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How to Search with Spotlight in Mac OS X Snow Leopard

Mac OS X Snow Leopard includes Searchlight, a powerful searching tool that lets you find information on your computer or search Web pages in your Safari browser’s cache. The Spotlight search field is always available from the Finder menu bar. Click the magnifying glass icon once (or press Command+Spacebar), and the Spotlight search box appears.

To run a search, simply click in the Spotlight box and begin typing. You see matching items appear as soon as you type, and the search results are continually refined while you type the rest of your search criteria.

Start your Search by typing text in the Spotlight search box.
Start your Search by typing text in the Spotlight search box.

Here’s a short list of the common search criteria:

  • Names and addresses: Because Spotlight has access to Snow Leopard’s Address Book, you can find contact information using any portion of a name or address.

  • E-mail message text: Enter the person’s e-mail address or any text string contained in the message you’re looking for.

  • File and folder names: Spotlight searches your entire system for that one file or folder in the blink of an eye.

  • Events & To Do items: Yep, Spotlight gives you access to your iCal calendars and those all-important To Do lists you’ve created.

  • System Preferences: Try typing the word background in the Spotlight field. Some of the results will actually be System Preference panes! (The Software Update pane contains the word background while the desktop background setting is on the Desktop & Screen Saver pane in System Preferences.)

  • Web pages: You can use Spotlight to search the Web pages you’ve recently displayed in Safari. Note, however, that this feature doesn’t let you search through all the Internet as Google does . . . only the pages stored in your Safari Web cache and any HTML files you’ve saved to your Mac’s hard drive.

  • Metadata: You can locate Word documents on your system using the same metadata that’s stored in the file, such as the contents of the Comments field in a Word document.

The results of your Spotlight search are presented in the Spotlight menu, which is updated automatically in real time while you type. The top 20 most-relevant items are grouped into categories right on the Spotlight menu. Spotlight guesses at which item is most likely the match you’re looking for.

To open the Top Hit item like a true Snow Leopard power user, just press Return.

To reset the Spotlight search and try another text string, click the X icon that appears at the right side of the Spotlight box.

After you find the item that you’re looking for, you can click it once to

  • Launch it (if the item is an application)

  • Open it in System Preferences (if it’s a setting or description on a Preferences pane)

  • Open it within the associated application (if the item is a document or a data item)

  • Display it within a Finder window (if the item is a folder)

You can display all the files of a particular type on your system by using the file type as the keyword. For example, to provide a list of all images on your system, just use images as your keyword.

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