Apple Throws Spotlight on Search

Powerful new search and scripting components in Tiger promise to simplify finding and using information in Mac OS X. But will developers embrace them?

SAN FRANCISCO— Apple Computer Inc. CEO Steve Jobs turned the spotlight on search Monday when he demonstrated a new content indexing and search engine slated for Mac OS X 10.4, a k a "Tiger."

During his keynote presentation for this weeks Worldwide Developer Conference here, Jobs took the wraps off the new technology, titled Spotlight, and compared it with the database file system Microsoft Corp. has promised for its 2006 Longhorn release. Noting that Spotlight and Tiger will arrive a year ahead of Longhorn, Jobs quoted one of the promotional banners Apple had hung outside the auditorium: "Redmond, start your photocopiers."

In some respects, Spotlight resembles a capability originally planned for Mac OS 8 under the name "Live Folders." Like that earlier Apple project, it lets users create "smart folders" based on a query against a metadata index of all the mounted drives on a Tiger system. But the search engine also works contextually within applications such as Apples Mail, Address Book and System Preferences—and Apple is giving developers at WWDC a software development kit to help them build Spotlight into their own applications.


Every file stored in the Tiger file system will be mined for metadata and indexed accordingly on the fly, making it instantly searchable by keyword. And developers can add their own metadata definitions—for example, searching on "Wi-Fi" within System Preferences causes the network-settings icon to be highlighted.

Apple also previewed a new visual scripting tool for Tiger, called Automator. The script builder, which currently has a library of more than 100 configurable "actions" it can automate within the Tiger OS and current Mac OS X applications, can also be used to build workflows and tie together application events with custom AppleScript and Unix shell-script macros. Automator can also drive Spotlight searches and act on their results, automating tasks such as sizing and uploading images found with a user-entered search string.

Developers at the show were generally upbeat about the new features, even if they werent entirely surprised. "Most of this was expected," said Bo Holst-Christensen, a computer scientist with Cutisan Laboratorium A/S of Denmark. "And some of this [like Spotlight] is old Copland material, so its about time."

Spotlight "will definitely affect the way we handle the development of our next Macintosh version of our software," said one software engineer from a major cross-platform publishing software company who asked not to be identified. He said his company is focusing on leveraging more of the native elements of Mac OS X in future releases of its applications.

But others who build applications across multiple platforms were less enthused. "Theres nothing [Jobs] said that really affects us," said Steve Poole, a development manager at WRQ Inc. of Seattle. "Were doing our cross-platform development with Java."

At the same time, Poole noted, "Weve had people make Mac OS their primary development platform. I feel crippled when I sit at a PC now."


Check out eWEEK.coms Macintosh Center at for the latest news, reviews and analysis about Apple in the enterprise.


Be sure to add our Macintosh news feed to your RSS newsreader or My Yahoo page