Souped-up Spotlight

As Dan Frakes mentioned in his review of EasyFind, here at Macworld we have a love / hate relationship with Spotlight. More often than not, I find myself on the ’hate’ side, as Spotlight’s user interface continues to frustrate my searching needs.

When I saw Dan’s review of the free EasyFind, I gave it a try, and it is quite nice. In fact, I was using it somewhat regularly, but I still found myself wanting a bit more flexibility from my search interface. Ideally, I wanted a tool that would use the existing Spotlight index—after all, it’s the interface to Spotlight that I find lacking, not the concept of indexing the data on my drive. Enter MoRU 1.2.1 (   ; single computer, $10; home site license, $18), the tool that finally delivers (for me, at least) the promise of the Spotlight technology. And although it’s not a free solution, it’s reasonably priced for the features it delivers.

MoRU works in conjunction with Spotlight, but provides an efficient and well-thought-out design that lets you do much more than seems possible with the standard Spotlight interfaces. MoRU’s approach is based on what it calls Smart Groups, which are basically like saved Finder searches. You create a new Smart Group, specify the criteria for the search, and then save the group. From then on, you can access the search with a simple mouse click.

The power of MoRU, though, comes not from the Smart Groups themselves, but from the way you’re able to construct these searches. Using a format similar to that of the Finder, you build your search criteria one entry at a time; unlike the Finder, however, MoRU makes it quite easy to build complex queries with simple point-and-click operations. Not only that, but the options provided make it much easier to find exactly what you’re looking for.

Simple searches

Consider first this simple but real example. I’ve written quite a few articles for Macworld over the last few years. In some of them, I know I’ve discussed the Unix command du, which reports on disk usage. Now I want to find those references for a new article I’m writing, but the articles are scattered all over the computer. To find them using Spotlight, I’d hit Command-F in the Finder, then enter du as my search term, making sure Computer was selected as the location to search. When I do, unfortunately, this is what I get:

Ugh! 991 results! Those who understand Spotlight will realize why there are so many matches—because I’m finding not only references to the du command, but also words such as during , dust , durable , etc. Basically, any word that starts with “du” will be found by Spotlight. Clearly, this search was not very helpful.

Now consider the same search, but done using MoRU. Just as in the Finder, I tell MoRU to search for the text du , but I also check the Exact radio button. By doing so, MoRU will find only occurrences of the exact phrase du , ignoring anything that simply starts with du . When I run this search, I get much more useful results:

Only nine matches this time, and all nine of them contain a mention of the du disk usage report. Perfect!

Complex Searches

But simple matches are, well, simple. Where MoRU really shines is in its ability to create complex searches. As an example, here’s the query I’d like to build in Spotlight:

Find all of the Photoshop (.PSD) or JPEG (.jpeg) images that are between 10 and 30 days old in either of my two site redesign folders, and only find those that are coded with labels as either ’Very Important’ or ’For the boss.’

Now, such a search is technically possible with Spotlight—MoRU itself relies on Spotlight to find your data. However, to perform such a search using Spotlight itself, you’d need to have a very detailed level of knowledge about Raw Queries and the inner workings of Spotlight’s kMDItem... fields. I don’t have the slightest clue how to build such a query. But here’s what this search looks like in MoRU:

(I’ve added the red labels at left, in case it wasn’t obvious.) The MoRU interface lets you easily add “or” conditions, as seen in the Location bar in the screenshot above, by clicking the plus sign next to an existing condition. So in this example, the search will find files in ’z2005 Site Design’ or ’z2003 site redesign.’

Immediately below that, there’s an “and” condition, based on document type. To add an “and” condition, you use the Add pop-up menu in the lower left corner. Within that “and” query, you can see I’ve added an additional “or” condition, so I can check for two distinct document types. Next, there are a couple more “and” conditions to verify the modification date, and then a final “or” section to check for the two labels I’m interested in finding. When I click OK, the Smart Group is saved and the search runs. Although this example is a bit contrived, it demonstrates the flexibility of the MoRU interface.

Other Features

MoRU also avoids another major Spotlight issue—at least an issue for me: A search begins only after you’ve built the entire query, not as you’re typing it in. This simple change makes Spotlight feel very snappy; instead of seeing meaningless results come and go as you change the query, you see only those results that match your full query.

I also like the fact that the “Type” pop-up offers a ton of different options, unlike the limited selection available in the Finder’s own search window. Types are displayed first by major groups, such as Text, Image, Audio, or Movie. A sub-menu for each group then shows the file types available; for Movie, for instance, you’ll see 12 different movie formats, including AVI, MPG, MOV, WMV, and RM. There’s also an ’Extract type from example file’ menu item. Pick that one, and an Open dialog appears. Point it at a file you’re interested in, and MoRU will extract the type.

Smarter Spotlight

Not everyone will need MoRU; if your searching needs are relatively straightforward, then Spotlight’s interface may be sufficient for your needs. But if you need help finding the proverbial needle in the proverbial haystack, MoRU will definitely come in handy. It’s not free, but at only $10 for an individual license, it won’t break the bank. It’s already saved me a ton of time, especially when I’m looking for stuff from older Macworld articles.

MoRU works with Mac OS X 10.4 (Tiger).

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