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Mac OS X Tiger



Spotlight is a real-time data indexing feature introduced in Mac OS X 10.4 (Tiger). Typing a search string shows files on the indexed drives that contain the search string in the filename or, with many supported file types, within the document itself.

By default, the Spotlight menu is displayed by clicking the magnifying glass icon on the far right side of the menu bar or by typing command-space. This will activate the small menu window, and search results will be listed directly below. The Spotlight window can be opened by selecting Show All from the Spotlight menu or by typing command-option-space; this window gives you more control over your search and more information than the menu. You may change these access keys in the Spotlight Preference Pane.

Spotlight is a system-wide feature, but is also integrated into specific applications. Currently, Finder, Mail, and Address Book include application-specific Spotlight searches. Spotlight automatically indexes text inside plain- and rich-text files as well as PDFs. Application developers can write Spotlight plugins to enable Spotlight content indexing of their file formats; Microsoft has developed a Word plugin and the OmniGroup offers one for OmniOutliner documents.

Additions in Leopard

Spotlight received a number of additional features in Mac OS X 10.5 (Leopard):

  • Search other machines if you have permission
  • Specify file types when searching
  • Addition of recent items

Handy Keyboard Shortcuts

Here are some handy keyboard shortcuts for the Spotlight Menu.

  • Hold down the command key to jump to the top "Top Hit", versus "Show All". So, you can hit command-return to open the top hit automatically - similar to Google's "I'm Feeling Lucky" button
  • Use command-↓ and command-↑ to scroll through the top hits of each category
  • Use control-↓ and control-↑ to jump to the top and bottom of the list
  • Use command-click to reveal the item in Finder rather than opening it (if it is an application or a document).


Spotlight has its functional origins in Copland, an Operating System originally developed in 1994, under the leadership of Gil Amelio, then CEO of Apple. Copland was never released, but some features have found their way, over the years, into Mac OS and Mac OS X. Copland had the first live search, but wasn't fully matured.

Mac OS 9 and pre-Tiger versions of Mac OS X did include limited content searching in Sherlock and the Finder, but this search was not as fast, flexible, or comprehensive as Spotlight's content searching.

Some consider Tiger's Spotlight to be one of the first fully matured search engines in an operating system.