Finding files, using Spotlight power, with HoudahSpot 6.0

HoudahSpot 6.0 adopts the new Big Sur user interface with a fine-tuned new look, new icon, and a redesigned toolbar. The app adds support for Macs with Apple Silicon processors. That’s not all, though. HoudahSpot 6.0 comes packed with features and enhancements that will improve your productivity.

On macOS Catalina, HoudahSpot couldn’t search through your Mail messages. HoudahSpot 6.0 does again search Apple Mail messages. Yet, starting with macOS Catalina, Apple Mail messages are no longer available through the Spotlight index used by HoudahSpot, so its developer had to find a workaround. It’s become a plug-in that runs within the Mail application. This plug-in allows HoudahSpot to include Mail message files in your search results.

Very obvious when you start HoudahSpot 6.0 for the first time is the file tag cloud, which shows both favourite file tags and all the tags found in the current search results. It also shows the number of occurrences of each tag.

The tag cloud allows you to incrementally refine your search by simply clicking a tag to restrict your search to files having that tag. Command-clicking a tag excludes files. Holding the shift key while clicking clears a previous selection and selects only the last clicked tag.

HoudahSpot 6.0 has two ways of filtering search results — that can sometimes run into the thousands, which isn’t very helpful to find the needle in the proverbial haystack — to help you focus on relevant files by only showing you a subset of your search results.

The first method, which is the least powerful is to filter based on file and folder name, or on file path — through using literal matches or regular expressions. This method is the least powerful because you need to know things in advance, but the implementation is pretty powerful in its own right.

The most powerful and user-friendly, however, is HoudahSpot’s capability to filter files based on them sharing a common property, such as files modified the same day. You access this type of filter by opening the Info panel on any found file in the results list and scrolling down until you reach the Metadata Filters list. Here, you can just check the metadata you want to use to further refine your search. You can even keep the Info panel for the search results open so you can filter deeper by applying multiple filters, which — as each file type has its set of metadata with some more extensive than others — is a real boon for digging deeper.

This is because with each additional metadata field that is common between the files you’re looking for, your previous selection stays intact and the new metadata you check off is added to the filter.

The difference between filters and the ‘common’ search parametrisation is that you can’t create a filter that will narrow down on, for example, a Modified Date range as files only have set modified dates.

Other capabilities include the ability to group search results by file tags or volume/drive. In the Refine pane, many attributes now offer the “is set” operator. This operator matches files that have a value for the selected attribute — you can, for example, find files that have at least one tag as their “Tags” attribute is set. The criterion can be nested in a “none of the following is true” group to find files that lack tags. It’s a good way to find PDF files that lack “Text Content”. These files may need OCR processing.

HoudahSpot 6.0 now also remembers recent searches and makes it easy to share search configurations.