Finding substitutes for Spotlight

Sections: Mac OS X, Mac Software, Mountain Lion, Operating Systems, System Utilities

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I’m experiencing the first major OS X function failure in a decade of using Apple’s Unix-based OS.

The “Find” function of the Finder and Spotlight has quit working in OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion. Basic Spotlight searches work, but clicking “Show All In Finder” brings up a blank window. Find searches in the Finder likewise. Some Googling and Binging indicates that this is a not-unknown issue, but the suggested Terminal tweaks that I’ve tried have not remedied the malfunction. I’m hoping that instelling OS X 10.8.3 when it’s released will fix it, but in the meantime I need a search engine for local volumes.

Happily there are third-party local search alternatives available; two freeware and the other inexpensive shareware. Interestingly, the respective developers of two of these Spotlight/Find alternative solutions both suggest checking out the other one as well as test-driving their own offering. Very sporting, but they both have plenty of reason to be confident about their software.


First up is Devon Technologies’ freeware EasyFind app. Paradoxically, one of EasyFind’s main advantages and most serious shortcomings are the same attribute: its non-indexed nature. Not needing indexing means EasyFind is ready for action the moment it’s first started up. However its non-indexedness also makes it somewhat slower returning search results than Spotlight is. How much slower will vary depending on how fast a Mac you have, how much RAM, and so forth. However, it’s tolerably quick on my 2.0 GHz late 3008 Core 2 Duo MacBook with 4 GB RAM. The fact that you can limit your search to fairly narrowly specific categories and/or locations also helps speed things up.

Very much in the positive column is that searches in EasyFind are much more easily configurable than with Spotlight, and don’t require you to memorize and mess around manually with arcane Boolean operators in your search input. EasyFind does use Boolean logic, but it’s configured via more user-friendly checkbox lists and pull-down menus, as well as wildcards, and phrases. EasyFind also uses very little memory, and doesn’t just give you the files, but also shows previews, gives you many other options to work with, and provides a hierarchical result list that I find more tractable than Spotlight’s results returns. You can search as “root” user, after date ranges and file sizes, and save searches to re-run later.

Product [EasyFind]

Find Any File

Thomas Tempelmann’s Find Any File is another non-indexed file search solution that uses the OS X file system driver’s fast search operations, where available.

This lets you search for file properties such as name, dates, size, etc., but not for file content (use EasyFind for that). However, Find Any File can find files that Spotlight doesn’t—e.g. those inside bundles and packages and in inside folders that are usually excluded from Spotlight search—and it’s reasonably fast.

Find Any File offers an alternative hierarchical view for the found items. You can switch to it using Command>2 or click on the little icon at the top right of the results window. With the hierarchical view, you can directly look for the results in the folders that interest you.

If you hold the Option key down in the Find window, the Find button turns into Find All. Click on it and you’ll asked for an administrator password, after which Find Any File will restart with root permissions, being able to find really any file on your Mac’s volumes, including files in other users’ home directories. Note that this will only work on local disks, and not on network mounts, though.

You can save entered searches to files (with the extension “.faf”). You can then double click them in the Finder to have them start the search immediately, or use the saved search as a preset.

Find Any File is free demoware, but if you keep using it, Thomas Tempelmann requests a shareware fee of US$6.00

Product [Find Any File]


There’s also a free and simpler clone of FAF by OSXBytes called iFileX.

iFileX’s functionality and design is based on Mac OS early-era file search tools such as Find File and Sherlock, as well as Find Any File, from which iFileX borrows some special features.

iFileX Features

  • Find files Spotlight doesn’t – As a root user, Files inside packages, bundles, hidden files
  • Very fast searching – Fast searching on HFS formatted volumes.
  • Filter results – Easy show or hide packages content, hidden files and/or folders, show duplicates.
  • No indexing – Doesn’t index files and doesn’t depend on Spotlight.
  • Advanced boolean operators – Search after names, file sizes, creating and or modification dates, Folders, Alias.

Product [iFileX]

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