Spotlight interface for search results

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Macintosh
May 24th, 2005 • 10:41 pm

I am afraid that the interface for the results of a Spotlight search is extremely poor. There are numerous issues, some of which are blatantly bad UI choices.

For starters, Mac OS X 10.4 uses two totally different ways of presenting Spotlight search results depending on whether you are conducting a search in the Finder or a system-wide search using the Spotlight menu.

When you search for a specific file and Spotlight finds several different items that seem to match your criteria, you obviously are going to want to compare the attributes of these files, in order to determine which is the one you are looking for.

Spotlight makes this extremely painful. For example, in the Finder, the path that leads to a result is displayed in a single row at the bottom of the search results list. But in most cases files are buried several levels deep inside your folder hierarchy, and there isn’t enough room in the Finder window in question to display the full path, so the Finder displays a horrendous “compacted” version of the path, where only the folder icons are visible — which of course all look exactly the same. In order to see the actual names of the folders in question, you have to take your mouse over them one by one. Eeek.

In system-wide Spotlight results, it’s even worse. Mac OS X doesn’t use the same horrendous path row at the bottom of the window. Instead, if you want to determine the path to a particular result, you actually have to click on the minuscule “(i)” button at the extreme right of the result line. And then the path is only displayed a simple line of (small) text with the names of the enclosing folders separated by slashes — but the rest of the “information” takes up an enormous amount of space, which means that if you click on more than a couple of “(i)” buttons, you quickly run out of space and it becomes very difficult to do comparisons between items.

As well, the Spotlight search results window is, in my experience, very unresponsive, with delays of several seconds after you’ve clicked on buttons like the “(i)” buttons. And then there is absolutely no visual feedback during that time, so you might be tempted to click on the “(i)” button icon, thinking you missed it the first time — and then Mac OS X registers this as two clicks and promptly hides the information that you wanted to show! Argh.

Here’s another good one. If you select an item in the Spotlight results window and do “Get Information” (command-I), Mac OS X opens the corresponding “Get Information” window in the Finder. But if you then press command-W to close that window, instead of bringing the focus back on the Spotlight results window, Mac OS X switches you to… the next Finder window available! Double argh.

This is horrible stuff (and I could go on an on). I complained about it extensively during the testing stages. Nothing was done about it. It’s hugely disappointing.

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