Well, I had a feeling this would be a problem. Spotlight is having trouble with our networked home accounts. Actually, that may not be entirely accurate. Spotlight is probably also having problems with the sheer number of users in our networked lab. Basically, the Spotlight indexes on user accounts, which reside on an NFS mount, are failing all over the place. We've got mds crash logs on all our systems as a result of these failures, and mds tends to freeze a lot and cause Finder beachballs. I think what's going on here is this:
User logs in. Spotlight begins to index user's account. User plugs in firewire drive. Spotlight begins indexing that. User then unmounts firewire drive, and logs out. Spotlight's all like, "What the fuck? Where'd everybody go. I'm crashing now." And that's when we see our mds crash log.
On my own personal networked home account, this whole state of affairs has rendered Spotlight completely useless. As in, I can't search for shit. As in, command-space, search-for-term yields nothing, anywhere, ever. Using Spotlight on a local account on the same machine works fine, though. So clearly my Spotlight databases are okay, at least the local ones. And clearly there is something about networked stuff Spotlight does not like.
My understanding was that Spotlight was supposed to never index networked volumes. So believe me, I was surprised to find it indexing our home accounts. Perhaps, since they're mounted via NFS, it was unaware that they were network volumes (which would be incredibly stupid). I don't know. But it sure is confused now.
Ironically, now that Spotlight has become completely useless in our lab, it's gone from being one of the most excitement-generating features of Tiger, to one of the most ignored here. Once again, it's lack of configurability, it's premature release, and Apple's continued ignorance of multi-user environments has given this product a head start on the road to obscurity. Remember how cool we all thought Sherlock would be when it started taking after Watson? But then Apple just ignored it, and now it's gone the way of the Dodo. (Does anyone ever use Sherlock anymore?) I don't think Apple will do the same kind of thing with Spotlight. It's got way too much potential, and way too much press to let languish. But if they do with Spotlight what they did with Sherlock, it will wither and die, as has Sherlock, and as I can already see Automator doing. (Is anyone using Automator these days that didn't already use AppleScript?)
What all these technologies have in common is that 1) they rely on third-party developers to develop for them before they really become useful, and 2) they are essentially there to make our lives easier, not harder. If either of these things doesn't come through, the product stagnates. Of all these technologies, Spotlight is the least relaint on third-party development to be really useful. So its incumbent on Apple to really see the product through. Apple needs to get to work on this, and fast. They really need to make Spotlight work better, and they really need to make it way more configurable. It needs to work better for the folks who don't want to configure it -- the folks who just go to Google and use the regular search field. And it needs to be more configurable for the power users, the lab admins, and the folks who use Google's advanced search.
As an admin, all it's done for me so far is create extra work. I'll be spending this week devising a method for turning off Spotlight on our networked home accounts. And that's not exactly what I'd call productivity enhancement.