Seeing the (Spot)Light

Well, as you can guess from my last article, and from the title of this one, I'm starting to see the potential, at least, of Spotlight. Initially, I was pretty down on it. Perhaps because I was expecting so much from it. I don't think I was alone in that regard. I think for a lot of people it was like going to see a movie that everyone said was incredible. They raved and raved about it forever, and by the time you got around to seeing it, you coudn't help but be let down. That's how Spotlight was for me: It's bugginess stood out like a sore thumb against the backdrop of hype and praise, and all I could do was hate it.

And, of course, turn it off.

So now I have my Powerbook (an old-ish 867MHz G4 Titanium) running 10.4 sans Spotlight. And it's fine. But in light (no pun intended) of my recent revelation, I wanted to give Tiger, and Spotlight, another try, and approach things a bit differently this time. For this attempt I have done the hard thing. I have wiped my G5. My G5 at work. A Dual 2.0 with 2.5 GB of RAM. By all accounts, a decent machine. Those two factors -- wipe and G5 -- have made a world of difference.

Up front I have to say, I still have not seen the much-touted performance gains of Tiger -- in fact, even on my G5, Tiger seems slower in many regards (opening/typing in emails, alphabetizing newly created folders, weird little things like that) -- and there are still plenty of Tiger and Spotlight bugs. But after performing an "Erase and Install" on my G5 and installing and updating Tiger from scratch, things are definitely better. Primarily in Spotlight.

Now, I have a lot of data. And I really think that the people who are saying they have no problems with Spotlight, and that it finds their files "instantly," just don't have very much data, particularly in the way of hundreds of thousands of small files, and more particularly, hundreds of thousands of small files that contain text. These are the files that, I think, really bring Spotlight almost to it's knees. For instance, I just searched the term "html." 41,300 or so hits were found. That took about 5 seconds. That's really not bad at all, but it's also nowhere near "instant." Nowhere near. Searching the term "doc" yielded around 160,000 and took about 15 seconds. It looks like, on my system, it takes Spotlight on average about 1 second to search 10,000 documents, give or take, depending on the most prevalent types of documents and their content. Wow. That's really good. But when I hear "instantly" and I get "15 seconds," well who wouldn't be disappointed? In any case, the major problems I was initially having with Spotlight locking up, beachballing, and being a general pain in the ass, seem to be mostly gone with this new install. And that's good. And I can say I'm much more inclined to see how great Spotlight is and will be.

(Though I will say that a recent seach, which yielded numerous results, and which I chose to view in Spotlight's "Show All" window, completely took over the processor for a few minutes when I flipped down one of the long lists of files. Scrolling became impossible. I could not close the window. There are still some serious performance problems with Spotlight, if only from time to time. But I suppose that's to be expected at this stage.)

The other thing that's helped me understand the usefulness of Spotlight is actually coming up with a reason for using it. Initially I had no real need for it, or at least I didn't think I did. But the other day I was looking for something in a script that did a particular something or other. Problem was I had no idea what script I had put that something-or-other line in. So I'm looking through nested folder upon nested folder, trying to decipher my own script names, and realizing that it was all futile because I had no idea what the script was about, only that it had a line in it that used such-and-such a command. And that's when it hit me: how great would it be if I could search inside my scripts? And then it hit me again: Spotlight!


So now that I have a reasonably well-working install of Tiger, and a good reason to use Spotlight, I'll be testing and using them on a daily basis. So far (it's only been a day, really) things are good. They could be better, but I'll save the complaints for another day. I would like to say, though, on a final note, that the one thing Spotlight really needs is more customization options. The above is a good example of when I'd really like to use Spotlight, but I don't always want to use it. Sometimes I prefer a simple name-search. And I'd really like to be able to toggle between the two. Easily! (Maybe via a dropdown a-la the old Panther-style Finder window search?) So yeah, customization would be real nice. We all know this. Apple surely knows it as well. Hopefully it's something they'll act on quickly, like during the 10.4 product cycle (like now), and not after Leopard finally arrives. I would really hate to see Spotlight go the Sherlock route of neglect.

In the meantime, I'll be eagerly awaiting the 10.4.2 update. Here's hoping it's a good one.