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Apple Mac OS X tips and tweaks

Date: 11th October 2011     

Find files fast

The Mac is quite good at finding files on the hard disk drive and there are two useful tools built in to OS X. There is Spotlight of course, and clicking the magnifying glass icon in the top right corner of the screen enables you to find documents and other files. It's fast and it usually locates the item you are looking for.

There is also the search facility in Finder windows. Open any Finder window and there is a search box at the top and you can enter any word or part of a word and search the disk for it.

If you have ever tried to track down an elusive file you will have discovered that these two OS X tools are quite limited in their capabilities.

Try searching for plist files for example. These are system files that contain settings for OS X components and applications. There are hundreds of them on the disk, but just try and find them using Spotlight or Finder's search. To find anything other than obvious document files, photos and videos, you need a search tool.

Find Any File
One example of a search tool is Find Any File. This is a great utlity that is fast and very easy to use. It used to be free, but the author is now asking for $4. (Previous versions are on the website, so if you don't need the latest one it may be possible to download one of the freebies.)

Find Any File

The window couldn't be simpler and you just enter a word or part of a word in the search box. There are pop-up menus to select the search criteria and name, contains is the default. You can choose alternative parameters such as date, size, is a folder and others. Choose Modification Date and you can search for files withing the past five minutes, within the last hour, day or week. The More Choices button enables you to specify multiple search parameters. For example, you could search for all files containing 'Work' in the the last day.

It's so good at finding files it is useful for cleaning up traces of files after moving apps to the Trash to delete them. Tip: Hold down the Option key and click Find for a more powerful search. The one irritation is that it displays files found in the Trash too.

An alternative utility that is similar, but not quite the same is EasyFind. It's free and once again it is very easy to use. All the search options are on the left and you can search for files and/or folders and you can even search within files. Spotlight does that, but it doesn't index every type of file, so EasyFind can find text in files Spotlight ignores.


EasyFind has some useful features such as the Fuzzy option. This can be used when searching inside files and it will find similar words with slightly different spelling. There is also a Quick Look button in the toolabr and it works like Finder's Quick Look facility. It's very useful when the search turns up multiple files and you can view them without having to load them. The Reveal in Finder button is useful too.