Easy file finding, sans Spotlight

Here at Macworld , we’re both Spotlight’s biggest fans and its biggest critics: It’s a feature with lots of potential, but much of that potential is currently unfulfilled (or, at the very least, hampered in its performance).

I’m sure that as Apple releases updates to Mac OS X, Spotlight will improve, but in the meantime, I find myself getting frustrated when I try to perform even the simplest of searches. For example, I recently wanted to find a file with the word “Eddy” (as in Macworld’s yearly Eddy Awards ) in the title. I typed the word

Eddy
into Spotlight’s search field and pressed Return...and it took Spotlight well over a minute to finish its search. When it was done, I had 31 results, some of which included “Eddy” in the contents of the file, some of which were email messages or iChat logs, a couple of which were music files—do I really have Eddy Grant’s “Electric Avenue” in my iTunes Library? Gotta love those 80s compilation CDs—and some of which were Safari bookmarks. So I had to spend even more time weeding through the results to find the desired file.

Granted, I could have used one of Spotlight’s various tricks—for example, enclosing

Eddy
in quotes (it didn’t help much), using the Find feature in the Finder to search just by name, or using one of Apple’s special Spotlight parameters—to narrow down the search. I could also use the procedure in our Tiger Tips series to “Revert to the previous Find window” in order to get a basic find-by-name version of Spotlight. But given that the most common type of search is likely to be one of filenames, Spotlight makes such a search neither quick nor easy (not to mention that users shouldn’t have to remember special codes or procedures in order to perform simple searches).

What is quick and easy? The free EasyFind 3.8.1 (   ) from DevonTechnologies. When you launch EasyFind, you get a simple search field with a number of easy-to-understand options:

  • What to search: both file and folder names, only file names, only folder names, or the contents of files
  • The type of search to perform: items containing all the search words (“and”), any of the search words (“or”), or the complete phrase; or to search using wildcards or operators (more on the latter two choices below)
  • Search options: case-sensitive or insensitive; whether to treat Mac OS X packages as folders (in which case package contents are also searched); and whether or not to include invisible items in the search
  • Search location: all volumes; all local volumes; folders at the root level of your hard drive (Applications, Developer, Library, System, and so on); any folder in your Home directory; any folder on your Desktop; folders in ~/Library/Favorites; or any folders you place in ~/Library/EasyFind. You can also manually choose a folder to search.

In my case—searching my Documents folder for a file with

Eddy
in its title—I clicked on Only Files, All Words, and Case Insensitive and then choose my Documents folder as the location to search. (All Words and Case Insensitive are actually the defaults, so I had to make only two adjustments.) I typed Eddy into the search field and pressed return...and 4 seconds later I had a list of all matching documents.

EasyFind results window

Just like the Spotlight and Finder search results windows, you can double-click any file in EasyFind’s search results to open it, or use drag-and-drop to work with it. But unlike Spotlight, important information about each file—modification date, size, kind, and location—is visible without having to click an Info button. (Hold the mouse pointer over the Where value to view the full path to the file without having to expand the window.) And if you want more information about a particular item in the results window, the Finder’s standard Get Info shortcut (Command-I) displays the Finder’s Get Info window for that item. You can even delete items immediately—bypassing the Trash—by selecting them and choosing Destroy from the File menu.

For searches like this, EasyFind fulfills Spotlight’s promise of “instant searches.” That said, EasyFind’s speed varies dramatically depending on the type of search. Unlike Spotlight, EasyFind doesn’t constantly index your hard drive’s contents, so its searches are exactly that: searches. For a limited search such as the one I performed, EasyFind is much, much faster—in my example, 4 seconds compared to nearly a minute and a half for Spotlight’s standard search. However, when I performed the same EasyFind search on my entire hard drive, it took nearly 50 seconds. Still much faster than Spotlight, but keep in mind that EasyFind was searching only file names, not file contents. When I searched the contents of files just in my Documents folder, EasyFind took approximately the same amount of time as the Spotlight search, which was searching the contents of most of my hard drive. This limitation means that I leave the file content searches to Spotlight and its content index.

If you’re a power user, EasyFind also offers a number of advanced features—mentioned above—that are either unavailable in Spotlight or not easily accessible. By using the Wildcards search option, you can use grep-like expression matching. For example, if I want to find files with either

Eddy
or
Eddies
in their names, I would search for
Edd*
. And the operators option lets me use boolean operators such as AND, OR, NOT, NEAR, AFTER, and so on. For example, I could look for older Eddy-related documents by searching for
Eddy NOT 2005
, which would find documents containing
Eddy
but not
2005
in the filename.

EasyFind operators results window

There’s also a hidden group of settings that let you customize the types of files EasyFind searches when it examines file contents. Via the preferences drawer, you can designate up to five lists of file extensions and file types. (EasyFind includes useful sample lists.) By checking and unchecking these lists, you determine which types of files are searched. For example, if you know the file you’re looking for is a text file of some sort, you can limit EasyFind’s content search to only text file types; doing so will make the content search dramatically. (If you want to search all files, simply check the “Scan all files” box.)

Finally, if you’re a fan of Mac OS X’s services feature, EasyFind provides its own service.

If you’re tired of Spotlight’s slow performance—especially for the most basic types of searches—give EasyFind a try. It’s free, uses very little memory when running, and is blazingly fast for many types of searches. I keep it running on my Mac all the time for quick access.

EasyFind is compatible with Mac OS X 10.3 and 10.4.

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