Apple Exec: Mac OS X Tiger’s ‘Spotlight’ system-wide search tech inspired by iTunes

“‘We all have a million file folders and you can’t find anything,’ [Apple CEO Steve] Jobs said during his keynote speech introducing Tiger, the next iteration of Mac OS X, due next year. ‘It’s easier to find something from among a billion Web pages with Google than it is to find something on your hard disk,’ he added,” Leander Kahney reports for Wired.

“The solution, Jobs said, is a system-wide search engine, Spotlight, which can find information across files and applications, whether it be an e-mail message or a copyright notice attached to a movie clip. ‘We think it’s going to revolutionize the way you use your system,’ Jobs declared. In Jobs’ scheme, the hierarchy of files and folders is a dreary, outdated metaphor inspired by office filing,” Kahney reports. “In today’s communications era, categorized by the daily barrage of new e-mails, websites, pictures and movies, who wants to file when you can simply search? What does it matter where a file is stored, as long as you can find it?”

“Take for example, Rael Dornfest, who has stopped sorting his e-mail. Instead of cataloging e-mail messages into neat mailboxes, Dornfest allows his correspondence to accumulate into one giant, unsorted inbox. Whenever Dornfest, an editor at tech publisher O’Reilly and Associates, needs to find something, he simply searches for it,” Kahney reports. “Apple is applying the same reasoning not just to e-mail, but to all the files stored on a hard drive.”

Kahney reports, “Ken Bereskin, Apple’s director of Mac OS X product marketing, said Spotlight has been a couple of years in development — before Panther — and incorporates several complex system technologies. Bereskin said the system was inspired by the speedy search engine in iTunes, which instantly returns results as soon as the user starts typing: whether the match is in the song’s title, album, genre or artist fields. ‘We noticed that people just search all the time,’ he said. ‘We asked if that could be applied to everything: contacts, calendar, e-mail and the contents of your hard drive.'”

Full article here.

More information about Apple’s forthcoming “Spotlight,” a new system-wide metadata search engine coming in Mac OS X 10.4 “Tiger” can be found here.


  1. bs. its apples anwser to longhorns winfs. the only problem is that its not as powerful – but apple is shipping first, so i guess they have time to improve it.

  2. keefe: don’t be such a mac fanboy. you don’t know how stupid you guys on mdn look when you are talking about longhorn.

    and yes, apple HAD to do spotlight because lh has it. and you know what, if you watch microsofts keynotes, you would know, steve is now sounding like one of the guys at ms, about this technology.

    winfs, isn’t an original idea. but at least ms doesn’t go around telling people that its soooo revolutionary and be so nieve in there marketing. beos had it first. now tiger has it. the same tech as be. lh will be more advance tho

  3. mac_user… the m in mdn stands for mac… it’s a mac site. it’s not supposed to be fair or unbiased or unstupid, and as for mdn visitors watching microsoft keynotes hahahaha! mdn is somewhere for maclovers to congratulate each other . if you want intelligent debate suggest you go somewhere a bit less wild-eyed rather than try and change anything here.

  4. Ah whatever, it just goes to show that all of the large OS companies are going after the same thing. And frankly, I keep my shit organized, so i don’t think I will benefit much from Spotlight. So I REALLY don’t care if Longhorn has even more advanced search functions. And yeah, this is a MacNews site, am I expected to come here and say yeah I love Macs, but you know Longhorn is gonna do everything ten times better than Tiger will ever be able to. I think not. Ass.

  5. Mac_user,

    You don’t seem to be aware that the guy who wrote the BeOS file system is an Apple employee, and his work is what we’re seeing in spotlight. I found his blog yesterday.

    You can even download in PDF his book on how to design file systems if you like from his web site.

    I knew about him, and had even speculated with some friends that this WWDC Keynote should be showing the results of some of his work. I figured this since he’s been at Apple long enough that something should be coming, and that there was going to have to be some new technology not in Pather to make Tiger worth the upgrade.

    This is it, baby. In spades.

    But what most analysts (the New York Times writer actually doesn’t know the difference between iTunes and ITMS – no not Pogue, the woman who wrote about the keynote!) and some of the others think this is a simple search mechanism.

    It’s not, it goes way beyond that. The biggest disappointment people are going to face with spotlight is that if you want it to pull up all of your photos of India rickshaw races, then you’re going to have to add that bit of metadata to all of your photos first. It won’t read the content of your images in terms of visual information, but in the metadata you embed in those files. So spotlight is going to require a lot of work to make it be as effective as Stevearino made it look in his demo.

    But I think it’s awesom, and I’m going to be glad that Portfolio 7 will let me embed all my metadata in the actual phoito files! That gives me time to get the metadata ready for 5,000 photos by release time. ” width=”19″ height=”19″ alt=”tongue laugh” style=”border:0;” />

  6. ok – longhorn is 3 years away. moo. tiger will ship within 9 months. spotlight is NOT new tech – iTunes/iTMS already has it – and for over a year now. so the talk about apple ripping this off from LH dose not hold water.

    oh, and how can i sit through a MS keynote with monkey boy bouncing all around the stage? sweating profusely with that chrome dome. oh yeah – i am inspired, woop woop.

    oh – and hey there Wunnut! i miss the sarcasm and cynicism.

  7. Re: Spotlight vs WinFS

    According to Steve Jobs ( , time index 00:44:00), Spotlight is fully automatic. It works 100% with current applications and files.

    WinFS is an all new file system. Although it does work in a limited way with existing files, it’s full power is only available for those files saved as WinFS files (with attached metafiles), and in some cases the user must supply the metadata that is to be used for future searches.

    In short, WinFS is not too intelligent and the user or the programmer of the application saving the file must predict what someone will be searching for in the future and apply the needed metadata to the file. Apple’s Spotlight has the intelligence to look into the file and examine its contents and attributes, and does NOT require you to be Nostradamus in order to save a file for future retrieval.

  8. The “smart” lists that automatically update as new files are saved � Smart Playlists, Smart Albums and soon Smart Folders, Smart Groups and Smart Mailboxes � originated in iTunes. Not sure if Longhorn is doing anything similar …

    Even if Longhorn’s search function is more advanced than Tiger, I doubt the overall user eXPerience will have caught up.

    Say, will Longhorn/WinFS defragment on the fly like Mac OS X/HFS+?

  9. Even IF Longhorn is released today, it would be anti-climatic as being a cheap, buggy, rip of off Apple… AGAIN! What sort of slow overweight dinosaur will it be in 2 to 3 years?

  10. I think Spolight is gonna rock, for all the reasons mentioned above.

    M$ will probably call their version ‘Microsoft Direct Access Search File System’ or something equally catchy.

    They just don’t get it, do they?

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