How to Perform a Basic Search on Your iMac - dummies

How to Perform a Basic Search on Your iMac

By Mark L. Chambers

The Spotlight search field is always available from your iMac’s Finder menu bar. Click the magnifying glass icon once (or press the Command key+Spacebar), and the Spotlight search box appears (see the following figure).

The Spotlight search box at the top of the screen.
A lot of power purrs behind this single Spotlight search box.

To run a search, simply click in the Spotlight box and begin typing. (The words you type that you want to match are keywords.) Matching items start appearing as soon as you type, and the search results are continually refined while you type the rest of your search keywords. In other words, you don’t need to press Return to begin your search.

The results of your Spotlight search appear in the Spotlight menu, which is updated automatically in real time while you continue to type. The top 20 most-relevant items are grouped into categories — such as Messages, Definitions, Documents, Folders, Images, PDFs, and Contacts, right on the Spotlight menu. Spotlight takes a guess at the item that’s most likely the match you’re looking for (based on your Search Results list in System Preferences, which I cover later in the chapter) and presents it in the special Top Hit category that always appears first.

Hover your cursor over an item in the Spotlight menu, and shazam! — Spotlight uses the Quick Look technology built into Mavericks to display either a thumbnail image of a document or information on the item. If the item is a song, you can even move your cursor on top of the thumbnail in the Quick Look display and click to play it — all without leaving the Spotlight menu.

To open the Top Hit item like a true Mavericks power user, just press Return. (My brothers and sisters, it just doesn’t get any easier than that.)

Literally any text string is acceptable as a Spotlight search. However, here’s a short list of the common search criteria I use every day:

  • Names and addresses: Because Spotlight has access to the Contacts application in Mavericks, you can immediately display contact information using any portion of a name or an address.

  • E-mail message text: Need to open a specific e-mail message you’ve already received, but you’d rather not launch Mail and spend time digging through the message list? Enter the person’s e-mail address or any text string contained in the message you’re looking for.

  • File and folder names: A simple item name is the classic search favorite. Spotlight searches your entire system for that one file or folder in the blink of an eye.

  • Events and Reminder items: Yep, Spotlight gives you access to your Calendar events and those all-important Reminders you’ve created.

  • System Preferences: Now things start to get really interesting! Try typing the word background in the Spotlight field. Some of the results will be System Preference panes! Every setting in System Preferences is referenced in Spotlight. (For example, the Desktop background setting resides in the Desktop & Screen Saver pane in System Preferences.)

  • Web pages: Whoa. Stand back, Google. 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 like Google does. Instead, you can search only the pages stored in your Safari web cache and any HTML files you’ve saved to your iMac’s hard drive.)

  • Metadata: This category is a pretty broad, but it fits. If you’re not familiar with the term metadata, think of the information stored by your digital camera each time you take a photo: exposure setting, time and date, and even the location where the photo was taken, which are also transferred to iPhoto when you import. Here’s another example: 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. Other supported applications include Adobe Photoshop images, Microsoft Excel spreadsheets, Keynote presentations, iTunes media, and other third-party applications that offer a Spotlight plug-in that you’ve installed.

To reset the Spotlight search and try another text string, click the X icon that appears at the right side of the Spotlight box. Of course, you can also backspace to the beginning of the field, but that’s a little less elegant, so try pressing the Command key+A to select the entire contents and then press Delete.

After you find the item 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 in a Finder window (if the item is a folder).

Here’s another favorite timesaver: 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 — the same goes for movies and audio, too.