There are two kinds of Mac users: those who use Spotlight constantly, and those who ignore it.
If you’re in the second category, that’s too bad: everything about using a Mac gets faster with Spotlight. This search tool doubles as a text-based Siri alternative, and with just a few keystrokes, you can launch or look up anything. Getting started couldn’t be easier: just click the little magnifying glass.
But if you really want to be quick, don’t click: press Command+Space on your keyboard to launch Spotlight. If you only learn one Mac keyboard shortcut, make it this one. You’ll instantly see a blank search window.
What can this search box do? A lot: just start typing. Let’s dive in, starting with the basics and working our way toward lesser known features.
Getting Started: Looking for Files
The basic functionality of Spotlight is instant search of every file on your computer. A very simple use for this is to launch software: just type the name of the program.
Results will pop up instantly as you type, and you can hit “Enter” right away to launch an app or game. It feels silly at first, but it’s actually faster than clicking an icon somewhere—you never even have to take your hands off the keyboard. Once you get used to it, you will seriously wonder why you ever opened software any other way.
You can also use this to launch individual panels in the System Preferences, again just by typing the name.
This becomes really useful when you need to quickly find a file. If you want to quickly find a photo you took in Paris, just hit Command+Space and search for the word “Paris.”
In the above example, you’ll notice that music came up before photos. No matter: you can use the up and down arrow keys to quickly jump from item to item. As you scroll through the photos, you’ll see thumbnails in the right panel.
Searches look at filenames, but in the case of documents, Spotlight also looks inside the file. For example: way back in college, I helped publish a parody publication that was “written” by a cat named Muffles. All these years later, searching Spotlight for “Muffles” brings up the document, even though “muffles” is nowhere in the filename.
If you’re like me, sometimes you can’t remember where you put a document, or what its filename was. In those cases, typing a phrase you know is in the document can help. You can open the document by hitting Enter, or see where it is in the Finder by hitting Command+Enter.
If you want to get fancy, you can also use basic boolean queries, including OR, AND, and NOT. It’s usually not necessary, but good to have sometimes.
Searching for Files With Natural Language
Spotlight is useful enough for simple searches alone, but you can go deeper by using natural language. What does this mean? That you can type surprisingly specific queries and get the results you’d expect. For example: type “pictures from december…