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From Desktop To Online, Savvy Search Functions Shape Our Digital Lives

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Are you getting the most out of your Mac’s search tools? If you’re like most of us, you likely only use your built-in tools like Spotlight or app-based search tools when you’ve hit a wall with your conventional search tactics. By deepening your understanding of these tools, though, you may just find that you save time, increase your system’s organization, and get more from your computer than you ever thought possible.

A Spotlight On Spotlight

Among tech professionals and those in the know, the Mac’s Spotlight feature is well-regarded. It’s readily accessible from the desktop, quickly populates based on your search terms, and it can even be used to search the internet. Despite all this, though, most Mac users will rifle through their files for minutes or navigate to a new browser window anytime they need to find something. We haven’t made using this core tool—so important that Apple put it on the main menu bar—a priority the way we have conventional online search tools.

To understand just how underutilized Spotlight is, it’s helpful to compare it to other search tools. First, there are tools like Google. In its way, Google is a lot like Spotlight since it’s a single search box that populates a set of responses. The big difference between them, of course, is that Google often returns thousands or millions of responses and isn’t focused on existing computer content.

On the opposite end of the search spectrum from Google are detailed, complex onsite tools like the one used on the Reiss Edwards site to find companies sponsoring immigration permits. Like Spotlight, this tool primarily searches a known set of records—in this case, registered businesses—but it also provides for more advanced search options. Part of what’s difficult about Spotlight for many users is precisely that it’s a mixed-use search tool, but most users are more inclined to use targeted searches, especially if they already know what they’re looking for, but they just can’t find it.

Better Apple Options

If people aren’t getting much use out of Spotlight, it might help to know that there are a lot of other Apple-based search options out there:

  • Metadata Searches: With the updates to macOS Catalina, Apple has mastered the combination of voice search via Siri, image recognition, and metadata to deliver next-level search results. What does this look like in practice? You can now ask your computer, via Siri, to show you images of specific scenes that contain certain subject matter, or that take place in specific places, among other details. That’s a lot more detail than Spotlight could handle.
  • Contact Management With Cardhop: How do you keep track of all your contacts? And what do you do when someone’s information changes? With Cardhop, you never have to worry about that because you can search by any criteria, not just by name – just enter a birthday or other key terms. You can also add notes and timestamps to your contacts to keep them organized.
  • Advanced Photo Cataloging: You may be able to use Siri to search your photos now, but if you’re a serious photographer, the new Catalina search functions may not be enough for you. Instead, consider a program like ACDSee, which is designed to include custom labels and advanced cataloging, well beyond the metadata or easily recognizable images. Photographers working on complicated projects, using abstract images that are hard for computers to identify, or want to control their image searches better, will benefit from ACDSee’s asset management and search tools.

Maximizing you Mac’s search functions doesn’t necessarily mean becoming more reliant on Spotlight. In fact, it really means recognizing that Spotlight is just one tool among many at your disposal. By learning more about the other tools, you can become a standout Mac master.

Anna Johansson
the authorAnna Johansson
Contributing Author
Anna is a freelance writer, researcher, and business consultant. A columnist for,, and more, Anna specializes in entrepreneurship, technology, and social media trends.
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  • I use Spotlight primarily for searching folders. For complete system searches, as when I’m removing all traces of an app, I use Find Any File (, which, fortunately, is a 64bit app, ready for Catalina, though I’m not ready for Catalina yet. Unlike Spotlight, Find Any File can find invisible files, which some apps strew around the system. I recently had to remove a proxy service that is incompatible with Mojave. It left dozens of files all over the place. FAF uses an old OS 7 and 8 file search style that is very user friendly. It can display found files in a hierarchical menu so that you can see where they live.

  • Like Google and especially Amazon, the idea of tracking what you have on your computer, what you have searched on in the past, is not only an invasion of privacy and data mining, it is also counter productive. I commonly search for things that have no relation to anything on my computer, anything I’ve searched for earlier, or for that matter anything I have previously been interested in. One day I may search for crickets (the insects) because I’m having a problem with them in my garage. The next day I might be interested in the game, cricket. I do not want a problem with insect crickets infesting my search for the rules of cricket.

    Message to Apple and other Humongous Corporate Entities: KEEP YOUR FILTHY ELECTRONIC FINGERS OFF OF AND OUT OF MY DATA.