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Shining the spotlight on Spotlight

One of OS X's most-touted new features is Spotlight, the system-wide tool designed to help stop your data from playing hide-and-seek. Spotlight resides in the top right corner of the menu bar, and also functions in many programs, including Mail, the Finder, and Address Book. Third-parties can tap into an API to include the power of Spotlight in their applications.

In theory, Spotlight is brilliant. After some time to index the hard drives in the machine, Spotlight can help you find the oldest, obscurest information buried in the confines of today's huge hard drives. That's the theory, anyway. Despite that, and after having used it for a couple of months now (I had a seed key for testing the developer builds), I'm still undecided about the helpfulness of Spotlight.

spotlight screenshot

There are some things it does well -- it clearly makes it much easier to find the proverbial needle in the haystack that is your hard drive. It makes it really simple to look at all the cool things in the System folder. Select that folder in the Finder, then run a Finder search on kind:images within that folder, for instance. It will theoretically help me find long-lost documents as long as I can remember some snippet of text that was in them. All of these are good things, and for these, I'm thankful.

However, from my perspective, Spotlight has a number of issues that very much give it the feeling of a "version 0.95 release." Read on to see the things that make me question Spotlight's completeness...


  • Why don't the Page Up and Page Down keys work in the Spotlight Results window to page through results? If you click on a result in the panel, you can then use the keys as expected ... but the thumb doesn't move. Similarly, my scroll wheel won't work there until I click on a result (and still, the scroll thumb stays locked to the top of the window).
  • Why can't I see the Spotlight Results window as a selectable desination with Command-Tab? Instead, I have to move my hands and hit Command-Option to bring the Results window to the foreground.
  • Why can't I see the path to an item in the Spotlight Results window without using the Get Info or Reveal in Finder contextual menu items? If I want to see the path for more than one or two items, this gets really tedious very quickly. Finding duplicates, for instance, should be simple ... and it is. But deciding which duplicate to remove is way too hard.
  • Why isn't there a good interface for creating AND, OR, and NOT searches. I should be able to simply do something like (kind:document AND date newer than yesterday) NOT (author:robg). This should work anywhere there's a Spotlight search bar, from the menu bar to the Finder's toolbar to the Spotlight Results window. Instead, it works in certain places, and with a syntax only a programmer could love, using things like || and !=. Really simple, eh?
  • If I want to use the "icon view" in the Spotlight Results window with a kind:images search, the Group By setting must be set to "kind." But I'm already doing a "kind" search, so really, I should be able to set the icon view on any grouping, as all of the matches are guaranteed to be images.
  • Why isn't there an easy-to-use method of adding folders to Spotlight's search domain? There's a Privacy tab in the Spotlight Preferences pane that lets you exclude folders, but not add folders. Did you even know there's a large list of folders that Spotlight won't search? You can add some of these back in, if you want, but it's a bit of work.
  • Why can't I use the Spotlight Results window to create a Smart Folder from my search criteria? If I've run what seems to be a useful search and sort, there should be a one-button method to turn that search into a Smart Folder.
  • Why can I only save Smart Folders on the desktop, in my home folder, or in the Saved Searches folder? Why not anywhere I want them? Once it's saved, sure, I can move it around. Which begs the question even more -- why can't I just save it elsewhere in the first place? The Smart Folder Save dialog is decidedly non-standard -- even Command-D doesn't work to switch to the desktop.
  • How do you exit the Smart Folder interface? In one sense, a Smart Folder is just a folder, so it makes sense there's no Exit or Cancel button (why would you need one on a normal folder?). On the other hand, it's not really a folder, it's an interface to a system function, much like any System Preferences panel or program in the Utilities folder: it lets you create a tool (a new saved search) which can then be saved by clicking a button. You clearly don't need a Save button on a normal folder, so Apple's already treating a Smart Folder differently. How about a Cancel button right next to Save? Without it, you're left on your own to figure out you can either use the Back button, or just click on another folder to get out.
  • Why doesn't the Finder's Command-F default to a simple "Find by name contains," since that's what I want to do 99% of the time? I realize this may not be what everyone wants to do, so why not instead give us a way to set up our own default search for Command-F? Luckily, there's a hint on how to work around this problem. It's not ideal, but it works.
  • Why does Spotlight take over things it really shouldn't? For instance, the new System Preferences panel is exceedingly awful to use. In 10.3, you could simply type a few letters at the start of any individual pane's name, and it would highlight, and a tap on the space bar would bring it up. In 10.4, the Spotlight search field takes over your typing, and so you get a series of "possibilities" before you get the individual pane you want -- and you end up typing many more letters before you can hit Return to launch the highlighted pane.

    Luckily, the 10.3 System Preferences application runs in 10.4 (a hint on this is upcoming, but basically, if you have the old one, just run it), so you can get the old behavior back. You'll also get the customizable toolbar at the top of the window back, which also vanished (why, Apple, would you take away such a useful feature??). You can see just how much more efficient one can be with the old application versus the new application in these two videos:

    Full-size versions   New Preferences
    [618x657, 2.5MB]
       Old Preferences
    [618x681, 1.0MB]
    Scaled down   New Preferences
    [464x493, 1.4MB]
       Old Preferences
    [464x511, 0.6MB]

    In each case, I completed the same task: open the Energy Saver pane, return to the full list (via Command-L), open QuickTime, return to the full list, and finally, open the International pane and return to the full list. This took 17 seconds using 10.4's System Preferences application; only nine seconds using 10.3's version. Why do we take one step backwards for each two steps forward? Spotlight should be there for those new to the Mac who need the help, I agree, but there should be a way to not have to use it if you know what you're doing.


Apple states that Spotlight lets you (emphasis added) "instantly find anything anywhere on your Mac." After using it for a while, I think I must have a different definition of "instantly" than does Apple. Here are a few examples of why I say that...

  1. According to Spotlight, I have over 100,000 images on my machine (a Dual G5 2.0GHz with 2.5GB of RAM) that it has indexed. That may sound like a lot, but on the scale of a typical database, it's really not all that many. So how "instantly" can I find all of these pictures using Spotlight's find kind:images criteria?

    The answer, it seems, is "it depends." I haven't quite figured out what it depends on, but there seems to be an element of randomness in the results. In no case, though, would I describe the process as instant. The first time I tried it (after Spotlight was done indexing, of course), it took one minute and 11 seconds (that's time to completion; there is, of course, an "in progress" display as the match proceeds). Subsequent runs, even a few seconds or minutes later, would take from 20 to 30 seconds. I then worked on other stuff for a few hours, and tried again. It took 40-ish seconds that time. I put the machine to sleep, returned the next day, and tried once more ... 30ish seconds that time. While the low of 20 seconds may not seem bad, none of these times are quick, especially when compared to searching any sort of traditional database.

    I could understand this slowness (perhaps) if I were doing a truly random search, like trying to find the word "fiddle" within every document on the hard drive. But this particular search should be really, really fast -- the kind tag means that Spotlight doesn't need to consider a file's contents, only its type. And since it's already created an index on kind, the only thing it should have to do is a match on "kind equals image" within the index. That should be brutally fast.

    The only explanation I can come up with is that the loading of the preview images for the found files is what's taking all the time -- I think this makes sense to me, but if it's really the cause, it seems there should be a better way to handle this.

    I could put up with this initial slowness if a subsequent identical search were lightning-fast. But it's not -- as noted above, subsequent searches are faster, but still not "instant." It seems that recent query results should be cached somewhere for re-use. The system could then just check the cache's timestamp against the index's timestamp to see if the index has been updated since the query last ran. If it hasn't, then the display should be truly instant -- just load the cache. Perhaps there's some technical reason this isn't possible, as it seems like an obvious solution to me.

  2. Switching the Group By setting in the Spotlight Results window takes anywhere from three to 30+ seconds to redisplay the results -- it's especially bad with large lists, and usually brings the spinning beachball into view. I hate the beachball, and Spotlight is really good at bringing it out of its hiding place.
  3. My machine has 1,710 movies on it. Displaying that result in the Finder is relatively speedy -- about five seconds to run a kind:movies query. But if I then add a condition of Last modified is this month, it takes a full 30 seconds (!) to narrow the list from 1,710 to 36. If I save the search and reopen it, the results are still there (I'm not sure if this holds true as time passes, though). But if I open it, delete the "date" condition, then close the Smart Folder (without saving my changes), and simply re-open the unmodified Smart Folder, it takes close to the original 30 seconds again to repopulate the results -- even if I do all of this within seconds of viewing the original list of 36 matches. This seems like the same lack-of-caching issue as in item #1 above.


I don't necessarily hate Spotlight. As I noted at the start, I love some of the things it can do. They are truly amazing. I just hope that "version 1.0" of Spotlight, whenever it comes out, addresses some of the glaring omissions and performance issues that I've run into with the current release. If it does, Spotlight really will begin to fulfill its promise as a revolutionary technology.


62 thoughts on “Shining the spotlight on Spotlight”

  1. Yeah, I gotta agree, Spotlight could have more features...

    I also am quite miffed about the change in system prefs, I liked the bar at the top. Do the 10.3 prefs work just as good as the 10.4 prefs? Are there any glitches?

  2. A great posting about the many issues with the current version of Spotlight. This version really does feel like a step backwards from searching in 10.3, but hopefully many of these issues will be fixed in upcoming releases.

  3. Right on the money, i hope everyone feels motivated to send lots of bug reports to Apple about this sort of thing, Spotlight is something i want apple to keep focused on as its potential is tremendous. I too am curious why its not 'instant'. To remove any application slowness from the equation simply run an mdfind in terminal.

  4. -"Similarly, my scroll wheel won’t work there until I click on a result (and still, the scroll thumb stays locked to the top of the window)"-

    my scroll wheel works (logitech's MX500 mouse) without any click on an item, but that might be because I'm using the built-in support for scroll wheels in 10.4 (don't recall this in 10.3). you won't be able to see this setting (under System Prefs > Keybord & Mouse) unless you uninstall your 3rd party mouse driver...

    -"Why can’t I use the Spotlight Results window to create a Smart Folder from my search criteria?"-

    because Spotlight searches have items like address book contacts and messages that are not displayed in the Finder. But yes, Spotlight could be intelligent and remove these items from the Smart Folder if you decide to create one.

  5. Awesome!! It's great to hear a critical review that talks about Spotlight's weaknesses. The hype around this feature is so big that it's convinced me I need to buy a Mac (currently a PC user). However, without this review I would have had very unrealistic expectations. I'm still deleriously excited about Spotlight, among the many other features OSX has (Expose also is an awesome feature - yes, I know it's old, not new to Tiger). I'm looking forward to following your thoughts.

  6. At my point the spotlight field in the system preferences user-friendlyness is to search some keywords inside the pane. Many people like my already know what to open, for instance, my sister who wants to change the voice of the system only type. It's like some Os for retarded, or to be polite for people not as aware as us to Mac Os. Surely the New York Time likes that.

    For my part showing 7000 images is speedy, 5 seconds. Spotlight miss many features yet...and sometime has a random beavior in the results as in the UI, but i find the performance really acceptable in most case. Exept maybe in full screen... just try it. I use it a lot as a luncher, it's faster than navigating through folders using the finder.

  7. I completely agree with everything said here. In addition, I wonder sometimes just how useful Spotlight can be. I mean, even in a "needle-in-haystack" type situation. For instance: Let's say I'm looking for a file, but I can't remember its name. All I know is that it was about a guy named Stan and it is a "Document." (Wait... Aren't they all documents? Anyway...) Okay, cool. I fire up Spotlight, type in "Stan." Spotlight returns 2624 results. 1542 of these are "Documents." Now how do I go through the 1542 results and determine which file is the one I want, when they're all listed by name. And I don't remember the name!

    I do see where Spotlight could be OCCASIONALLY useful, and this is why I really question Apple's decision to make Spotlight not only the default search method, but also the most prevalent one. I mean really, how often do I need to search by content? Not often -- in fact, almost never in the 8 years I've been computing. But how often do I need to search by name? Every single day. Okay, right, I can search by name in the command-F mode after toggling about 12 different options. But it seems to me like the more common (and simpler) method of searching should be the easiest to get to and use. Which it used to be, in Panther.

    I must say, this Spotlight issue really gets my dander up.

    Anyway, what I really wanted to say was, RobG, I 'm glad you started this site, if for no other reason than I need a place like this to vent as much as you apparently do. And in the years since I've started reading MacOSXHints (really, since the 10.1 days -- what's that, four? Five years? Wow!), I've felt closer to its community than any other online. It really is the most civil and helpful bunch of people anywhere on the BBI (Big Bad Internet). So where better to vent then here, right?

    Also, just wanted to say thanks for MacOSXHints. I know you hear it all the time, but you do a great job. We all appreciate it.

    And finally, just wanted to mention that I too, actually rather like the new Mail App.

    Ahhh... I do feel better.

    Thanks again,
    Mike Barron

  8. I think Spotlight should have the ability to learn from the way I search: eg, if I search for an article and Spotlight list it at the bottom, and I select it, it should be able to move that item up the priority ladder the next time i search for the same article again... like in launchBar or Quicksilver, which feels much more intuitive and "intelligent".

  9. I have to agree that Spotlight should be instant and it's not. As you say, seemingly simple queries take a long time.

    And I agree that there needs to be a "set this query as the Finder default" button when you do CMD-F so you can have it default to your most-used query.

    And Apple REALLY needs to make Stickies spotlight-able. I have TONS of stickies on my desktop with all kinds of tidbits that I'd love to be included in a Spotlight search.

    But I have to disagree with the sentiments of several of the posters here. One complained that they NEVER searched documents by content in many years of Mac usage. Of course not, because they couldn't. Now that you can, if you don't just knee-jerk react, I assure you that you will. I've already been pleasantly surprised by what I've found in Spotlight searches.

  10. 30 seconds just to find something on a G5? Man, that really sucks! I installed Tiger on a G4 a week ago and went back to 10.3 because Spotlight was that slow. I thought I messed something up, because I thought I didn't got the normal spotlight. Here's what I experienced:
    - Slow searches.
    - Always re-indexing. It says "finished", then you type a query and it goes back to re-indexing, forgetting my query.
    - When clicking "display results in a separate window", the search starts from new (= another 30 seconds of wait)
    - If I constrained the results in the separate window, (like "only file from last week"), the search started from new, again, another 30 seconds of wait.

    I mean, I heard all this rambling from users on Slashdot that "Spotlight has changed my life, I no longer file documents in folders". Gee, and you wait 30 seconds every time you need to open a file?

    I think Spotlight is a major drawback (that is, unless I messed up my system and everybody tells me now that it should be faster).

  11. Being a Butler user of the past, I remember typing in an application as my first search, hoping for an instant result. Sadly, like the experiences of so many others, I was let-down. Butler *is* instant. Spotlight begs so-much to be a launbar but also does too-much for its good sometimes. As Mike Barron wrote, sometimes you don't want to dig that deep.

    If nothing else, it would be cool if you could set search limitations for multiple different launchbars. For example, typing option-space would bring up a purple launchbar or a red one and that one would just display apps. w/o using context searches. That would be great, because then as a power user, one could search for documents only or emails by using a modified keystroke that you could customize.

  12. This may seem like a tiny thing, but it really bugs me to no end. I hate how the icons never show up in the spotlight search. On all the preview and demo videos, everything was instantaneous and pretty, but when I use Spotlight, I get those ugly grey boxes until Spotlight catches up with itself.

    Hopefully we will get to the Spotlight I was expecting in later releases.

  13. Actually, you could search by content at least as far back as OS9. It's just that, usually, people (myself included) disabled that feature because the indexing took so long and was so slow. And it's not that I won't or don't want to search by content, I just don't usually do that. And certainly not as often as searching by name. So why is it the preferred method with no preference for disabling it or changing the default behaviour? It's not that I don't like or want to use Spotlight, I just want to use it the way I want to use it, and not the way Apple thinks I should. And, honestly, I just really miss the Panther-style toolbar search. It was great, and fast, and wonderful. Why would you remove that? Why? It was sooo awesome.

    Gettin' choked up now... *Sniff*

    Wayne wrote:
    "One complained that they NEVER searched documents by content in many years of Mac usage. Of course not, because they couldn’t. Now that you can, if you don’t just knee-jerk react, I assure you that you will. I’ve already been pleasantly surprised by what I’ve found in Spotlight searches."

  14. I hope this is a version 0.95. Spotlight has so much potential and I am sure Apple will improve it a lot - but until then several developers will create better Spotlights based on the built-in APIs.

    Has anybody else has heavy problems with Finder search? If I type too slowly Finder/Spotlight will become unusable. Gee, if there were a preference setting for "search delay", or at least a "start search on return" feature!

  15. Good idea for this blog rob. I'd say it was on the same level of idea greatness as starting Mac OSX Hints ;)

    Just to say that spotlight can prove extremely useful and a jobsaver: CAlverez on the forums found it so.

    Personally it takes about 4 seconds to display 19,837 results using the "kind:image" search. "kind:movie" takes about twice that to display 247 movies...

    I've only had spotlight screw up once, and then I had an mds process eating all the available free CPU power. And I couldn't kill it using sudo killall which annoyed me greatly.

    Keep up all the thoughtful articles rob!

  16. Hmm,
    Spotlight is pretty instantaneous on my 1ghz powerbook g4. Every once in a while it's slow... like when my computer has just started up. But then again.. everything is slow then.

  17. I'm eagerly hoping for the return of search results returning invisible files.
    I have a saved search waiting for this, of a finder (command - F) search - visible or invisible files, last modified today, on the boot volume + System - for when I try something new, or check out new software, I want to see what was just changed or created on my HD. I works beautifully, instantly updating, saved in list view, sorted by Date Modified, just needs those invisible files included.

  18. Spotlight performance is substancially degraded by having to search on multiple drives/partitions. I have 35k pictures on one partition, if I look for kind:image on this partition the results are almost instant. However, If I do the same query on my 7 partitions, then the search takes ages. Seems to me it's not quite multithreaded enough.

    Machine is an 867MDD w/ 1GB of RAM btw.

  19. In 10.3 I could search for a .hidden file. I cannot see for the life of me how to do that with Spotlight. Has anyone a suggestion on how I can use the old 'Find' from 10.3x in 10.4 ? This is a loss of funtionality as far as I'm concerned.

  20. What about security?

    Anyone who brings their laptop to work should have problems with Spotlight. If you leave Spotlight searches on for MAIL, anyone can instantly search all your email !!!

    Shouldn't their be keychain integration to prevent that? A password should be enforced for certain searches.

  21. Rob, a tip for using 10.4 System Preferences almost like 10.3: Under Keyboard and Mouse -> Keyboard Shortcuts, set 'Full Keyboard Access' to 'All Controls'. This is an incredibly useful thing in and of itself since you can now drive much of the GUI from the keyboard.

    One side effect of this is that in System Preferences, the icons for each pref pane are now controls which you can tab to and manipulate with the keyboard. So when you open the System Prefs, just hit Tab once to get the selection halo off the Spotlight text entry box and onto the first preference pane icon. From there, you can start typing the name of the icon you want, just as before. Activating the selected icon is done by hitting the spacebar (the Full Keyboard Access GUI navigation system uses the space bar as the equivalent of clicking the mouse on the currently selected GUI element).

  22. I mostly agree. However, the scroll wheel works for me without the need to select a search result item! Using sidetrack on trackpad in a PowerBook G4 667MHz 1GB RAM Mac.

  23. Thank you Rob for Robservatory and this thread!

    I too am very disappointed by spotlight. I've started making a list of all the things I dislike, with the idea of submitting to apple, because of course, I love my mac :).

    1.The largest by far is the look ahead search is not a good default for me. How many items on my disk start with "a". A lot! And, I don't want them all; I haven't finished typing "apple" yet, but the system doesn't care, it's happily hunting for 'a'. Or, what if I want all the items that start with 'a' and were created on dateExactly. Too bad! I get all the a's _first_ it seems, which takes forever. content context info. If we did all the work of spotlight, I had thought we'd get the grep-ish or google-ish goodness of context information, at least as an option.

    Yay for hints!

  24. "Why doesn’t the Finder’s Command-F default to a simple “Find by name contains,” since that’s what I want to do 99% of the time? I realize this may not be what everyone wants to do, so why not instead give us a way to set up our own default search for Command-F? Luckily, there’s a hint on how to work around this problem. It’s not ideal, but it works."

    There's a hint I submitted but that wasn't (yet?) published, saying that enclosing text in double quotes in a Finder find performs a “Find by name contains.”

  25. Another option is to use Quicksilver to search Spotlight. Quicksilver has a Spotlight plugin now. I have it set as the default when I enter text. The advantage is that Quicksilver sends the full string to Spotlight and there is no waiting while it parses the first letter, then 2 letters, etc.

    Also, Quicksilver will dig into Smart Folder contents just like they were regular folders, and it appears to cache the icons, too.

    In fact, for me the integration of Quicksilver with Spotlight is what makes worth having.

  26. A handy Spotlight tip:

    If you keep the Command key pressed while choosing an item from the Spotlight result list you will be served the corresponding file in the Finder.

  27. If you use Limewire for d/l various items, it leaves invisible files that start with "T-" and a bunch of numbers and the name of the download. The only way I can delete these invisible "trails" to what i'm doing is to boot into a 10.3x partition and search for invisibles. The new finder find really is lacking for invisibles, even if you choose to show invisibles. Spotlite doesnt index everything. It also falls short if you want to search for a file on a volume that is not Spotlited. You cant find anything that spotlite ignores. would love to have the old find back as an adjunct to spotlite.

  28. My problems with Spotlight will echo a lot of what has been stated already. Spotlight is EVERYWHERE! Why?
    If there is a menu item always present, with a command key equivalent, why does everything else open spotlight as well?
    But I biggest peeve, and not mentioned yet is the find field in Finder windows. Perhaps I am the only one who makes use of this, but please put it back to the Panther usage. i.e. let me choose Selection from the drop down before I start my search. This is the best usage for this field, if I want to search everywhere, or elsewhere I can type command-F. Also please let me see the whole path in the bottom of the finder window. i.e. let me resize it.
    This field was the quickest way to find a file in prefs for example.
    Yes, I know that you can click a button, AFTER the search starts to limit the search, it just always seams reasonable that the default would be selection. It was in Jaguar, so it must have seamed reasonable to someone at Apple once.

  29. A couple of weeks before I installed Tiger I upgraded my 1.25ghx powerbook from 512mb to 2gb, mainly to get rid of the spinning beachbals. It worked great, I harldy got them at all. Now with Spotlight they are back. :-(

    I'm a slow typist and hate when Spotlight starts searching before I'm done typing. It simply isn't fast enough to behave that way.

    It's too general too. What's common for me is to know where the file I want is (in the client folder with the other project support documents), but I might now know exactly what it's named. It's way faster for me to just navigate to the folder than to think of what terms Spotlight might find in the document.

    I sorely miss the Panther-style Finder window searching. When building a Web site it's common for me to have to edit all of the index.html files in a site. With Panther this was simple and instantaneous. Tiger is noticably slower.

    There is a strange "overhead" penalty associated with Spotlight searches. Why is there any delay at all when searching a 50-item folder??? I am seeing a minimum of 5 seconds or so for any search, even for the smallest scopes I can construct. Seriously, I just pulled up a tiny 32-file asp site, hit cmd-F, and typed "asp" without the quotes. 8 seconds later I had 14 hits. Bleh. Re-searching still takes 5 seconds. With *System 7* this would have been faster.

  30. I really like Spotlight but here are a few more things to go on the fix list:

    If you add some Spotlight (search) text into a QuickTime music video in (say) your Movies folder and then use drag&drop to get it into iTunes. After the iTunes database has been consolidated, the movie stored deep within the iTunes folder system has lost this Spotlight text. Where's it gone?

    Using the iTunes built-in search and/or Spotlight, it doesn't seem to be possible to search for the Year or Grouping field of any music track or music video held in iTunes.

  31. Another problem with Spotlight in the System Preferences. If you are within any preference pane (let's say Displays) and you accidentally type a letter, bam, there you are back in the spotlight-searched System Preferences window and NOT in the Displays pane which you had selected.

  32. Someone wondered if spotlight is all that useful. Well, it is for me! When I am talking on iChat to someone and saying "I like this song!" and so I want to send it. I Send to Buddy and click on the drive where I keep my itunes stuff and hit the spotlight bar and type the song name. Kazaam, its there. It saves a lot of tedious looking.

    I've had similar speedups in workflows with other apps.

  33. All these complaints about spotlight... you should try windows for a while. Yes, spotlight is brand new and has not worked out the bugs yet. The underlying technology is amazing. The interface irregularities are strange to say the least, but once you get used to using it you will see the power for some uses.

    I just type the first few letters of someone's name and 'instantly' get the address book entry, any appointments in iCal, all email messages, attachments etc. from that person, and any items I flagged with spotlight comments (after jumping through several hoops to add them). I use spotlight to open seldom used apps. Spotlight in safari lets me search all my bookmarks and history to find webpages quickly. Smart folders are awesome in every app (that supports them) including the finder. Sure, its not perfect (yet) but turning it off like one of the hints is like staying in OS 9 because you don't like the change.

    I am willing to overlook the problems knowing that OS X 10.0 was the first build that showed the potential and 10.4 is awesome. Just wait till spotlight hits 2.0!

  34. robg:

    First let me say thanks for your Spotlight (SL) review. I read it all and must say my experience with its performance is nothing like yours. My experience is that SL is super fast.

    Your poor SL responsiveness is mind boggling - and so it seems to be with most of the others posting here.

    I'm struggling with how this can be - how is it that my performance is super fast and most everybody elses is poor.

    Let me start with some basics.

    I installed Tiger onto a brand new 300gig internal SATA HD in my 2x 2.5GHz PM with 4.5GB RAM and 6800 Ultra driving a 23" Alu ACD. The Tiger install was an Erase followed by Transferring /User, /Applications, Network Config and other system settings and Files/Folders from another internal HD that was my prvious Panther 10.3.9 boot drive. I provide this system config and the manner by which Tiger was installed as I believe it's an important factor when comparing SL experiences.

    My Tiger boot drive has some 350,000 files and occupies some 110GB of space. My SL data base ContentIndex.db is some 51MB in size.

    I have SL indexing just my Tiger boot drive. All other HDs, iPod and USB mem sticks off limits to SL.

    As far as I can tell my SL is configured as Apple releases it. All 14 of the default Search Results boxes are left checked in the SL System Preferences.

    I have 30,656 kind:image hits and when this is entered into the SL search box it takes less less than 2 secs to get them all and about another 1 sec to get the thumbnails displayed.

    When I simply type "the" as quickly as I can into SL's search box it takes no more than 2 secs to list of some 14,626 hits.

    If I create a new $MS Word doc of some 32,000 pages long and some 5 million bytes in size and place a unique character string as the last word in this document and then save it as a *txt file and then goto SL and search for this file by entering the unique character string it shows up almost instantly - certainly within 2 secs. BTW if this file is saved as a *doc file SL doesn't find it so I suppose $MS Word needs a SL plug-in etc.

    I can go on and on about this performance issue you have. Let me simply say - I have beatup SL as bad as I can and I cannot get the 20-30 sec response times you have been getting.

    Spotlight for me is close to being "instant" for performing searches.
    What is it that I've done that you haven't done wrt installing Tiger?
    What am I doing right or doing wrong?

  35. Another comment that a previous poster mentioned. Prior to Tiger the ability to simply browse the file system for specific file type such as "kind:image" wasn't readily available if at all. Under Tiger it is possible via SL. I'm simply amazed to find all the image files using Finder/SL that I was totally unaware of under Panther. I find this aspect of Tiger/SL very very impressive and an 'eye opener' (no pun intended).

    I mean to say I had no idea my system disk contained an image file showing Bush being sworn in as President - I sure didn't take it with my camera!

    Oh - and I love the way the Finder displays the full path for a file I click in in the Finder window after having done a SL search - fantastic.

    In a Finder window I type in "kind:image David" (unsure about the syntax here mind you) and it found two image files of my Cousin David in about 1 sec flat. I can recall this taking 10 mins or so under Panther just searching thru my thousands of iPhoto Library images.

  36. I'd like to suggest that Apple pursue moving some if not all of this Spotlight searching effort to the HD controller's processor and onboard cache.

    Rather than consuming expensive Mac system resources on doing the indexing and processing search inquiries why not offload this chore to the Disk itself. It has a processor and some memory and given the 'smarts' it could be doing this work more efficiently and would not require having the data moved to the computer's RAM and having its CPU burn up precious cycles.

    Someone could write the Disk controller firmware, patent it and get some royalties from all the disk vendors for every disk unit sold with this feature. I'm too lazy to do it. (ha ha).

  37. A follow on to post #38.

    Just think of a time consuming grep that returns just one hit searching thru 1000 very large text files. Today each file has to be read off disk to RAM and searched. It would far smarter to let the Disk controller do this work in/on the Disk itself and simply return the 'singe hit'. For remote attached Disks this is far more significant than for direct attached Disks.

    Way off topic I know - so sorry robg. Just found myself on a roll, so to speak.

  38. Robert Benschop

    Great Blog RobG, worthy addition to MacOSXHints

    and thanks 'charlie' for the tip of using the Quicksilver Spotlight plug-in, I just moved a bit closer to upgrading to Tiger.

    But I'll wait with my main system (my Powerbook is on 10.4 already until the beta bugs are out of Spotlight and Spotlight isn't all present anymore. By the way, I think RobG is too friendly calling it a 0.95 release, I think beta is more appropriate.
    The 'funny' part is that I bought Tiger because of Spotlight. But after using it I realize it's actually the part that keeps me from upgrading my main system from 10.3.9 to 10.4

    As for the System Preferences, I always accessed each individual pane through Quicksilver. Works lightning-fast in both Panther and Tiger, so you won't have to wait for Spotlight at all.

  39. Re #37:
    "Prior to Tiger the ability to simply browse the file system for specific file type such as “kind:image” wasn’t readily available if at all."

    It was, sort of. In Panther's Finder, File > Find (Apple-F) gives a decent search window including the ability to search for items whose "Kind is image". On the other hand, it's *really* slow to catch everything, since it's not indexed.

  40. One convenient thing about Stoplight is that it indexes the content of all your financial documents and tax reports, accumulating account and credit card numbers all into one convenient location. A criminal hacker or spyware widget (they're coming) no longer has to search all over your machine to locate valuable data. Search times have indeed been dramatically reduced!

  41. The only big downside of spotlight is IMHO that it can't index a mounted server volume. Nearly all of the files in which I want to search are on my samba server and not on one of my local volumes.

    Thats the reason why spotlight is a bit of useless to me. A great solution would be if there were a server version of spotlight which I can install on my OS X / Windows / Linux fileservers and add these sources to my spotlight preferences to get them included in my search.

  42. Hi Jens Cramer: You said - "The only big downside of spotlight is IMHO that it can’t index a mounted server volume.". Solved if the Spotlight feature/function is moved down to the Disk processor/cache level. That is, each disk or volume performs t6his function on its own and is independent of the system connecting to it - Spotlight's index, database, content-database, etc all move around with the disk device.

  43. Command-F Will Bring Up The Find Window Which Uses Spotlight And Has The Path At The Bottom Of The Window. You Can Also Float The Cursor Over The Any Item In The Regular Spotlight Search To See The Path Of The Object.

    Still No Matter How Hard You Search Of Invisible Items You Will Never Find Any. It Does Feel Like A .95 Release. At Least It Is Not A Deal Killer. However There Is A Real Problem With .Mac Sync And Backup. A Stupid Move On My Part And I Had Lost Nearly All My Keychain Entries. No Problem I Thought, They Are Backed Up On .Mac.

    Under Panther Backup Ran Every Friday And Backed Up A Lot Of My System Settings. I Launched Backup And It Stated I Don't Have A .Mac Account And Told Me To Enter My Username And Password Into The .Mac Prefpane. I Did That But My Password Disappeared After Entering And Validating It, Backup Would Still Not Work. I Checked .Mac Sync And Despite Have It Set To Automatically Sync Every Week It Has Never Synced, Even After Running Tiger For Over 3 Weeks. I Tried Using iSync To Replace My Keychains...I Get A .Mac Error. Apple Mentions This On The Main .Mac Page But Their Workaround Does Nothing For Me.

    Here I Am, I Have My .Mac Account Mainly For Saving My System Prefs For A Rainy Day And When It Finally Happens I Have No Way To Fix It.

    .Mac Sync Seems Like A Early Alpha Release.

  44. Pingback: inluminent » Blog Archive » A few Apple-centric readings

  45. My feeling is that Apple should encourage Google to make a local search for OSX and concentrate on areas in which they are stronger. After a week of using Spotlight I still find that good organization on my part still is the best way to use my powerbook.

  46. I agree with most of the comments above. However I do find Spotlight great, I'm sure apple will make it better over time. I agree with the command something option to search only for apps (I feel bad for dumping Quicksilver...)

    Sometimes while using spotlight, I end up finding stuff I didn't even remember I had, just like when you clean up your closet, and I love finding those old abandoned treasures.

    Congrats on your new project, and keep up the good work on both sites.

  47. Wayne wrote: "I have to disagree with the sentiments of several of the posters here. One complained that they NEVER searched documents by content in many years of Mac usage. Of course not, because they couldn’t. Now that you can, if you don’t just knee-jerk react, I assure you that you will. I’ve already been pleasantly surprised by what I’ve found in Spotlight searches."

    Humbug! The fact is most people seldom search for content—that's why most never indexed their drives. They search by or for the subject, which is usually contained in the name. Spotlight's default should be "name" with the other options selectable by the user. Getting thousands of items containing the search criteria is useless overhead.

    Additionally, I think there should be two databases. One which includes content and one that doesn't, with the latter one being the default and the former being an option for any individual search, but never a permanent choice. When the user decides to do a content search, then, and only then, should Spotlight update that index—otherwise Spotlight can continue to update everything, except content, as it currently does. If this setup was implemented, search performance and indexing slowdowns would vanish. Finally, searches shouldn't begin until you've selected it or there should be an option to turn it off. This business of starting when you start typing is, IMHO, maddening and a performance zapper.

    Just my 2¢

  48. Loved your article. I am new to my G5 and just installed 10.4, been with the Mac about a year. Would love to make motion screen shots like you did of the old and new preferences of Spotlight and other like video shots from my screen. Can I do it with the native software installed or do
    I have to purchase something else. Your comments would be appreciated.
    Thanks a bunch.

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