Take Control of Customizing Tiger

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Set Up Spotlight Preferences

To set up Spotlight preferences, use the Spotlight preference pane. What you determine here will make much more sense once you’ve looked at how you actually interact with Spotlight.

At system level, there are two ways to perform a Spotlight search and view the results: the Spotlight menu (top screenshot) and the Spotlight window (bottom screenshot).

Your first task in the Spotlight preference pane is to set the keyboard shortcuts for summoning the Spotlight menu and the Spotlight window. You can summon the Spotlight menu or window without a keyboard shortcut: summon the menu by clicking the Spotlight icon at the right end of the menu bar. This will also bring the Spotlight window to the front if it is already open; if it isn’t already open, you can summon it from the menu by doing a search in the menu’s search field and then choosing Show All (the first item in the menu).

Still, the keyboard shortcuts are very convenient, and they allow you to search without taking your hands off the keyboard. So I recommend that you take these shortcuts seriously, because you’ll use them a lot if you’re to be a Tiger power user.

Tip: In the Spotlight preference pane, you are not limited to the suggested keyboard shortcuts that appear in the pop-up menus (Command-Space, Command-Option-Space, and the F-keys); you can click in a shortcut text field and enter any keyboard shortcut. Be sure to choose a shortcut that won’t conflict with another global keyboard shortcut, taking third-party utilities into account; for example, LaunchBar wants to use Command-Space by default.

Now we can talk about how search results are presented . In the Spotlight menu, and also in the Spotlight window when results are grouped by kind, results are clumped into categories. What categories are shown, and in what order, is determined by your settings in the Spotlight system preferences, in the Search Results pane.

You can uncheck a category to keep results that fall into that category from showing up at all, and you can rearrange the list of categories using drag-and-drop to determine the order when results are grouped by kind. These settings affect search results immediately; for example, if the Spotlight window is open and you change the settings in the Spotlight preference pane, the display of the results in the Spotlight search window will change in response.

Finally, it’s time to tell Spotlight where it should not look, and you do this in the Privacy pane of the Spotlight system preferences. Spotlight will not dive into areas where you would be forbidden by user permissions (such as another user’s Documents folder); but you might have a reason for excluding further areas from being part of a search—for instance, a certain folder might contain only old stuff you never want searched. Drag a folder from the Finder into the list here, or use the plus-button, and Spotlight will exclude the contents of that folder (and all folders inside that folder, and so forth) from searches. In fact, when you do this, you might hear the hard disk working for a while; that’s Spotlight removing from its index the metadata for everything inside the specified folder.

Tip: But what about the opposite of privacy? What if there’s an area of your hard disk that you’d like Spotlight to include in its searches, but it doesn’t, even though permissions give you access to that area? (The top-level Developer folder, created when you install the Developer Tools, seems to be such an area; some hidden rule apparently prevents Spotlight from indexing it.) Using Terminal, you can force Spotlight to index a directory. At the prompt, type this, substituting the actual pathname of a directory (and press Return):

mdimport -f /path/to/directory

Use Spotlight Efficiently

This ebook is about how to customize Tiger, not how to use it; so I won’t give complete instructions on how to work with Spotlight. However, you won’t be happy with Spotlight if you don’t use it efficiently, so here are some recommendations for getting the most out it:

Remember to use Spotlight: I know it sounds obvious, but you’re not going to get anything out of Spotlight if you forget to use it! You need to get into the habit of accessing things by their names (or any other metadata search criteria).

Let’s say you want to use TextEdit. Don’t bother navigating to the Applications folder; simply summon the Spotlight menu, type

textedit
, and there’s TextEdit listed, ready for you to open it. Or suppose you want the Startup Disk preference pane. You could open System Preferences, find the Startup Disk icon, and click it; but instead, summon the Spotlight menu and type
startup
. The Startup Disk preference pane is probably the first choice listed; select it, and bingo, you’re there. And, if TidBits is one of your Safari bookmarks and you feel like reading this week’s issue, there’s no need to open Safari first: summon the Spotlight menu and type
tidbits
; there’s the bookmark, and now you can go to it instantly.

Remember the Spotlight window: The Spotlight menu is tempting, because the icon is always present at the right end of the menu bar; but you can see only a few results here, and you can’t get any information about those results. To see all results, or to get more information, you must use the Spotlight window.

Keep your hands on the keyboard: To see what I mean, let’s use the Spotlight window. Type the Spotlight window keyboard shortcut that you set up in the previous section. The window has a search field. Don’t click the mouse in it; there’s no need! The search field already has the focus, so just start typing your search. The search is live, so there’s no need to press Return. Now, try these shortcuts:

  • Change the search by starting over from scratch: Esc key.

  • Move the focus from the search field to the list of results: Tab key. (You can also press the Tab key again to navigate the list of options at the right side of the window—Group by Kind, Group by Date, and so on. To choose the currently selected option, press Spacebar. To get out of the list of options, keep pressing Tab until you reach the last option, and then press Tab once more to return to the search field.)

  • Navigate up and down in the list of results: Up- and Down-arrow keys.

  • Show and hide info about a selected result: Right- and Left-arrow keys. Add the Option key to the Right- and Left-arrow keys to show and hide information for all the results in the current category.

  • See Finder info on the selected item: Command-I.

  • View the selected item in the Finder: Command-R.

  • Open the selected item: Command-O or Command-Down-arrow.
  • Note: The Spotlight window sometimes displays only the first five entries in a category. I don’t know a way to change this number, and I don’t know how to see all the entries in a category without using the mouse.

    The Spotlight menu : You can summon it with a keyboard shortcut (which you can customize in the Spotlight preference pane) or by clicking the Spotlight icon at the right end of the menu bar. The Spotlight window : Open this window with a keyboard shortcut (which you can customize in the Spotlight preference pane) or by doing a search in the Spotlight menu’s Search field and then choosing Show All at the top of the Spotlight menu.
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