Copywriter, technical writer, translator (FR>EN, ES>EN, IT>EN), journalist

Finding things on your computer

Every day, people need to find things stored on their computers. Some people store them on the desktop, to the point that the desktop looks impossibly cluttered. Others put shortcuts on the desktop – same effect.

I still keep files in my Documents folder so that it gets backed up to an online service. But I don’t usually open folders and subfolders to get at my files. I just type relevant words into my Mac’s search tool, Spotlight. Result: I find what I’m looking for really fast, saving myself plenty of time every day.

(If you just want to see Spotlight in action, skip ahead to the short video at the end of this post.)

When I search using Spotlight, the tool checks all sorts of things: file names, the contents of files, folder names, calendar entries, metadata and so forth. It brings up all sorts of results, segmented by the types of files that contain the search term

In OSX 10.9 Mavericks, the latest version of Apple’s computer operating system, Spotlight even quickly previews items in the list without your having to open the files that contains your search term (if a preview is available). That’s really handy!

I also use Spotlight to do quick math calculations without launching the Mac’s Calculator.

Spotlight does have a few minor faults. For instance, I frequently look up the meanings of words, so I type them into Spotlight, then go to the bottom of the list to see the preview of the definition. If I need to see synonyms or Wikipedia entries, I select the list item and the Dictionary app appears with the results I need.

Note that I said I go to the bottom of the list of Spotlight results. I can’t move Dictionary, or the web or Wikipedia searches, to different places in lists like I can things like PDFs, email messages, contacts and so forth. (Watch the video below to see a demonstration.)

Also, Spotlight can’t search everything on my Mac. For instance, it’s shut out of the database for my project management software. That’s more of an issue with the software itself, which makes up for it by offering a robust search tool for things in the database.

Despite Spotlight’s slight limitations, it’s a fantastic tool that helps me find stuff more quickly on my computer than I ever have before. If you use a Mac, check out this short video that will show you how to get started using Spotlight. (If you use an earlier version of OSX, note that¬† Apple has meaningfully enhanced Spotlight in OSX 10.9 Mavericks.)

Windows 8.1 also offers a computer search feature, but it’s nowhere near as robust or easy to use as the Mac’s Spotlight. If you use Windows 8.1, check out this handy short explanation of search.