Mac OS X 10.4 (Tiger): Boolean searches with Spotlight

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Macintosh
August 11th, 2005 • 4:54 pm

There has been some discussion in recent days over at about the ability to do boolean searches in Mail 2.0 and, more generally, in Mac OS X 10.4 as a whole using the Spotlight-based search tools.

One of the readers refers to a Mail Help page (“Searching your email”) that mentions that AND, OR, NOT, and parentheses can be used in Mail to submit boolean search requests in the “Search” field in the toolbar.

Unfortunately, as far as I can tell, this is simply not true. Typing “Microsoft OR Word” in the “Search” field will not return messages that contain either “Microsoft” or “Word,” but only messages that contain both (and also, presumably, the word “or” itself).

Interestingly, however, the boolean symbols mentioned by that same reader do seem to work. In other words, if you type “Microsoft | Word” in the “Search” field in Mail, Mail will return messages that contain either “Microsoft” or “Word“. And if you type “Microsoft !Word,” it will return messages that contain “Microsoft” and do not contain “Word.”

This is very convenient for quick boolean search requests in Mail. (You can also use some boolean logic when creating smart mailboxes in Mail, although it’s not as flexible.)

In my limited testing, it appears that the same symbols (& for AND, | for OR and ! for NOT) also work for Finder searches, i.e. searches made using the “Search” field in a Finder window, and they also work in the other fields when creating a smart folder in the Finder.

This is definitely more convenient than writing a raw query.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like these symbols work in the global Spotlight menu itself, where the symbols have no effect. I really do wish that Apple would adopt a system that is consistent across the board.

I already mentioned the confusion surrounding the use of quotation marks in Spotlight queries.

This stuff with the boolean symbols is yet another example of inconsistency. And Apple could really make an effort to ensure that its help pages are actually helpful, instead of containing information that is not even true!

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