Macs in Business feature: Tiger in the Spotlight

I'm growing tired of hearing the adage "with great power comes great responsibility." Don't get me wrong, the new Spiderman movie is fantastic, as is the sentiment, but hearing the phrase repeated over and over in the media is getting to be a bit much. Not only that, I read hundreds of Spidey comics as a kid, and I don't recall any of the characters ever saying that. What I do remember quite clearly was Mary Jane greeting Peter Parker with her usual, "Hello Tiger," and that's the phrase I'm looking forward to hearing a lot more of when Apple releases the next version of OS X in the first half of 2005.

Last June, Apple previewed some of the 150 new features of Tiger at the World Wide Developers Conference in San Francisco. Over the next few weeks, and before the predictable grumbling starts in the Mac media about having to shell out for another upgrade, I'd like to look at a few of the features that will make this upgrade worthwhile to small business owners like myself. Given that the upgrade will retail for $129 US, Tiger really doesn't have to save me a whole lot of time before the upgrade pays for itself.

With greater efficiency comes greater earnings, and one feature of Tiger that looks particularly promising in this regard is Spotlight, a lightning-fast search engine, integrated system-wide into Tiger and its applications. Given that a search engine doesn't exactly sound like a revolution in computing, Apple has implemented it in such a clever way that it could fundamentally forever change the way Mac owners approach working with files and folders.

If your Macs are anything like mine, you're the owner of a complex labyrinth of aliases tunneling through levels-upon-levels of file folders. Or, perhaps, you've saved all of your data files into a single folder that is now so full that finding one among the thousands is often an exercise in futility. Either way, you're wasting valuable time looking for things on your computer. Spotlight is exciting because we can now choose to abandon the finder and file folders completely and let the computer do all of the searching for us based on parameters that we supply. And unlike we lowly humans, Spotlight can search over 100,000 files in an instant.

Spotlight runs quickly and transparently in the background as you work on your Mac. As you create and manipulate files, receive e-mail, create bookmarks, add contacts to Address Book or events in iCal, Spotlight analyzes and catalogs that data so it can be located instantly by simply typing into a search field on Tiger's menu bar. The really cool part is that Spotlight isn't just looking at file information and metadata but also searches through and indexes the content of your files. For example, if one were searching for all references to apples, Spotlight would locate the word 'apples' even if hidden deep on page 232 of a word processing or PDF document.

As you fill in the search field, Spotlight displays all the results on your Mac in a neatly organized window. And, of course, you can narrow the search down as much as you want, even to a particular file type if that's all you need. It's brilliant, but that's not all. Tiger users can save their searches like bookmarks. Rather than entering your search again and defining parameters such as date, file type and size, you can simply click on your saved search and get up-to-the-moment accurate results that change as the information on your computer changes.

For example, say Peter Parker is a client of mine and one day he calls me up to see if I have a copy of an image that I used in one of his projects. Unfortunately for Peter, he's a Windows user and all his files were corrupted during his weekly system crash. Anyway, the file Peter is after is a CMYK color image of a spider and I remember that I worked on that particular project sometime last year. Rather than searching through all my images and loading any possible suspects to check the color mode, I can ask Spotlight to show me all CMYK images from last year. In an instant, they appear in the result window and I can pick one or narrow the search even further if necessary. Or perhaps I've already created searches for all of my clients. When I click on the search I've set up for Peter, Spotlight, without having to open any of the associated applications, instantly shows me all e-mail, calendar events, contact information, and files that I have related to him.

If that wasn't enough, Apple has integrated Spotlight into the OS X applications and made them even more powerful. In Address Book, for example, you can create searches to help group contacts together based on parameters you choose. For example, you could create a search that groups all contacts that you are meeting with in the next seven days. Because it's dynamic, that search will always be up-to-date no matter when you use it. In Mail, you could set up smart folders that use Spotlight to automatically sort e-mail messages based on the content within. Once again, that folder will always be up-to-date. The possibilities are intriguing.

Spotlight is only one of many features in Tiger that will help us work more efficiently and I'll write more about some of the others soon. With improvements to Windows compatibility, iChat, Apple scripting, .Mac syncing, and promised speed and performances boosts in image and video processing, I'm counting the days until I can say, "Hello Tiger."