More Spotlight Tips

Stretch’s introduction to Spotlight demonstrated why so many people find Spotlight useful. I’ve used it for some basic searches but always felt I wasn’t using it to its fullest potential. A few quick Internet searches led to some interesting tips that should make Spotlight more effective. Since Spotlight is the backbone of all searches on your Mac, anything that makes Spotlight smarter makes your Mac smarter. Here’s some of my favorite tips.

Advanced Searches

If you’ve mastered the art of using AND, NOT, and OR to perform complex searches in your favorite search engine, use those same techniques to perform complex searches in Spotlight. Even parenthesis and quotes can be used to refine your searches. I’m not as good at this as I would like to be but if you are you will find it quite useful. In addition to boolean searches, Spotlight can search for phrases rather than single words. If you want to search for phrases be sure the search terms are enclosed in quotation marks.

When entering search terms in Spotlight you must enter entire words. Spotlight searches a wide variety of filetypes, information, and search terms but it searches based upon whole words. Don’t expect it to search only a part of a word. When trying to select search terms use whole words that are relevant to what you’re hoping to find. Don’t confine your search words to filenames. Spotlight can look at metadata , (e.g. creation date, author, color profile, etc) and some file content just as easily as filenames. Make use of that ability.

More Than Application Launching

Stretch mentioned that you can use Spotlight to launch applications but that’s only the beginning of what it can do. Try this experiment. Enter a word in the Spotlight search window. When the definition appears in the search window click on the entry or press Enter. Your Mac opens Dictionary and goes right to the definition. No need to open Dictionary first, the Mac does that for you.

This type of search is not limited to definitions. A search for one of the contacts in your Address Book, for example, brings up their card. Under the right circumstances Spotlight can show you iCal events, e-mail attachments, and a wealth of other information sent to you by that contact. I’m still mastering this type of search. You can find a detailed description here.

Make Spotlight Smarter With Good Metadata

These tips really only scratch the surface of what Spotlight can do. To make the best use of its abilities, master the use of metadata. Tagging files with keywords about their contents, associated projects or other information can increase the accuracy of your searches. Tagging files can be as simple as entering keywords in the “Comments” section of a file’s Get Info window. I’m also looking at an Automator workflow that might make entering metadata on several files at once much easier. I’ll post an update in the comments about that soon. This list of common metadata Spotlight understands should get you started.

About the Author

I've been an Apple devotee, for better or worse since the Apple IIe/c and Mac user since the LC II. I've been helped many times over the years by other Mac fans so I thought it was tinge I return the favor. When I'm not on my Mac or iPad you'll find me enjoying music (especially blues) or American football.

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