Leopard review part 3: Finder and Spotlight

I’ve talked about upgrading Mac OS X Tiger to Leopard, and about Leopard’s look and feel compared to Tiger’s. Here I’ll look at the new Leopard Finder, and talk about the Spotlight search feature in Leopard compared to its Tiger counterpart.

Finder in Tiger, while serviceable, always felt a bit clunky to me. Opening big folders was sluggish; the sidebar had its limitations; network shares were handled poorly. In particular, the way the entire system would hang when a network share dropped was appalling.

The Finder in Mac OS X Leopard

The Finder in Mac OS X Leopard

The Finder in Leopard is a definite improvement. Big folders open quickly. Preview icons take less time to render. The sidebar is nicer looking, and actually lists other computers in your network in the sidebar – this is a wonderful feature, as any network share is now only a couple of clicks away. But most importantly: No more system hangs when working with network shares! Not only do shares drop less often (despite Leopard’s Airport going up and down like a yo-yo – not sure why), but when they do, there’s no beachball for 10 minutes. This makes working on my wife’s Mac over the network actually usable now.

Going with the flow

Leopard’s Finder in Cover Flow mode

Leopard’s Finder offers a fourth way to view files and folders: as well as the traditional Icons, List and Columns views, we now have Cover Flow view. This works just like Cover Flow in iTunes, but instead of viewing album covers, you see previews of the items in the current folder. In theory this is great, as you can flip through a folder’s contents without having to actually open files to view them. In practice, it’s good for things like photos, just about OK for PDFs (if you make the Finder window big enough), and pointless for applications (all you see is a huge version of the application’s icon).

Other improvements

There are a few other minor improvements to the Finder, such as:

  • The new Use as Defaults button in the View Options dialog – an improvement over the old This Window Only/All Windows system in Tiger.
  • You can now control grid spacing in Icons view – great if you want to view lots of items in a window.
  • A nice Search For section in the sidebar allows you to quickly view all files changed in the last 24 hours, 48 hours, or week. There are also predefined searches for all images, movies and documents, and you can store your own searches here too.
  • When you press Return to rename a file, it only highlights the name (Tiger highlighted the extension too), making it easier to rename files while keeping their extensions intact.

Finding fault

It’s not all a bed of roses with the new Finder. For some reason, Finder on my wife’s iMac seems to like spinning up the external hard drive (with attendant 5-second freeze) whenever you do anything, such as opening a new window. It doesn’t happen on my iMac and, since I’ve only enabled Time Machine on my wife’s computer, I can only assume that Time Machine is the culprit.

Also, having an iDisk shortcut right at the top of the sidebar is pretty pointless unless you happen to have a .Mac account. I kept clicking it by mistake, prompting an annoying dialog box. (Fortunately it’s easy to remove by dragging it out of the sidebar.)

On the whole though, I love the new Finder in Leopard. It’s not revolutionary, but it’s an improvement over Tiger’s finder on almost every level, and actually helps me get stuff done faster.


Apple has made some significant improvements to Spotlight in Leopard. The biggest change for me is that it’s actually fast enough to be usable now. It no longer freezes half-way through typing a search term, and the results appear in 5 seconds, not 50. With Tiger, I could actually find my file manually in the Finder quicker than Spotlight could. Not so in Leopard.

In addition, it’s now a usable app launcher; if you type in an application’s name, it always appears as the Top Hit – just press Return to launch it.

Spotlight’s Show All feature is now more integrated into the Finder. In Tiger, Show All had its own quirky search results window; in Leopard it looks more like a regular Finder window. Indeed, the search results window now works the same way, regardless of whether you search via the Finder or via Spotlight. Much less confusing.

Spotlight in Leopard

Other Spotlight improvement include the ability to search just file names (great for narrowing down searches), boolean searches (AND, OR, NOT), and the ability to search all Macs on your network, not just your own.


Apple’s done a good job with the Finder and Spotlight in Leopard. While the improvements aren’t earth-shattering, they do make the Mac nicer and quicker to use. Everything feels snappier, more polished, and more stable. That’s a thumbs up from me!

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