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. Der Bos

    Oh boy, here we go again. It’s funny how most Mac users can’t even distinguish between a path and a tree – most likely because they’re not familiar with other OSs. Still, they seem to know that the finder is the best thing in the world, amazing! In addition, and even worse, they (e.g. Sam) don’t get that a folder and a file are something entirely different and accordingly should not have the same priority when sorted. I’ll explain that: A folder CONTAINS files and thus is hierarchically above files! The consequence of ignoring this fact, as the finder does, is that you don’t see immediately, if the folder you currently examine contains other folders which may contain what you’re looking for! This is so incredibly stupid! In a large folder, you have to scroll down to see if the file hierarchy continues or not! And, Sam, you’re not given an option to sort folders up – if you sort by kind, folders will appear at kind “f” (for “f”older) which may be somewhere in the middle of a big folder so you have to scroll down! That other guy already mentioned that but you ignored it, good job! Ironically, if the finder at least had a folder tree, that problem would not exist! ROFL! Now you may say that for finding a file you don’t need a file organization at all because there’s spotlight or QS, right? Unfortunately this is entirely wrong for the following two reasons: First, you would have to always know the name of what you’re looking for. This is not even always the case if the file was created by yourself (because you may have forgotten how you named it) and it’s NEVER the case for any files you didn’t create! Second, it doesn’t work if the name is used several times. That happens ever and always in professional applications, which automatically generate e.g. log files etc.! I could go on and on … Actually, I will: No CUT possible in finder!?!?! That gets me so mad! How often did I copy, then paste and then NEED TO GO BACK to delete the source!? And how easy would it be to change that in OSX …?! And, NO, drag and drop is a poor substitute, because you need to either open two finders and navigate in both to the source and the target folder. Or do this awkward navigation of dragging the stuff onto one of your places, then onto the next hierarchical level and so on, until you’re finally at the destination – and while doing that, always you have to keep the mouse button pressed! Again, ironically, with a folder tree, the problem wouldn’t exist! I worked on both PCs and Macs for four years now in parallel. For me, OSX has but one advantage over Win7, and that’s renaming files while they’re open, really good. But that’s the only one I can think of! Well, have fun using Macs and keep paying heaps of money for medium performance, design and an OS that only noobs appreciate and the disadvantages of which only noobs tolerate.

  2. Интересная статья.
    Думаю Spotlight, действительно, интересная штука.