Spotlight in Tiger: More trouble than it’s worth?

I really want to like Spotlight in 10.4. In theory it should be great: instant access to any file or app by typing a few words. In practice it’s sluggish as hell, making it almost unusable for me. Here’s how I tend to use Spotlight:

  1. Click the Spotlight icon.
  2. Start typing the name of the file I’m looking for.
  3. After typing about 5 letters, Spotlight locks up with a spinning beach ball for 30 seconds, then slowly starts to produce results.
  4. Meanwhile, I switch to the Finder and end up manually finding the file I was after before Spotlight has even finished telling me where it is.

To make matters worse, I recently bought a backup hard drive. Spotlight has decided this would be great fun to index, even though I don’t want it to. Here’s what I see practically every day:

Spotlight indexing my backup drive

Not only is this indexing unwanted, but it slows down my Mac for those 19 hours, and slows down Spotlight itself even further (if such a thing is possible).

I was chuffed to find that you could exclude a volume from Spotlight indexing as follows:

  1. Go to System Prefs > Spotlight.
  2. Click the “Privacy” tab (surely “Performance” would be more appropriate!).
  3. Drag the Backup volume from a Finder window to the list below the “Privacy” tab – but make sure you drag the actual volume icon (in Go > Computer in Finder) and not the alias in the shortcuts bar on the left, or Finder helpfully deletes the alias instead, with a cute little “whoosh” noise.
  4. Close System Prefs. This makes Spotlight stop indexing the Backup volume. Hurrah!


Unmount then remount the hard drive (by rebooting, or by power cycling the drive – something I do at least once a week) and Spotlight forgets that it wasn’t supposed to be indexing the Backup volume, and starts all over again. Back to square 1! So every few days I find myself dragging that god-damn Backup volume into System Prefs.

Surely there has to be a better way! I know I can turn off Spotlight completely (sudo vi /etc/hostconfig and change “SPOTLIGHT=-YES-” to “SPOTLIGHT=-NO-“), but I do occasionally find Spotlight useful for those times when I just can’t remember the name of a file.

I have heard that Spotlight is much snappier in Leopard. I hope that’s true, and I also hope that you can reliably exclude volumes from being indexed. Which reminds me – I really must upgrade to Leopard soon, mustn’t I. I’m just scared of it breaking all my apps!

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2 Responses to “Spotlight in Tiger: More trouble than it’s worth?”

  1. Si Says:

    I rarely use Spotlight, I must say. Whilst Apple may want us to have all our data in some amorphous cloud, in reality mine’s pretty well organised, so I find it easier to just go to the file. It does seem quite swift though – no lockup or beach ball.

    I’ve just tried excluding one of the backup drives in spotlight prefs under Leopard, and it does appear to retain the exclusion, even after unmounting and then turning the drive off and on.

  2. Matt Says:

    Well it does sound like Spotlight in Leopard is an improvement then. Thanks for the feedback. 🙂

    I think one of the reasons I like the theory of Spotlight is that it’s making the computer a bit more than a glorified filing system. In an ideal “star trek” world I should be able to just tell the computer what I want, rather than hunt for it!

    Another reason is that I’d rather find stuff by typing than by hunting around with the mouse…