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The Apple Wishlist: Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard
4.1 New Workgroup Services : Improve Spotlight's UI
With the arrival of Spotlight search technology in Tiger, the actual location of working files became far less important. But Spotlight's user interface needs some work.
The third Leopard wishlist article, covering remote display and management, ended by introducing the Xserve mini. Here, I'll present ideas for workgroup services I'd like to see in Leopard: collaborative features that relate to finding, managing, archiving, and sharing files and information.

Before I'm finished, I'll describe my vision of the Xserve mini, and explain why the world+dog needs both these new services and a personal server to run them.

Services related to security, communication, and media will be presented later, so stay tuned!

Idea 1: Improve Spotlight's UI
With the arrival of Spotlight search technology in Tiger, the actual location of working files became far less important. There's no need to organize files into carefully planned folders; keeping track of documents can now be delegated away to the operating system. Apple's solution to fast file indexing and metadata searching is well thought out and (on the surface) brilliantly simple.

The "short history of desktop search" got cut from this article, but if you are interested in reading about how Microsoft's Cairo and Longhorn promises compared to the products Be and Apple actually delivered, you can petition for it accordingly.

Spotlight's technology is brilliant, but its interface needs some rethinking. The number one annoyance is related to how the Menu Bar begins searching immediately as you type. That's a great feature if your machine is fast enough, but it'd be nice if the search was immediately paused if you hit delete; if you spell your search query wrong, the interface blocks editing while it struggles to find present worthless search results for "selesssk", and efforts to fix the mistake cause further delays.

It's human nature to make an error and then submit an immediate correction. Having to wait for error results before being able to ask for new results is simply bad UI. This specific example highlights a UI error in that comes up throughout Mac OS X: assigning priority to background tasks instead of the top most user action.

While actual refinements in making the system work faster are great, simply keeping the user in control will deliver that elusive quality of "teh snappy" that makes an interface feel natural and responsive.

In addition to being more responsive, Spotlight needs to be more helpful in building search queries. There is a lot of power and flexibility in Spotlight's raw query syntax, but Apple needs to expose that power to make it more accessible.

While wild open searches make for wizbang Apple Store demos ("Look, Spotlight found the word Yosemite within a PDF map!"), most users aren't blindly Googling their hard drive, but rather trying to find something specific that they know exists. Spotlight should make powerful queries easier to assemble.

If the Menu Bar find field displayed a row of icons representing apps, mail, contacts, photos, documents and folders, a user could type in their query, and hit the icon to instantly limit the search. I added such a "search target" bar to the mockup below.

As an alternative to clicking an icon, you could type a leading letter to specify kind. Spotlight expects you to type in "kind:app" but I'd rather type a one letter key shortcut and get an object representing my query type... and search modifiers. This would work similar to how Mail recognizes an email address, and turns it into a draggable icon bubble.

So, a users types in an initial A, M, P, T, or F and a space to search for an app, mail, photo, song, folder, or a C, W or * to toggle the search type: case, whole word, wildcard.

For example, type in "A keychain a*"

and get the visual results depicted here:


| | Digg

Idea 2: Personal server file archive


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