Spotlight Sucks

OK, I know that spotlight does all sorts of nifty, powerful things. However, it shouldn’t do them at the expense of the simple things that a find utility should be able to accomplish. I can’t remember the last time I could think of some text inside of a document to search for that was in any way unique—or even unusual—and on the rare occasions when I can, I can’t think of the exact text, only the rough sort of text (“it was something about haikus”). And without a verbatim quote, a text search agent of this sort is pretty useless. Now, that’s all very fine and dandy—the fact that I don’t search that way doesn’t mean that it’s bad that it provides those capabilities. For all I know, there are tons of people who really need to search inside of files on a daily basis. And, if i were using this in a work environment, I can think of several instances where it would be supremely helpful: finding everything relating to a client by searching for the client’s name or trademark, frex. But I don’t work with a lot of proper nouns, and they’re often in the filename when i do.

So, on to my complaint: Spotlight is near-useless for locating files. Oh, it’s great for locating file contents, but if what you know, prior to performing the search, is stuff about the file, rather than about its contents, it’s not much help. So when I couldn’t figure out what asinine place I’d put some Illustrator files that I needed, I couldn’t find them. I couldn’t come up with anything off the top of my head that would be reasonably distinct in the text within them [and I’m not sure whether or not Spotlight can see inside of Illustrator files, or not], but I absolutely knew that “buttons” was in the filename. So, I tried searching for that. And got none of the files I was looking for. Well, turns out that when you tell Spotlight to search for “buttons”, it will find “buttons” and “buttonside”, but not “shirtbuttons” or “dreadbuttons13.tif”. In short, it searches for “buttons*” rather than “*buttons*”. And this goes for both filenames and file contents, as near as I can tell. That’s the first problem.

The next problem is that there isn’t an easy way to find a particular type of file. I don’t mean “images”, I mean “Adobe Illustrator files”. For me, the categories that Spotlight uses basically boil down to “MP3s”, “PDFs”, “folders”, “all of the other sorts of files i care about, lumped together into one category”, and 10 different varieties of “category that i don’t care about”. I really miss Type/Creator codes. But, that aside, while i can search on a file extension, that gives me tons of false hits, too—more than half the results weren’t the file type I wanted, in my test case, just now. And, strangely enough, searching for “.indd” does match “doctor who guide.indd”, so apparently when there’s a dot included, then it sticks a virtual * on both ends, not just the tail end.

Finally, there isn’t an easy way to restrict searches to just the filename, and not the contents. Because, again, I usually know the [approximate] filename I used, just not where it is—and, for me, if I can remember the contents with any accuracy, I can generally remember the filename with equal accuracy, and the latter is more likely to be relatively unique.

On a related issue, Leopard made a significant change to the interface of Spotlight. Specifically, invoking find via the search bar in a Finder window is basically the same now as invoking Spotlight directly. It used to be that starting from a Finder window defaulted to the current folder—and that seems to me to be a heck of lot more useful. Or, more specifically, if you set it that way once, it defaulted to that until you changed it. With Leopard, the search bar defaults to searching contents of your whole computer, same as the Spotlight menu. Which is both redundant and counter-intuitive. It’s attached to a window, which is displaying a folder, why doesn’t it start out searching that folder? Failing that, why doesn’t it at least give the user the option to start out searching the current folder? It’s most annoying that (1) every time I invoke a search, I have to click two buttons to switch it from “Computer” and “Contents” to “This Folder” and “Filename”, and (2) I can only do that after first invoking a search, so I have to effectively restart the search, rather than just doing it right the first time.

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