Find Files with the Mountain Lion Spotlight Menu and Window

OS X Mountain Lion includes a fabulous technology called Spotlight that can help you find almost anything on any mounted disk in seconds. A time will come when you won’t be able to find a file or folder, although you know for certain that it’s right there on your hard drive. Somewhere. Spotlight can

  • Search for files

  • Search for folders

  • Search for text inside documents

  • Search for files and folders by their metadata (creation date, modification date, kind, size, and so on)

A timesaving way to search for files and folders in OS X Mountain Lion is to use the Spotlight menu itself — the magnifying-glass icon at the far right end of your menu bar. Click the icon to open the Spotlight Search box, and then type a character, word, or series of words in the Search box to find an item.


Memorize and use the super-convenient and easy-to-remember keyboard shortcut for opening the Spotlight search box, which is Command+spacebar by default. If you don’t find Command+spacebar appealing as a shortcut, you can change it to whatever you like in the Spotlight System Preferences pane.

If you highlight (but don’t click) an item in the Spotlight’s menu’s results list, a preview pops up to its left.

Spotlight is more than just a menu and Search box; it also uses a technology that’s pervasive throughout OS X and apps including (but certainly not limited to) Mail, Contacts, and many, many more. The reason why it’s so spectacularly speedy is that it “indexes” your files when your Mac is idle. The upshot is that Spotlight knows file locations and contents soon after a file is created or modified.

You can also use the Spotlight window to create and perform more sophisticated searches. You can access this window in two ways:

  • Click the Show All in Finder item on the Spotlight menu or press Command+Option+spacebar.

    You can change this shortcut to whatever you like in the Spotlight System Preferences pane.

  • Use the criteria at the top of the window to narrow your search.

This is exactly the same process you use to create Smart Folders! If you want to make a Smart Folder from a search you perform, just click the Save button.

Regardless of which method you choose to invoke it — the Search box in a Finder window, the Spotlight Search box in the menu bar, or the Spotlight window — Spotlight saves you time and effort.