Search! macOS-Focus

(! = top-level material. OAS18001 – see this for a bit on tips on how to possibly improve search efficiency.)

This page focuses on macOS-related solutions and we also have:

Command Line

Before getting too deep in the use of ‘find’ as searchable term….


Overview – Applications (GUI)

Application Index DB or File System(s) Offline Volumes Cost
Spotlight, macOS std Index DB No
EasyFind, File System No
Find Any File (FAF), File System No $6 Shareware
HoudahSpot, Index DB (Spotlight’s) $34 Single User, one named user, unlimited computers – perfect
($44 HoudaSpot+Tembo)
$52 Family License
Tembo, Index DB (Spotlight’s) $15 Single User
$22 Family


From :

Alternatives to Find Any File

While I appreciate hearing from a happy user, especially if (s)he sends me some money for it, even Find Any File is neither perfect nor to everyone’s taste. Therefore, I like to refer you to some other programs that offer similar features. I hope one of them suits your needs. If not, you can always ask me, maybe I can help 🙂

A popular alternative to FAF is EasyFind by DEVONtechnologies. It offers a different search interface and has a single-window user interface which you might prefer. And it’s free.

If you want to search for your documents mainly for their textual content, especially if it’s formatted text from WordPagesExcel, or in a PDF, take a look at HoudahSpot and Tembo. While they relies on the Spotlight engine, they give you more control over the search, similar to FAF, and also display the found items much better.

If you primarily search media files such as videos, photos, or audio files, NeoFinder might be the right tool for you. It permanently catalogues your files, even those that may be stored on other disks or FTP servers that are not always attached, and keeps even detailed information about your image properties (EXIF data etc.), thumbnails, XMP data, and more.

To see which files, applications and folders occupy the most space on your disk (FAF can’t search for app sizes, only for regular file sizes), consider DaisyDisk.



Applications / Solutions

General Research


DocFetcher (FOSS)


Dropbox Search Engine



Categories, Spotlight (macOS 10.13)
Bookmarks & History
Events & Reminders
Mail & Messages
PDF Documents
Spotlight Suggestions
System Preferences
NOT explicitly mentions:
.textClipping – and wonder how well works….. ###





OLDER, to re-org, cleanup, remove

Desktop Search

Introduction <top>

So far primary focus is for Mac. Created 2009-09-05, last updated 2010-01-14 (adding Find Any File).


Using Spotlight’s Index Using Own Index No Index, Raw Search
Speed Fast Fast Slow
AutoComplete Yes Possible-Should No
Spotlight, std macOS

Setting Up


Using Spotlight’s Index
Speed Fast
-local volumes
-mounted NAS
-offline volumes
‘Instant search’ if search field can be instantaneously brought up, simply through some keyboard configuration, independently of if in Finder or any other application



Using Index DB


Using/Search-via Index DB


Using/Search-via Index DB

Using Spotlight’s Index DB

Using Own Index DB

Using Spotlight’s Index DB


Using Own Index DB




Using/Searching File System

Mac Desktop Search Alternatives

Google Desktop and Google Quick Search Box are also part of Must Haves in our Mac section.###

Spotlight Google Desktop Google Quick Search Box (QSB) Find Any File Notes
Manufacturer Apple Google Google Thomas Tempelmann
First release Apr 2005
(OS X 10.4)
Oct 2004 (Win)
Apr 2007 (Mac)
Jan 2009 (Mac, preview) 2008-12-26
Operating systems Mac-only Mac & Win Mac 10.5 or 10.6
Mac-only 1) Via Google Toolbar (per Sep 2009-09-05)
Mac OS X 10.6 Yes No1 Yes Yes 1) Still not 2010-01-14 (v1.7.0.1877) (Not per 2009-09-05)
Install part of OS X separate
Normal application
Normal application
Nicer with background application that isn’t always ‘in-the-way’ when changing between applications but only brough forward by some short-cut keyboard combination.
How access Cmd+Alt+F1 Cmd Cmd2 Cmd Cmd2 Start/bring appl. forward 1) I.e. need to press 3 keys. 2) I.e. only need to press one key (but twice) – quite much nicer and user-friendly.
Index by Spotlight Own Uses Spotlight’s1 None 1) QSB saves HD space by using Spotlight’s index instead of building and maintaining its own (thus also performance improvement, though minor).
Actions No No Yes
(e.g. open appl.)
Calculations &
No Yes Yes No
Extendible No? # Yes No
Search of cached &
deleted files
? Yes ? ?
  • Std install, no need to download
  • Background appl.
  • Easy to activate
  • Fast
  • Really good at finding files
  • Background appl.
  • Easy to activate
  • Works on 10.6.
  • Three keys to access
  • Doesn’t work on 10.6!
  • Buggy? Often can’t find files…

See also Google Desktop vs. QSB below.



Alfred –

Alfred vs Spotlight: Which Works Best at Finding Stuff on Your Mac? – (2015-10-27)


DEVONagent Express

DEVONagent Lite

DEVONagent Pro

DEVONthink Personal

DEVONthink Pro

DEVONthink Pro Office

And EasyFind (below)

EasyFind, by DEVONtechnologies

Free, v4.9.3 installed, not updated since 2014 but still latest per 2016-12-14 at

(2016-12-14 added as section)


FoxTrot Personal –

FoxTrot Professional –


Find Any File

Home:, by Thomas Tempelmann –

Houdah Software – HoudaSpot, Tembo, …

HoudahSpot & Tembo – What are the differences? –



“HoudahSpot 4.2 requires macOS 10.10 or later with Spotlight indexing enabled.” []


Single User License – US$ 34 + tax
One named user. Unlimited computers.

Family License – US$ 52 + tax
Family members living in the same household.
Personal use only.



“Tembo 2.1 requires macOS 10.10 or later with Spotlight indexing enabled.” []



US$ 15


Use HoudahSpot if you like to configure your searches, aiming to find only the specific file(s) you’re looking for. HoudahSpot is like the old Mac Find File, from before OS X. It lets you search by file name, text contents, keywords and tags, modification date, location, and  every other specification you might possibly imagine.
You can, for example, search for files in a single specified folder which contain the word “lasagna” and which have been modified in the last two hours (or weeks or years). Or you can simply search your whole Mac for a file with “windsurfing” in the title. You set the specifications for each search, and HoudahSpot drills down to find files meeting your specifications.


Tembo is simpler. There’s nothing to configure or specify; just quickly type some text in the search box, and Tembo will gather any/all files having anything to do with that text. You’ll be shown a broad list of results to browse through until you’ve found what you’re looking for. It the list is long, you can narrow it by asking Tembo to show only files of a certain type, date range, Mac location, etc. The winnowing tools are quite powerful, but they’re strictly optional.
If you pretty much like Spotlight but wish it worked better and more powerfully, Tembo’s for you. If you want to build powerful, specific searches your own way, then you want HoudahSpot.


HoudahSpot + Tembo
Single User License – $US 44 + tax
One named user. Unlimited computers.


LaunchBar –


Pathological –

  • $8, free trial
  • For (very) advanced and complex searches
  • Sorry to say but documentation has lots to wish for, only focuses on search syntax and doesn’t include anything on how implemented – like IF using Spotlight’s index or maintaining own.


Quicksilver –


(Also, more info at wikipedia.)


Rel. Comments
OS X 10.4 Tiger, Apr 2005 Spotlight is introduced.
OS X 10.5 Leopard, Oct 2009 “With Mac OS X Leopard, Apple introduced some additional features. With Spotlight in Tiger, users can only search devices that are attached to their computers. With Leopard, Spotlight is able to search networked Macs running Leopard (both client and server versions) that have file sharing enabled. A feature called Quick Look has been added to the GUI that will display live previews of files within the search results, so applications do not have to be opened just to confirm that the user has found the right file. The syntax has also been extended to include support for worded boolean operators (“AND”, “OR” and “NOT”).[8] These variants of the operators are localized; while users that have their System language set to English may use an “AND”, German users, for example, would have to use “UND”. The character variants work with any system language.[9]” [wikipedia]
OS X 10.10, Yosemite, Oct 2014 “As of OS X 10.10 Yosemite, Spotlight search is completely redesigned. Instead of it acting as a drop-down menu, it is now located in the center of the screen. It does everything the previous version does and more, such as searching Wikipedia, Maps, and other sources.” [wikipedia]
OS X 10.11 El Capitan, Sep 2015 Spotlight is improved with more contextual information such as the weather, stocks, news and sports scores. It is also able to process queries in natural language. For example, users can type “Show me pictures that I took in Yosemite National Park in July 2014” and Spotlight will use that request to bring up the corresponding info.[23]” [OS X 10.11 El Capitan, Sep 2015]

“Apple has made some significant to changes to Spotlight, the system search function that pops up in the center of the display when you hit Command+Space. First off, in El Capitan, it doesn’t have to be in the center. As silly as it sounds, you can now freely resize and position the Spotlight box to match your own preferences for the first time. Apple has also bolstered the library of possible search terms to include more transient and informational data, like weather, sports scores or even YouTube and Vimeo video results. You can also make your search queries a lot more casual and Spotlight will understand what you mean. Rather than typing with obtuse filter syntax, you can use natural language queries like ‘email from Joshua last year’ or ‘presentations from last week’. These queries work great, are easy to remember and formulate, and work in apps like Finder and Mail as well as the Spotlight search bar.”[]

macOS 10.12 Sierra, Sep 2016 Don’t know of any specific changes, have not researched extensively.



Been around since Mac OS X 10.4 and is fine for many users. Personally prefer Google’s alternatives for a number of reasons:

  • More powerful, feature-rich (not only local desktop but searching the Internet, plus access to Google-world with calculations, definitions…)
  • Easier to activate – easier to click Command-key twice (one finger) instead of keyboard combination for Spotlight (CMD+ALT+F)

Main drawback(s):

  • Google application (Desktop or Quick Search Box (QSB)) must always be running, and is thus visible among the list of open applications). With lots of open applications this increase the “murkiness”… Would be really nice if could hide it.
  • (Desktop, not QSB): builds and maintains its own index – uses CPU (not that it ever has bothered but anyway) and harddisk space (this can be more intrusive though, index for a 100 GB drive has been a couple of GB; varies lots with what type of files you have, and what you index)


OLD / Archive / Discontinued


Older summary, comparison chart (from 2010)

Application Description Uses
Volumes Files Contents
Spotlight Part of OS X 10.4, and later Yes one only? Yes Yes Start: Cmd+Opt+F or via magnifying glass in menu bar in upper right corner of screen.

Config: via System Preferences : Spotlight pref panel (under Personal)

Google Desktop Free download from Yes multiple, configurable Yes Yes Start: Cmd+Cmd, via menubar icon google(somewhere in the middle…), or via installed application (/Applications/Google Desktop/Google

Config: via System Preferences : Google Desktop pref panel (under Other)


Why Use? Personal preference – like the speed, integration with the rest of googles all features (not only searches but conversions, stock quotes, exchange rates, …)

EasyFind Freeware, by


No multiple, configurable Yes No Start application to find files among *all* files on volume – one or more at the same time.

Configuration: some, via application itself.


Why Use? Neither Spotlight nor Google Desktop searches for hidden files, like preferences, Unix-/terminal-level files, … A tool like EasyFind is an indispensible part of the toolbox.


EasyFind got 4.5 of 5 mouses by MacWorld (2005).

Find Any File Free download from No multiple, configurable Yes No Start application to find files among *all* files on volume – one or more at the same time.

Configuration: ? (Preferences below application menu is dimmed…)


Why Use? Neither Spotlight nor Google Desktop searches for hidden files, like preferences, Unix-/terminal-level files, … A tool like Find Any File is an indispensible part of the toolbox.

Find Any File – forum:

(Found when googled



“Found is a cool little search tool with some neat tricks”

This site can’t be reached – took too long to respond. (2016-12-14)

Found is a neat new Mac application that wants to be like OS X’s Spotlight, but for all the files you have stored across cloud services, including Dropbox, Google Docs, and Gmail. Currently in beta, Found is aiming for a mid-May release in the Mac App Store, where it will be free.” (2012-04-02) []

“Found Is a Universal Search for Your Mac Hard Drive, Dropbox, Gmail, and Google Drive Files”, (2012-06-06)


Google Desktop

The mother of really good alternatives…! Been using it ever since – first on PC (from 2004) and then on Mac (2007).Replaced with Google Quick Search Box (QSB) below in Mac OS X 10.6 (Desktop doesn’t work in 10.6 per 2009-09-05).

For more on Google Desktop, check out and OAS06010 Google Desktop.

Google Quick Search Box (QSB)

(Also, more info at wikipedia.)

Getting Started : About the Quick Search Box – Google Quick Search Box Help”Google Quick Search Box is an open source search box that allows you to search data on your computer and across the web. ” [qsb-mac]

“Google has announced a new Mac-only search project by the name of Quick Search Box. Quick Search Box is hybrid application that indexes files on your Mac and provides Google web searches, all wrapped in an interface that will be very familiar to anyone who’s used the popular Mac application, Quicksilver.

There’s a very good reason for Quick Search Box’s resemblance to Quicksilver — Quicksilver’s creator, Nicholas Jitkoff, is one of the programmers behind Google’s new Quick Search Box.

Before digging into what Quick Search Box offers, it’s worth answering the obvious question: how is this different from Google’s existing search tool in Google Desktop for Mac?

The answer is that Quick Search is like a stripped down version of Desktop, eliminating widgets and other tools to just focus on searching. Quick Search also offers context-sensitive options (à la Quicksilver) that you won’t find in Desktop.” [Wired200901]

June 2009:

“Google has released a new Mac application that lets users search both their Macs and the Web in the same window as well as launch applications.

It’s basically a Googlized front end on Mac OS X’s Spotlight search, according to a Web page explaining the difference between Google Desktop and Google Quick Search Box. The main difference between the two Google products is that you can launch applications from the Quick Search Box, which isn’t possible in Google Desktop.” [CNET20090609]


Google Desktop vs. QSB

From Getting Started : Quick Search Box vs. Google Desktop – Google Quick Search Box Help (retrieved 2009-09-05):

Getting Started: Quick Search Box vs. Google Desktop

Although Google Desktop for Mac and Google Quick Search Box for Mac are very similar, they do have a few notable differences. Here are some unique features that are not shared between the two products:

Quick Search Box

  • Actions
    Quick Search Box lets you perform actions on your search results. To see a list of possible actions, select the result you’re interested in and press Tab.
  • No index needed
    By using Spotlight’s index to find files on your computer, the Quick Search Box saves both hard drive space and computing power.
  • Calculations and definitions
    Enter a calculation or a word you’d like to define and see the answer appear along with your other search results.
  • Extensability
    The Quick Search Box provides a framework for you to add your own features to the search box.

Learn more about Quick Search Box

Google Desktop

  • integration
    When you perform a Google search with Google Desktop installed, Desktop results appear next to Google search results.
  • Search of cached and deleted files
    You can find cached content and deleted files through Google Desktop.

Want to use the silver Quick Search Box instead of the regular black Desktop one? Simply turn off the Desktop Quick Search Box hotkey. Once it’s disabled, install the new Quick Search Box from