welcome to unix. Now get off my lawn.

  11. I am really puzzled by Spotlight. If I enter a term like “label”, knowing I have several document files with label in the file name, SPotlight will return 20-25 results, including 5-6 doc files, and NEVER find even one of the files. Is there any way to set Spotlight so that it will first return files with the search term in the filename? Quicksilver, for example, returns five files with label in the filename as its first results.

  12. I use a lot of ‘kind:’ terms in the Spotlight menu. To speed it up I use TextExpander to expand them.
    For example I type kmo which expands to kind:movie ‘then type the search’. kpp expands to kind:photoshop ‘type the search’. kdd expands to ‘type the search’ etc… I’ve built up quite a few of them & they’re really handy for narrowing down what you want to search for.

    I agree with Joey. The new search results window is awful compared to Tiger’s. Doesn’t remember column widths, doesn’t keep the search within a folder if you search from within a particular folder (defaults to ‘This Mac’ instead). Doesn’t remember smart folder window sizes. Doesn’t group by category (as good as it did in Tiger).

  13. Spotlight_doesnt_work_as_expected_with_file_vault

    Since I’ve enable the file vault, Spotlight hasn’t been working was expected. Does anyone know why that happens? I have been using Google Desktop since then, but quite frankly, that scares me.

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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.

  19. 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.