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Tiger's Spotlight


© December 2005 Tony Lawrence

The Spotlight search tool is often described as the best part of Mac OS X Tiger. It was the "breakthrough feature in OS X version 10.4--the reason to get Tiger" (https://www.pcworld.com/news/article/0,aid,120646,00.asp) and so on.

So how come I never use it?

Oh, it pops up every now and then when I accidentally hit its hot key, but except when I played with it to find out what it was all about and how it worked, I've never had a reason to use it. That must be because I never have to find files, right? Must be nice to have such a great memory, you say.

Nope. My memory is as flaky as anyone else. I often have to find files. But.. Why would you ever want to just find a file? "Oh, I was just curious where I put that foo-bah file.. thanks, Spotlight!". Or "Ayup, I just wanted to check that it's still there. I see it is, thanks" or "I wonder which of my files have the word 'extra' in them?".

Not very likely or very often. Usually when I want to find files it's because I want to DO something with them. I want to delete them, copy them, edit them, or look at them. Spotlight isn't particularly helpful for any of that. It brings up a list of matching files, but you have to take it from there.

That's why I'm more apt to be running "grep" or "find" at the command line. I can do:

 vi `grep -l foo *html`
 find . -empty -delete
 find . -name '*.html' -exec cp {} /tmp \;
 
 

and of course much, much more.

The command line version of Spotlight (mdfind) can be piped to other commands, but although in some ways it has much more power than the venerable "find" and "grep" that I do use constantly, in other ways it really has less. For one thing, both Spotlight and mdfind ignore text files with extensions they doesn't understand. I'll talk more about that in another article, but for me, the limitations far exceed the usefulness.

Update: Spotlight improved in Leopard and I now use it frequently.


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Inexpensive and informative Apple related e-books:

Take Control of the Mac Command Line with Terminal, Second Edition

Take Control of Apple Mail, Third Edition

El Capitan: A Take Control Crash Course

Take Control of iCloud

Take Control of Preview




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