The search technology Spotlight has been a fixture on the Mac since 2005, when Apple released it with Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger. Apple has added features over the years, and pressing Command-Space to invoke Spotlight now lets you do far more than search for files on the local drive. For this week’s Do You Use It? poll, I have two questions: how often do you use Spotlight, and what do you use it for?
For the purposes of this poll, assume we’re talking about the standalone Spotlight invoked with Command-Space or the menu bar magnifying glass icon, not Finder window searches that use the same underlying technology to find files.
How often do you use Spotlight on the Mac?
I realize that users can’t always control what Spotlight finds, but I’m looking for the categories you regularly use, regardless of whether or not they show up. For instance, I use Spotlight to search for files of different types, do calculations, and perform conversions all the time, but I never click through to news results or Maps locations, even if they appear. So I wouldn’t select News or Maps below.
Most of the answers below come from the Spotlight search categories, where you can disable particular search results or behaviors. Others aren’t optional or are part of Siri Suggestions and get a result heading that doesn’t match one of the categories. I had to limit the list to 20 for Discourse—mention anything else that you do or find with Spotlight in the discussion.
Which Spotlight features do you regularly use, or which results do you regularly select when Spotlight presents them to you?
Applications (launching apps)
Calculator (performing calculations)
Contacts (finding people)
Conversion (converting measurements)
Definition (looking up words in Dictionary)
Documents (including PDFs, presentations, and spreadsheets)
Events & Reminders (from Calendar and Reminders)
Folders (opening folders)
Fonts (searching for fonts)
Images (both local images and Internet image searches)
Mac App Store (finding apps in the Mac App Store)
Mail & Messages (searching content in those apps)
Maps (locations in the Maps app)
Movies (looking up showtimes and theaters)
Music (both local and Internet lookups)
News (from Siri Suggestions)
Photos (within your Photos library; not optional)
System Settings (search access to particular options in System Settings)
Videos (from Siri Suggestions)
Websites (general Web searches, including Wikipedia results)
I saw others on Tidbits Talk referring to Command-Space and I didn’t know what they were talking about. That keyboard command interferes with Adobe InDesign (or used to) and I disabled it decades ago. So long that I didn’t even know what it did any more. I always just access Spotlight from the menubar. I do math with it probably a dozen times a day, and launch apps several times a day from there.
Most of the other categories of search results I have turned off. I have no need to use Spotlight to search the internet, dictionary, or rarely used categories. If I need to search for those things, I’ll explicitly do an internet search or use the Find Any File app.
About half the time when I use Spotlight for file finding, it can’t find files I know are there. I have tried to figure out why and never solved it, so I rarely depend on it for that any more. It’s useful for certain things, like finding items in a Finder window, and occasionally for finding text inside a file (usually that just brings up tons of irrelevant documents when all I want is a file with the name I typed).
Spotlight isn’t perfect, but I wouldn’t want to live without it.
And I use Quicksilver, although I started using it long ago when Spotlight was much less capable (and more quirky) than it is now. As Quicksilver has its own quirks, and I don’t use it to anywhere near its full capabilities, I should probably take a look at Spotlight again.
I only use Spotlight for finding emails in Apple Mail. One irritating change I noticed in Ventura is that the search used to be constrained to whatever “On My Mac” mailbox I selected just prior to entering the search criteria. Now it ignores that and returns results for every mailbox within Apple Mail.
Yeah, I can deal with it, but it was a lot more efficient before. I categorize my emails within mailboxes depending on what part of my life they pertain to. I know what mailbox I need to search. But now I have to go through results of every email I have, and that’s a lot more than before.
I answered occasionally but extremely rarely would be more correct. When it was first introduced - essentially as a search engine for local files - I found it far more useful. As they’ve added more and more bloat I’ve struggled to get the results I’m looking for.
I launch from the Apps or Utilities aliases in my dock; use Find Any File for local searches; search the web with simple googles searches and for mail I use mail search.
For mine, this is one ‘feature’ which has significantly degraded over the years - I pretty much hate it.
Although this survey isn’t about Spotlight technology in other apps, its performance in Mail.app is the primary reason I don’t use Spotlight elsewhere. Searching in Mail has become so unreliable that I won’t reach for Spotlight to find anything else, anywhere, because I’ve learned that it’s not to be trusted.
I use spotlight, and filled in the entries for it, but I don’t use COMMAND-Space – I use the Search on the bar at the right top of the page. I didn’t realize COMMAND-space also invoked a Spotlight search.
That said, I’m not happy with Spotlight and often resort to the Search in the Finder, which is more awkward to use but gives me a much better range of selections than Spotlight searches, which have gotten worse over the years.
Spotlight also picks up Finder comments. So if you’re having trouble getting the app or doc you want to show up using a certain search term, put an easily searchable (and ideally unique) keyword in the comments. Then search for that with Spotlight.
I use Spotlight about 100 times a day (cmd-space). It’s my usual app launcher because I only keep a dozen or so of my most used apps in my Dock. I also use it as a calculator all the time. I don’t recall when I last used the Calculator app because I can do pretty much any calculation I need right in Spotlight. I never use it for web searches. My Safari default search is DDG and I don’t know how I’d do web search these days without DDG’s !bangs.
I voted “Never” because my Spotlight usage is only via the Finder window’s search box, which the question is explicitly excluding.
Likewise. Cmd-Spc used to be the “revert to paragraph-style” action in Microsoft Word. But I see that at some point, MS changed that to Ctrl-Spc (mimicking the keystroke used on Windows), so I think I can re-enable the Spotlight keystrokes (and I just did).
On those (extremely rare) cases where I used the main Spotlight window, I have accessed it by clicking the magnifier icon in the menu bar.
I use Spotlight often, but I don’t need it every single day.
If I know I have an application, it’s not on the Dock, and I don’t want to dive into the Applications folder, a quick CMD-Space gets me that application.
(Like others here, I had disabled the Spotlight “CMD-Space” keyboard shortcut because of both InDesign and Word, but have long since resolved that.)
Some of the features, like searching in the Apple-provided applications for Mail, Calendar, Addresses, and so on, I never use because the third-party counterparts on my Mac are always open and I can flip to them through the Switcher.
And a few—Apple recommendations for music, events, videos, and so on—I’ve avoided actively because they seem like stealth marketing to me. My personal predilection, naturally, but I have detested how Apple Music pushed out my own collection of music from purchased CDs that I painstakingly RIP’ed over a period of time…so that they could get me to adopt their taste instead of mine. (Like I said, personal predilection.)
Never worked on my M1E 0E6 MacMini with Monterey and Ventura, in spite of trying all of the command line suggestions from Apple Discussion Groups and web. So I use Launchbar instead. Spotlight has works fine on MacBook Air (2020) on Ventura on which I use Alfred
I’ve tweaked the text to clarify that what I’m looking for is the standalone Spotlight invoked via Command-Space OR the menu bar icon, not the Finder window search.
I am curious though, for all the people who use Alfred or LaunchBar or the like—are you using them to find files as well? I love keyboard launchers, but I’ve never found them very effective for file searches.
I don’t. I try to keep files organized on my drive, which makes it relatively easy to know where a file probably is if I don’t remember exactly where. I search for a file using Spotlight and only as a last resort.
I also tend to throw stuff away. I fight the urge to keep every version of a document “just in case.” I’ve found over my lifetime that “just in case” almost never happens, so there’s no good reason to put up with all the clutter.