Spotlight hiccups: Even the G5 Quad is not fast enough

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Macintosh
December 15th, 2005 • 4:17 pm

I’ve already written about the scandalously slow and unresponsive behaviour of the user interface for Spotlight searches in Mac OS X’s Finder.

Now that I have a G5 Quad, I thought I would put Spotlight through the test.

Sadly, I have to report that, with the same number of indexed files on my volumes as on the G4, the G5 Quad is, yes, somewhat faster, but still suffers from unacceptable hiccups when you are typing a search request in a Finder window. I don’t get the spinning pizza of death anymore, but I still get interruptions every few letters while Spotlight tries to complete searches on partial words that are completely irrelevant.

This means that, even with the fastest Mac currently available and with a generous quantity of RAM (I have 4.5 GB), Spotlight still offers an unacceptably choppy user experience for anyone who has a large number of files stored on his hard drives.

From this, I can only draw two conclusions. Either Apple only tests Spotlight on machines with hard drives that only contain a small number of indexed files, or Apple doesn’t really think that this choppy user experience is a problem.

Obviously, unless Apple engineers live on another planet, they must have machines with large numbers of files on their hard drives. So realistically the only possible explanation is that Apple doesn’t care, and feels that the choppy experience is acceptable.

This is something that goes completely against fundamental principles of user interface design. Mac OS X wastes an enormous amount of power on irrelevant searches for partially typed words, and the user is forced to wait until Mac OS X completes these irrelevant searches before he can continue typing his search request.

It’s ridiculous.

And the worst part of it is that it’s not a performance issue. It’s purely and simply an issue that stems from Apple’s software design choices. They could simply provide the user with the option to type his search request in full before starting the search. It’s a simply matter of waiting until the user has pressed the Return or Enter key before processing his search request.

It would be such a simple fix, and yet you just know that someone, somewhere at Apple, has made this design decision and just refuses to hear the users’ complaints. It makes me positively mad.

5 Responses to “Spotlight hiccups: Even the G5 Quad is not fast enough”

  1. Rahul Sinha says:

    I really have none of these problems.

    I have a Dual 2.0 Powermac, 2.5 GB RAM, 160 GB HD + an external 500GB volume (both are indexed fully, or at least whatever factory default is).

    Admittedly the CMD-space interface is more fluid, but even in a finder window it functions without pause. Have you tried discarding and reindexing the Spotlight data store (admittedly something you should not have to do)?

    Apple shouldn’t switch to an on-Return search, but rather implement a “wait .5 sec since last keystroke, then search” – having the search take place “live” makes the interface that much more pleasant:
    see options – a break like Return would interrupt that behaviour.

  2. Warren Beck says:

    Live search in Spotlight is just a demo feature; it looks cool in a demo by Steve at MacWorld, but it is useless in practice. I should be able to mistype a search string and not have to wait seconds for the bogus search to complete. Pressing return or enter after finishing entry is a rational thing to do in the Spotlight interface.

    Alternatively, why not put in a preference that allows one to disable the live search feature and use return or enter or another keypress, whatever the user prefers.

    I have _effectively_ disabled Spotlight by dragging the Users folder into the Privacy pane of the Spotlight preferences. There is no downside to this for me because I have abandoned, which depends on Spotlight indexing of the user’s mail folders. I do not think that Spotlight provides a reasonable interface to searching files by content, and it usually fails at finding files by names, even if I know that a file with a certain name is on my system. EasyFind (Devon Technologies, free for the download), does file-name searching very well, and it functions without indexing.

  3. Pierre Igot says:

    Rahul: When I switched to my G5, I copied the files from the G4 hard drives onto an external FW hard drive, and then copied them onto the G5’s internal hard drive. This means that the Spotlight indexes were rebuilt from scratch by the G5, and not copied from the G4. I therefore see no need to try and rebuild them again.

    I get hiccups with Spotlight in the Finder even when I limit the scope of the search to a single internal hard drive partition. Admittedly, this partition contains nearly 200,000 files (Word docs, Pages docs, PDF files, picture files, music files, etc.), but that’s nothing extraordinary. Spotlight should be able to cope with that.

    I agree that requiring the user to hit Return or Enter is not necessarily the only alternative—although it’s the most obvious. The command-Space interface is obviously more fluid without eliminating the live search feature. That said, even the command-Space interface still wastes lots of CPU cycles and hard drive activity completing utterly irrelevant searches.

    I am not about to do something as drastic as what Warren suggests, because I do actually find the searches on the full indexed content useful. But more often then not, I find myself typing my search request elsewhere and just copying and pasting it into the search field in Spotlight. This is utterly ridiculous. I simply should not have to do this in order to avoid Spotlight’s hiccups!

  4. Mike Lauder says:

    Not sure if you’ve ever used Butler. It has a feature where you can type your spotlight request into a search box and hit return. Butler then passes your request to spotlight, missing out the ‘search as you type’ feature.

  5. Pierre Igot says:

    Yes, Butler is a pretty slick application. But it only works for the system-wide Spotlight search. Most of my problems are with Finder-based Spotlight searches, i.e. with the Search field in Finder in windows or when creating/editing smart folders.

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