AMITIAE - Tuesday 19 October 2013

System Preferences in OS X 10.9, Mavericks: Spotlight

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By Graham K. Rogers

In the recent update of OS X to 10.9, Mavericks, some of the System Preferences have seen subtle changes. For example, the preferences pane for Spotlight appears the same as it has since OSX 10.7, although like the last update to Mountain Lion, a close look reveals some differences. Spotlight is a search facility that helps users find things on the computer more quickly.

Spotlight is a search facility that was introduced with OS X 10.4. It uses HFS (hierarchical file system) to find information on a user's disk and integrates with the Finder. In theory, any data recorded on the disk, including text, file names and file metadata, are indexed by Spotlight. However it is possible to prevent such indexing with the Privacy settings.

Search Results

When the system is first started and at other times, including when users update from Mountain Lion to Mavericks, Spotlight indexes the disk. This is indicated by a small black dot in the middle of the Spotlight icon on the top right of the menu bar. When indexing takes place, there may be some slowing of the computer.

Spotlight still uses 16 categories in searches and these are shown in the Spotlight preference, "Search Results" panel. However, there are a number of changes here both with the names of some of the categories (e.g. "Messages & Chats" is now "Mail & Messages") and changes in icons used. Presentations, for example, uses the icon from the latest version of Apple's Keynote.


Each item has a check box so can be deselected. A category can be dragged up or down the list to change the priority of results. In my user account, "Documents" is the top category, followed by "Presentations", with "Developer" last. I leave "Fonts" unchecked, so this is not included in any Spotlight search.

Updating Spotlight should occur immediately a file is saved. If I search for that last sentence, my text file should be the top hit: it is a Document and, chronologically, the most recent. If not, using "Show all in Finder" should reveal the file in a refined search.


The other panel in the Spotlight preference pane is marked, Privacy. If a folder or a disk (e.g. an external hard disk) is dragged to this panel, it will not be included in searches. We can also use the Plus (+) and minus (-) icons at the bottom to add or remove locations from this panel.


This panel has another valuable function for updating the Spotlight database. If a folder or disk is dragged into the panel, then dragged out again, Spotlight will then re-index that location. This includes the computer's hard disk, so is a way to re-index the disk.


At the bottom of both panels are two checkboxes. The first is for the menu keyboard shortcut. The default is Comand + Space. Earlier this was greyed out on my MacBook Pro as I use the same key command to switch keyboards. However, in the latest installation, the key now allocated (for my use) is shown as F5 (Fn + F5 is used).

The second checkbox is for the Spotlight window shortcut. When this is used (in my case Option + Command + Space) a Finder search window is opened. This is the same window as when the "Show all in Finder" command is used in a basic Spotlight search.

Spotlight Spotlight

By pressing a button at the side of each of the text boxes, there are a number of other key commands available as options. If one is selected that is already allocated to another feature, a yellow warning triangle will appear to the right. With the text box open, it is possible to type in another key combination although not all are accepted.

See Also:

Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand where he is also Assistant Dean. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs.



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