Mac OS X 10.4 'Tiger' in depth

Part One: Spotlight and Widgets


Smart Folders

Spotlight supersedes Finder's own search system, but it hasn't replaced it. Instead, the old Command-F key stroke invokes a Smart Folder definition. Smart Folders are essentially file listing commands rendered by Finder as if they were real folders. It's a nice idea, and one that would have been more welcome had Spotlight not made it to 10.4. Why have a folder apparently containing all the documents you worked on over the past seven days, when you can get the same thing from Spotlight?

Well, operating systems shouldn't force a single modus operandi on their users - they should provide a variety of ways of doing the same tasks, the better to suit the preferences of all their users. Mac OS 9 had a wealth of tools - Control Panels, the Apple Menu, the Control Strip, Desk Accessories, the Launcher bar, etc - to provide alternative ways of doing the same thing, and Apple killed most of them when it moved to Mac OS X. It's good to see some variety returning at long last, first with 10.3 and now with 10.4.

Smart Folders provide an alternative to some - but not all - Spotlight roles, and I welcome them. I don't welcome the way they've been implemented. A case in point: With 10.3 I would regularly run a search for all the folders in my main Music folder who had label colours, because I use different label colours to highlight albums and partial albums that were downloaded from iTunes. This way I could find them quickly to make backing up more easy.

Click for full-size picCan I do the same thing with Smart Folders? Not quite. Finder will now let me find all folders labelled green, but not all folders that have a label - ie. those that don't not have a label, to turn boolean logic's NOT command into an English double-negative. Fine, but I have some orange folders too, and Finder will not let me specify all folders whose label colour is green OR orange. It will let me select all folder whose label colour is green AND orange - which, unsurprisingly, doesn't find anything.

Smart Folders provide a vast array of search criteria, but the selection is weakened by the hard-coded ability to do AND searches but not OR, especially since this was possible in the previous version of the OS.

Apple's engineers saved their reputation (just) by adding an option to enter your own query string - it's the Raw Query option. This does allow you to use boolean operators, but you have to known the query verbs and nouns, and they're not straightforward - my query is:

(kMDItemFSLabel != '0') && (kMDItemContentType != com.apple.mail.emlx) && (kMDItemContentType != public.vcard)

ie. find items whose labels are not zero (ie. they have a labe) and which are neither email messages nor address book entries.

Click for full-size picYou can learn more on Apple's developer website, here, which reveals that Smart Folders are an offshoot of Spotlight. That allowed me to add a nonsense word to the Spotlight Comments of the dozen folders within my Home folder that I want to back up regularly, then create a Smart Folder to list only those folders. I connect my back-up hard drive, open both Smart Folders and drag their contents across. Voila - one instant, manual back-up.

The next stage is to automate the process a little, and I'll come to that when I look at Tiger's Automator utility, shortly.

Next page: Dashboard

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