Become a Spotlight search savant with the help of this essential book!

Take Control of
Spotlight for Finding Anything on Your Mac

Explore Spotlight searching, one of Mac OS X’s least explained features! Become familiar with the concepts behind Spotlight indexing and the “grammar” of its searches, and learn how to find anything on your Mac, either via graphical criteria bars or by typing in Spotlight’s underlying language.

This product has been discontinued.

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:

  • Improve search accuracy by limiting Spotlight to searching just where you want.
  • Reduce result clutter by choosing which categories should appear in the Spotlight menu.
  • Learn what to do when the Spotlight menu doesn’t list an item that it should be able to find.
  • Use criteria bars (and even the elusive Boolean bars!) to create complex search queries.
  • Bypass criteria bars by typing complex, powerful queries in any Spotlight search field.
  • Build Boolean searches with AND, OR, and NOT to narrow your search results precisely.

In addition, you’ll find out how to make your files even easier to find with these techniques:

  • Customize a file’s metadata.
  • Employ free third-party utilities to give your files useful, searchable tags.
  • Set up sophisticated smart folders that provide dynamic file organization.

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.

What’s New in Version 1.0.1

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.

What’s New in Lion Spotlight and Searching

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.

What versions of Mac OS X does this ebook talk about?

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.

  • Read Me First
  • Introduction
  • Spotlight Quick Start
  • What’s New in Lion Spotlight and Searching
  • Understand and Access Spotlight
  • Learn about Spotlight Indexing
  • Configure Spotlight Options
  • Learn Search Basics
  • Search from the Spotlight Menu
  • Use Special Spotlight Menu Capabilities
  • Search from Finder Windows
  • Define Searches with Criteria Bars
  • Type Attribute Keywords in Search Fields
  • Wield the Power of Boolean Searches
  • Save Searches with Smart Folders
  • Use Spotlight in Open and Save Dialogs
  • Plan Ahead for Spotlight Searches
  • Appendix A: Spotlight Keyboard Shortcuts
  • Appendix B: Third-Party Search Utilities
  • 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!