A Beginner’s Guide to Mac Spotlight

Users who are new to Mac often don't know about Spotlight, or think it is just a way to search for files by name. You can use spotlight to search for files by name and content and preview the contents before you open the file. You can also go to the file instead of opening it. Spotlight will also find other items like dictionary definitions, email messages, images and more. You can use Spotlight to do mathematical calculations, unit and currency conversions. One thing that many people use Spotlight for is a quick and easy app launcher.
Video Transcript / Captions
Closed captioning for this video is available on YouTube: A Beginner’s Guide to Mac Spotlight.

If you're new to Mac chances are you don't know about one of its most powerful features. It's called Spotlight. You can bring up the Spotlight menu by clicking on the little magnifying glass that you see at the top right corner of your screen. But the keyboard shortcut is a lot more useful. Just use the Command key and spacebar. That brings it up. Then your hands are already on the keyboard and ready to type.

Now, as you can imagine, what you can do with Spotlight is search. But not just for files. You can search for other things like say applications or email messages. You also can get results on the internet for, not only webpages, but information from wikipedia, movies times, all sorts of things. So let's look at some examples.

So let's say I want to find a file. I'll hit Command, Space and I know the file is called ostrich or something like that. It's an image of an ostrich. I'll start typing and I don't have to finish typing the whole word. As soon as I've typed enough letters for Spotlight to narrow it down it's going to find it. So just by typing three letters I can see that the top result is an image ostrich.jpg and it even shows you kind of a grayed out version of the rest of the file name. So at this point I can stop typing and simply hit Return because it shows me clearly that this image is the one selected. I can hit Return and it will open the file. In this case it's opened up in Preview so I can see it.

Now if instead I want to actually go to the file and see where the file is located. Instead of hitting Return I just do Command R and it brings up the folder with that file highlighted. So I can go to the file as well as open it.

Notice I get a whole bunch of other results. I've got a dictionary definition. I've got a map location. Some suggested websites. You're going to get a whole bunch of things. You can scroll down and see them. You can also use the arrow keys to go through them. So if you wanted to bring up a dictionary definition you could just go over to that, hit Return, and it opens up in dictionary.

So it brings up a lot of different things. The way you control what it opens up is if you go to System Preferences and then go to Spotlight and you can see in Search Results these are all different types of search results that will come up. So you can turn some of them off. For instance, if you don't want it to find mail messages when you use Spotlight you can turn that off. If you don't want it to do things like show you spreadsheets or show you items in System Preferences you can turn all these on and off. You can also turn off Spotlight Suggestions which are things like movie times and other items like that. So you can really customize what it shows.

Now perhaps one of the most powerful things that's Spotlight can do for you is find Applications. So, for instance, say you want to launch an app and it's not in your Dock like the Calculator app. How would you get to it? Well, you have to open up a Finder window, navigate to the Applications folder, look for the calculator app, and double click it. Or you can run launchpad and search for calculator and all of that. But instead you can choose Spotlight. Command, Space. Start typing the name of the app. You can see, even just typing four characters narrows it down for the top pick to be the app Calculator. Now I can hit Return and the Calculator app comes up.

Spotlight can also do some special things. For instance, you can use it as a calculator. Just type in a simple math formula and it will comes up with an answer. You can even type a more complex math formula and you get the result for that as well. So in a way it's a better calculator than the Calculator. You can also use it for unit conversions. So you can say 4 pints and it gives you liters. 7 kilometers gives you miles. That kind of thing. Even currency conversions work for it. 7 dollars in euros, pounds, yens, etc.

There are a lot of other things that the Spotlight menu can do for you. I'll just leave you with one last one. If you type in weather you can get your local weather forecast.

Comments: 5 Responses to “A Beginner’s Guide to Mac Spotlight”

    2 years ago

    Great video. Concise and helpful. Quickly showed me things I did not know about Spotlight, even though I have used a Mac for years. Thanks for creating and posting it.

    2 years ago

    Yes, Gary…what Craig said! Thank you!

    Debi Brening
    2 years ago

    My spotlight doesn’t seem to work like your does. I did go into system preferences and made sure everything was checked. Example: I hit Command + Space bar, then type in Dennis (husbands name) and instead of bringing up everything Dennis it goes into Design space software I use. Then I try weather and it goes into a web page site that i made. Any thoughts on what i might be doing wrong??? Thank you…love your videos, I have learned so much!!!

    2 years ago

    Debi: Hard for me to say what could be wrong. Try a restart, Or, maybe turn off everything and back on again.

    Sandy Dawson
    2 years ago

    Fantastic tutorial. Now going to use spotlight daily!

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