Spotlight Mac OS X Tips

Using Spotlight OS X Leopard yields the fastest searches out of all the previous versions. Arguably these improvements not only increase productivity but also help you find long lost files that you might have not realized you had.

1. Save a File Using Spotlight

When you are ready to save a file try using “Save As…” rather than performing a regular “Save”. When the Save dialog appears you will see that you can search for a related folder using the search field next to the current folder. This will save you time since you won’t have to save it to your desktop to sort later. This feature is not just limited to the Save function. Most Finder dialogues have the Spotlight search field visible.

2. Search Using Quotes

“” (Quotes) remains the best technique for searching keyword phrases. Simply put what you are looking for in quotes in the built in Spotlight tool in the upper right corner of your menu bar and it will constrain you search to a specific word combinations. This is most commonly used when you are looking for something specific.

3. Using “or”, “not”, “and”

Spotlight uses basic Boolean logic. What is Boolean? You were first introduced to it in second grade when you worked with grammatical conjunction to form compound sentences. These conjugations form truth-functions.

(a) The little dog laughed to see such fun.
(b) The dish ran away with the spoon.
(c) The little dog laughed to see such fun and the dish ran away with the spoon.

Obviously there are other words that can be used to conjugate “truth-functions”, but for the sake of simplicity I am sticking to the basics. Try expressing queries with single search terms joined with single words such as “or”, “not”, “if…then”. For Spotlight “and” is the default.

4. Unleash Spotlight’s Keyword Metadata Searches.

This is a more uncommon way of searching for people who are new to Mac OS X.

      1. Go to Spotlight in the Menu Bar
      2. Type the following kind:mov. (This will search for every movie “.mov” file on you hard drive. You can also try other media types such as mp3, pdf, doc.
      3. Try also name:. This command limits the search to just the file main and not the contents.
      4. Another cool option is the “created on” search. Type this as an example created:>1/1/09. This will find files that were created after January, 2009. The date search uses the following characters to find its results [ < > = ].

    5. Spotlight Photoshop Documents.

    Spotlight searching for a Photoshop document saved as PSD and created either in Photoshop Elements or in Photoshop CS will allow spotlight not only to search the file name itself but also its “Type” Layers. Make sure your “Type” layers are not rasterized, if they are they won’t be searchable.

    6. Skip Category Topics.

    I am sure when you have tried Spotlight that you wished it would be easier to skip categories topics. Using the Command + up/down

    7. Go Directly to a Selection

    Instead of clicking on a file that you have found and having it open using an application try this. Using Command + Return or Command + Click you can open the selected file in the Finder.

    8. Search ical

    For iCal event search you need to use the “kind” metadata tag followed by the application name “ical”


    After this you will need to add the MM/DD/YY notation. This will search across all calendars as well as those ical subscribed ones. Ex: 06/7/09

    9. Search by Date

    You can also search for files based their creation date.


    date:today [keyword] You can also use “today”, “yesterday” and “tomorrow”.

    10. Optimizing your Searches

    Spotlight indexes your hard drive and is capable of searching everything on within Leopard. Although the searches conducted using Spotlight are fast you will still need to set the search filters, which could slow things down. To select theses filters you want to do the following:

        1. Go to the Finder Menu > Apple > System Preferences.
        2. Click on Spotlight Preferences.
        3. Enable/disable some of the categories of your Spotlight search. This can be done by ticking/unticking the check boxes.

    Spotlight System Preferences

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