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Apple Mac OS X tips and tweaks

Amazing Spotlight search secrets

Spotlight is an outstanding search tool on the Apple Mac and if you have ever forgotten where you saved a file or have lost something, more often than not it will find it for you. Just click the magnifying glass in the top right corner of the screen and enter a word or two to search for. Spotlight then lists the documents, folders, applications and other items that contain the word or words. This is how most people use Spotlight and it is OK for most search tasks, but what if a simple search doesn't turn up the item you are looking for, or that there are too many matches and you can't see the one that you want? You need a more complex search term, one that narrows down the results and locates the item you are looking for. Here are some secrets for more powerful searches using Spotlight.

If you enter a word into Spotlight and there are too many results or the one you are looking for isn't listed, you need to eliminate items that aren't important to promote the items you are interested in to the top of the list. For example, for example, suppose you have documents that have the word 'apple' in them. You could search for 'apple' by entering it into Spotlight. Now if you have lots of files containing it, you might not see the one you want, so you should eliminate unwanted items by adding an extra search term. If the document also contains 'pears', you could enter 'apple AND pears' to list only those documents that contain both terms. You don't need to do two searches, as soon as you see that a search for 'apple' hasn't worked, continue typing and enter ' AND pears'.

You can also find items that contain one word, but not another. For example, you could enter 'Manchester NOT United' to find files that contain 'Manchester', but not if they also contain 'United'. A similar effect can be achieved using a minus sign like this, 'Manchester -United'. It is also possible to use OR too and if you want to find music, images, videos or other files containing 'Desperate' or 'Housewives' you would enter 'Desperate OR Housewives'.

In a nutshell, narrow down searches by using AND, OR and NOT in the Spotlight search box.

Sometimes you can't find a file, but you know when it was created. In this case you can find it using a date search. For example, to find a file called Report that was created on 01/08/2010 you would enter into Spotlight 'Report AND date: 01/08/10' then only if the file contained the word 'Report' and was created or last updated on that date will it appear in the Spotlight results.

Suppose you don't know the exact date a file was created, just use > which means greater than or after. For example, to find files created after 01/08/10 then enter 'Report AND date: >01/08/10'. You can also use < which means less than or before. 'Report AND date: <01/08/10' would find files containing 'Report' created before 01/08/10.

Both of those queries might still return too many Spotlight results, so you could narrow down the date like this, 'Report AND date: 01/08/10-05/08/10' which would list all files created between those two dates. (I'm using the UK date convention d/m/y here.)

Using AND, OR, NOT and > and < you can narrow the search down and get better results. You are then more likely to find the file you are looking for.


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