Spotlight: Centrality of search

11 Nov 2004 - 12:56am
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Recently I mentioned here Apple's upcoming Spotlight as a precursor of
technologies that may fundamentally change how we interact with our PCs in
many different areas. Several people wrote me privately to inquire about the
ramifications. I'm tardy with my response, but, on the eve of Microsoft's
response to Google Desktop Search, I'll try to outline briefly here how
Spotlight is different:

1. Pervasive - Unlike third-party apps like GDS, Spotlight is part of the
OS. It's omnipresent as an icon on the OS menu bar.

2. Low-level - Spotlight's indexing engine tracks every file as it is
created, opened, changed, copied or deleted. Because these operations are
tracked at the kernel level, Spotlight updates incrementally and in

3. Integrated - Because it's part of the OS frameworks, developers can
easily hook into the amazing capabilities of Spotlight with minimal effort.
Spotlight will also be present in Open/Save dialog boxes. (Just think about
that for a moment.)

4. Intra-app - Just like the notion of Unix piping, the data of one app can
be "exposed" to another one via a Spotlight search, if the file format is
indexable by Spotlight. For example, your own custom app may not understand
anything about 3D GIS maps, but if the developer of that foreign app has
created a Spotlight plugin, you can search inside that app's database and
extract relevant files without you doing any extra coding at all.

When you select a person in the upcoming Address Book app and then conduct a
Spotlight search, a Spotlight window will open with all the files related to
that person (in all formats, from email to Excel), based on content and meta
data available in the file. So that the Address Book without changing its
codebase becomes a much more powerful product (sort of a mini-project
manager) by simply hooking up to Spotlight.

5. Advanced search - You can optionally invoke a sidebar that allows fine
tuning of search parameters like scope, date, etc. This is fairly unique
both in its reach and its presentation, rivaling some KMS stuff out there.

6. Fast - Amazingly so. Pretty much as fast as you can type.

7. Extensible - Unlike virtually any other search system, Spotlight is
extensible. While it recognizes a long list of file formats, developers can
write their own plugins to their own exotic metadata and expose it via

8. Smart Folders - Just like the smart folders concept in iTunes, Spotlight
allows end users to create arbitrary collection of files based on a
combination of keywords or file attributes that are *dynamically* kept fresh
in real-time. Just think about that for a second and say goodbye to anal
retentive file/folder manipulation on your PC. The file system can now
become truly virtual for a vast number of daily operations.

9. Automator/Dashboard - Couple Spotlight with the upcoming Automator that
allows end users to create custom workflows visually without writing any
code and Dashboard that allows HTML/JavaScript coders to easily create
mini-apps with great looks, and you got yourself a potent way of dealing app
data, information and documents.

Spotlight general:

Spotlight technical:

Spotlight developers:



Nullius in Verba

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