Mac 101: Seek and find

But wait, there’s more…

You can do more with this Spotlight menu than just conduct searches. You can, for example, launch applications. To do that, just start typing the name of the application you want to open. When its name appears in the Spotlight menu, highlight it and press Return. The application will open.

More? Okay, enter a word whose definition you want. Near the bottom of the menu, you’ll see a Look Up entry, followed by the icon of a book. Highlight this entry, and the definition of the word will appear in a preview window.

Use Spotlight to quickly look up a word's definition.

At the bottom of the menu, you’ll see a Web Searches item. Next to it are entries for searching the Web as well as Wikipedia (the online encyclopedia). This indicates that Spotlight can do more than help you search your Mac. It can also search the Web.

Enter a term or phrase you’d like to know more about and choose 'Search Web For yoursearchterm', and Apple’s Safari Web browser will open and show you the results of your search. Similarly, if you want to visit Wikipedia only, choose 'Search Wikipedia for yoursearchterm'. Off you’ll go with Safari.

Can’t seem to find your calculator? No problem. You can enter calculations in the Spotlight field as well. Go ahead, enter (8 + 2) * (100 / 17). The first result will read 'Calculator 58.8235294'.

Finally, take note of the Show In Finder command at the very top of the Spotlight menu. As hard as you’ve tried to narrow your search, you still see a list of results that doesn’t include the item you’re looking for. Choose Show All In Finder, and a window appears that lists all matching items on your computer. Depending on how many files you have on your Mac (and this includes email messages), that list could number in the tens of thousands. And this leads us to another kind of search you can perform with your Mac.

The Find command

Once upon a time, we searched our Macs not with the fancy-schmancy Spotlight, but with the Find command found in the Finder’s File menu. That command remains, but because it’s now tied to Apple’s Spotlight technology, it’s a far more effective tool than it once was. To invoke the command within the Finder, just press Command-F.

A Searching “This Mac” window appears by default. This window contains a Search field at the top (as does any Finder window). To begin a search, just enter your search terms in this field. As with the Spotlight menu, you can narrow your search using quotes and Boolean conditions. (You can’t do math, look up words in the dictionary, or launch applications, however.)

Type your search term, and a menu will appear that reads 'Filenames' at the top. Below are the words 'Name Matches'. For example, Name Matches: Sandwich. Choose this and your results will include only items that contain your search term or phrase in the file’s name. If you don’t do this, your search results will include any files that contain the term or phrase you seek, even if it’s within the body of an email message, for example, or is a keyword within an image file.

Narrowing your search

You can broadly narrow your search in another way. Just under the toolbar, you’ll see the word Search: followed by This Mac, “Desktop”, and Shared (assuming you conducted this search while the desktop was active). Choose This Mac and a search will be conducted across the length and breadth of any volumes and hard drives attached to your Mac—almost. (I’ll explain the almost in a bit.) Select “Desktop” and only the desktop will be searched. And, as you can likely guess, if choose Shared, the Mac will search just the computers on your network that you’re allowed access to. (We’ll get to sharing eventually, so if this confuses you, don’t worry about it for now.)

The second entry in this list—“Desktop”, in the case of our example—will change depending on the active window you’re working with. So if you’ve opened the Documents folder and then entered something in the search field, that second entry will read “Documents”, reflecting your current location in the Mac’s file hierarchy.

You can think of it this way: Imagine that you need to find something in your home. The first This Mac entry would be like searching your entire living space. If you instead move to your bedroom and conduct a search, the second entry would read “Bedroom”, indicating that you’re going to confine your explorations to the room in which you’re currently standing. Shared would be similar to having the key to your neighbor’s apartment and rummaging around in their underwear drawer.

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