Mac 101: Seek and find

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Really narrow your search

“Chris, dude, this really isn’t cutting it. Even with the ability to search just these locations, I’m seeing too many results!”

Indeed you are. As I said, this is a way to broadly narrow your search. Let’s get more specific.

If you like you can use exactly the same kind of keywords I described earlier—kind:image date:today sandwich. But the Search window allows you to do this kind of thing without memorizing keywords or ensuring that you’ve formatted them correctly. Notice the small plus-sign button (+) that appears next to the Save button near the top right of the window. This is the key to creating narrower searches.

Using the Finder's Find command.

Click it and you see two pop-up menus—Kind and Any. Click on the Any pop-up menu, and choose Image. All the images on your Mac or within your current location within the hierarchy appear, as does an All pop-up menu. Click on All and choose PNG. Now only those images in the PNG format appear.

“Okay, that’s closer, but I want just the images of aardvarks in PNG format.”

Fair enough. Click the plus-sign button again and choose Name from the first pop-up menu, Contains from the second menu, and enter aardvark in the search field that appears after the Contains pop-up menu. Only images that contain the word aardvark in their name and that are in PNG format will appear in the list of results. To open the one you want, just double-click on it.

Using this “click the plus-sign button” technique, you can create quite narrow searches.

Really, really narrow your search

Still not enough? Let’s dig deeper!

Create a new window in the Finder (press Command-N). Enter a search term in the search field and click the plus-sign button. From the Kind pop-up menu, choose Other. So, what is Other?

That, my friends, is a sheet that includes an exhaustive list of the kinds of things you can search for. Want to search for images for which you applied red-eye correction in iPhoto? You can. Seeking only songs tagged with the merengue genre? No problem. Curious to see a list of the third track of each album you have in your iTunes library? That’s possible as well. Select the condition you want and click OK, and that condition will appear in the pop-up menu. And if you routinely use these kinds of conditions for searching for files, you can add them to the pop-up menu’s list of choices simply by enabling the In Menu option to the right and clicking OK.

Search using an exhaustive list of conditions.

Now, remember earlier when I said, "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"? Neither Spotlight nor the Find command will show you all the files on your Mac. Apple has determined that some files should not be messed with and has therefore hidden them. They are likewise hidden from these kinds of searches. However, you can make some of them visible. Like so:

Return to that sheet of search terms, and in the sheet’s search field enter System. A single entry, named System Files, will appear. Enable the In Menu option and click OK. When you click on that pop-up menu, you’ll see a new System Files entry. Choose it and configure the second pop-up menu to read Are Included. When you now conduct a search, the files normally hidden from you will appear in the list of results.

Since the intended audience for this column is people who are just discovering the deeper wonders of their Macs, I will issue this warning: Until you’re very sure about what a particular file does, don’t mess with it. Apple has hidden those files for good reasons. You may eventually get to the point where you can confidently root around in your Mac’s hidden directories, but it’s likely you’re not there yet. If not, tuck this knowledge away for the day when you’re ready. (Keep following along each week, and I’ll tell you when that is.)

There’s one more important way to search your Mac, and it’s automatic. But we’ll save that for next week.

Next week: Smart searching

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