Mac Lab Report

EasyFind a Fix for Spotlight's Flawed Searches

- 2005.10.25

Some weeks ago I posted an article, A Big Oversight in Spotlight's Searches, about how Spotlight was having difficulty searching for filenames on my computer when they contained a period. I received several reader comments from a variety of people, all of whom reported that they were not experiencing such problems.

As it turned out, I could not reproduce the problem after reading these suggestions, leading me to wonder whether or not I was losing my mind - had I not collected screen shots during the earlier effort I would have wondered whether or not I was not doing something right or was really tired or something.

One thing that's more disturbing to a computer user than a problem that won't go away is a problem that is not reproducible on demand. Computers are machines and are supposed to behave consistently within the rules of how they are programmed. Things are not supposed to be random, mysterious, or unexplainable - despite how our coworkers view them - so this Spotlight thing was very puzzling, and I filed it away for future enlightenment.

I just had another one of those "file not found" experiences. For several weeks I've been convinced that Spotlight cannot find all the files on my disk - not just the contents, I mean even the filenames. While waiting for Spotlight to keep spinning, I often just go to the Finder and navigate around and find the file myself before it does.

Once I open the file, the file appears instantly in Spotlight's list as if to say, "Oh yeah, I meant to do that."

Obviously something is wrong. Either Spotlight is broken, written wrong, or my new computer is facing a meltdown. I believe my Spotlight is broken. I read in various forums about deleting Spotlight's index and having it reindex the hard drive. That sounds nice until you have to sit and wait for hours while it chews up your CPU cycles doing it.

Another solution I found was to try a third party program. The program I tried was EasyFind. What a difference! Look at these results for a search on my hard drive for the term "parallax."

Spotlight search EasyFind search 

Spotlight is on the left, and EasyFind is on the right. You can see several differences between the lists. Notably, Spotlight did not index my AppleWorks or all of my Microsoft Word files.

And when I open one of the files, it will belatedly appear in Spotlight.

Consequently I downloaded EasyFind and installed it on my Dock. I usually know the titles of my documents, and frankly I just don't trust Spotlight.

I think I'll eventually have to look into this corrupted search index thing, but honestly, this have never shouldn come up in the first place.

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is a longtime Mac user. He was using digital sensors on Apple II computers in the 1980's and has networked computers in his classroom since before the internet existed. In 2006 he was selected at the California Computer Using Educator's teacher of the year. His students have used NASA space probes and regularly participate in piloting new materials for NASA. He is the author of two books and numerous articles and scientific papers. He currently teaches astronomy and physics in California, where he lives with his twin sons, Jony and Ben.< And there's still a Mac G3 in his classroom which finds occasional use.

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