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Take Control of Spotlight for Finding Anything on Your Mac
Become a Spotlight search savant with the help of this essential book!
Join Sharon Zardetto as she explores the hidden depths of Spotlight searching, one of Mac OS X’s most powerful yet least explained features. No matter how carefully you organize files and folders on your Mac, it’s easy to lose important items. With Sharon’s help, you can aim Apple’s Spotlight quickly and precisely, and stop rummaging around in the darkness of your hard disk.
Mountain Lion? If you want to know how to search better with Spotlight, this ebook remains spot on for Mountain Lion. (There is an occasional "anachronism," like references to Address Book, which is called Contacts in Mountain Lion.)
After Sharon explains how Spotlight indexes your data and the "grammar" behind Spotlight searches, you’ll discover the many ways you can start Spotlight searches: the magnifying glass in the menu bar, the search field in Finder windows or the Open and Save dialogs, a keyboard shortcut, a contextual menu, or the customized and saved searches you’ve made for yourself.
Then it's on to learning how to find exactly what you're looking for using keyword searches, multiple-criteria searches, Boolean searches, and more. And here's where you'll learn the most valuable lesson about Spotlight, which Apple has never shared, which is how to search directly using Spotlight's internal search language, making even complex searches quick and easy.
Remember, searches aren't just about finding lost files, they're also useful for selecting a set of matching files to work on. For instance, we've used Spotlight to identify which photos in a folder are small thumbnails or which of our ebooks lack a certain phrase. You can even do things like find every GarageBand song in the key of E-flat.
You'll learn these search-related techniques:
In addition, you’ll find out how to make your files even easier to find with these techniques:
In these days of terabyte drives, your Mac has enormous storage capacity, and you may have many thousands of files squirreled away (we don't even want to admit to how many hundreds of thousands of files are filling up our disks!). But with the Spotlight expertise you'll gain from this ebook, you'll be able to retrieve anything on your Mac, no matter how deeply it's buried or how specific you need to make your search.
iPad & Kindle
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About the Author
Sharon Zardetto has been writing about the Macintosh professionally since 1984, including nearly a thousand articles in Macintosh magazines and over 20 books. She's best known for writing several editions of The Macintosh Bible, along with The Mac Almanac.
Table of Contents
Read Me First
Welcome to Take Control of Spotlight for Finding Anything on Your Mac, version 1.0. This book was written by Sharon Zardetto, edited by Tonya Engst (with assistance from Michael E. Cohen), and published by TidBITS Publishing Inc. This book gives you all the information you need to find your information—the stuff you’ve stored on your Mac somewhere. Whether you remember the name (more or less) of a file but not its location, or part of the name of an item’s folder, or even some phrase you typed in a document, or—get this—the name you gave a layer in a Photoshop document, the book shows you how to easily find things without wandering around a humongous hard drive, clicking your way through nested folders in hopes of stumbling across your elusive target.
This book explains how to use the Spotlight menu and Search windows in the Finder to find anything on your Mac
I originally intended to call this book simply “Take Control of Spotlight in Lion” but realized, after a brief, entirely unscientific yet revealing survey, that there’s a bit of a mystery even among experienced Mac users as to what, exactly, Spotlight is: “The magnifying glass/menu at the right of the menu bar”; “I never use it”; “I have no idea”; “It highlights stuff on your computer?”; “I see it in pop-up menus offering to search for something… it’s for Web searching?”
No, it’s not for Web searching—it’s for looking through the gazillion items on your Mac. Yes, that magnifying glass at the right of your menu bar opens a search field, but that’s only one way to use Spotlight. When you use a Find command in the Finder and a Search window opens, that’s Spotlight working. If you use the search field inside an Open or Save dialog—yep, Spotlight again.
Spotlight doesn’t just help you find misplaced files (and folders) by name: it finds them by kind, created and modified dates, content, and dozens of other criteria. And it can find them by multiple criteria: a Word document created last month with “memo” but not “monthly” in its title, or a photo you took back in the summer of 2009 that had a particular f-stop setting.
Spotlight finds more than just files: it can, for instance, look up your second cousin’s cell number without opening Address Book. And it does more than just find things: it can check synonyms for “tyro,” get a definition for “crepuscular,” and launch any application with a few keystrokes.
Even if you’re familiar with the ways you can make Spotlight work for you, knowing how it “thinks” means you’ll be able to construct search criteria quickly. What is a “word” as far as Spotlight is concerned? How do you construct a search to find files that match any of three criteria?
When you know the details, it’s amazing what Spotlight can do for you.
Although this ebook is written in a linear fashion, with the assumption that you’ll read it in order, it’s not necessary to do so—else why would the computer gods have invented links?
However, I encourage you to at least skim the chapters that you assume you don’t need, because if you don’t know something about, say, how Spotlight interprets the text you type or what it thinks is a “word”—well, you don’t know that you don’t know it, so how will you ever find out?
Check out what’s new in Lion searching:
Learn about Spotlight and searching basics:
Configure search options:
Check out the Spotlight menu:
Understand basic Finder search options:
Explore advanced Finder search options:
Learn to make the most of Spotlight:
To create this new version, I corrected a typo and made the following changes:
I corrected an error relating to the Documents category in the Spotlight menu. As it turns out, some types of “documents,” such as spreadsheets, are not part of this category (see Excluded Items Are Really Excluded).
In Explore the Name Operators, the explanation of the Contains operator was expanded and the screenshot for Figure 43 was modified.
Search for Tags with Spotlight now discusses what happens if you delete a tagging utility.
If you’ve never plumbed the depths of searching with the Spotlight menu and Finder windows in the previous release of Mac OS X (10.6 Snow Leopard), then skip this section and jump to Understand and Access Spotlight. However, if you’re familiar with Snow Leopard’s search options, you’ll notice that Lion’s changes to Spotlight are evolutionary, not revolutionary, and some are just by-products of general Lion changes to Finder windows:
Changes to the Spotlight menu are the most obvious. Commands have been added (Search Web, Search Wikipedia), reworded, and moved, but these are all mere cosmetic changes.
The best change of all: point to something in the menu and you get a Quick Look popover that displays the item in all its glory—and by “glory” I mean you can slide through the pages of a multi-page document or play a music file without even moving to the Finder (see Quick Look in the Spotlight Menu).
In addition, you can drag a listed item out of the menu to make a copy of it wherever you drop it—in the Finder or a compatible document window.
The most obvious change to Search windows in the Finder is the way the search field works (see Use the Search Field), providing a drop-down menu so you can narrow a search from the default “Everything” to just filenames, or dates, or kinds, or whatever else the menu offers based on what you’ve typed.
Then there’s the trickle-down effect of the new Arrange By option for windows, which lets you group things in a window (documents, images, and so on) while sorting them however you like within those groups (by name or date modified, for instance).
In the Little Things Mean a Lot category, you can now sort a found list of items by size, a helpful feature years in the making. There’s also a new Date Added column, and the new capability of displaying search results in a Column view window.
The strong focus of this ebook is on 10.7 Lion. All the screenshots were taken in Lion, and the directions were specifically written and checked in Lion. However, probably 93% of the info would apply to any previous version of Mac OS X that includes the Spotlight search engine (the first release of Spotlight is in 10.4 Tiger), though the further back you go, the more discrepancies that might pop up.
There are lots of great ways to read our ebooks on these devices. For more details, please read our latest Device Advice.
Feel free to ask us if you have a question about this title!
How could we not publish such kind words? If you'd like to send us your comments (good or bad, though we hope they're all good), just click the Feedback link on the cover of your copy of the ebook. Be sure to let us know if we can publish your comment. Thanks!
We have no immediate plans to update this book, though we certainly might if Spotlight searching changes in an important way. Sharon has looked over the manuscript carefully with 10.8 Mountain Lion in hand, and she reports that Mountain Lion update is not needed, so if you are running Mountain Lion, you are still good to go with this ebook!
July 27, 2012 --
This ebook was written with 10.7 Lion in mind, and now that 10.8 Mountain Lion has shipped, I'm happy to report that the ebook remains spot on for searching in Mountain Lion. Sharon reports, "There are some "anachronisms"—references to Address Book, which is now Contacts, for instance. But there aren't any major, or even minor, changes to procedures or dialogs or anything. Good to go!
—Tonya J Engst
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