Mac Pro: Take 2 – The Power of Spotlight

08/28/2006

When Apple introduced Spotlight, the powerful search technology which is part of Mac OS X 10.4, Tiger, this was the first real-world application of instant searches of files, their content and their metadata. It was also the first consumer application of real-time searches of this data; except that, on most Macs, it wasn’t quite real-time. Many users lamented the time it took to run Spotlight searches, and it’s true that on slower Macs, the time necessary is excessive. On my previous Mac, an iMac G5, some searches would take several seconds, and searches that resulted in thousands of hits (kind:music, for example) could take a couple dozen seconds.

Some of my colleagues have railed against not only Spotlight but the lack of simple Finder searches, such as were available in previous versions of Mac OS X. You can no longer simply “find files” from the Finder; you have to use the Finder search bar, which is simply a different interface for Spotlight. The complaints are the same: this can be very, very slow.Not with the new Mac Pro, however. In fact, it seems that Spotlight was developed with computers of this speed in mind. If I search for “and” in the Spotlight menu, it takes just a couple of seconds to return 18,000 hits. Searching for “the” in the Finder takes two seconds to return 20,000 hits. And to find my 36,000 music files, searching for “kind:music” in the Spotlight menu, takes only three seconds.

This means that not only are “simple” Spotlight searches faster and more practical (ie, searches from the Spotlight menu), but also that more complex condition-based searches from Finder windows are finally useful. (However, there are still some quirks; searching for Kind > Music, and Created > This Week in the Finder did not find music files from a half-dozen CDs I ripped yesterday…)

What does all this mean? First, Apple needs to follow one of the golden rules of software design: always test your software on the slowest machine that users will have, rather than the latest, greatest model. Second, don’t design tomorrow’s software today. Many users have sworn off of Spotlight because it was too slow; with today’s Mac Pros, they can use this technology fully. But only with today’s Macs (I’m sure the speed gains are similar across the Intel Mac line, at least with the other core-duo models). Spotlight works very well–and I’ve been a fan since the beginning, using it to discover hidden files containing content that I need to find–but now it works as it really should.

Check out the Mac Pro. It’s a great, quiet, fast machine. And, if you buy from Amazon.com, you can take advantage of a $150 rebate. What a machine…

Coming installments of this series will discuss the computer’s speed, its innards, and much more.

See previous installments:

Mac Pro: Take 1 – The Quietest Desktop Mac Ever