The Mac’s Spotlight feature is powerful enough to find any file on your Mac, but its functionality is limited. You could index your documents using a database app like DEVONthink Pro and then search within that database, but that isn’t a set-it-and-forget-it game. There’s a much more powerful search app that is in a league of its own: FoxTrot Professional Search.
FoxTrot Professional Search is a true discovery tool, not just another way to search through your Spotlight indexed files. The app does use Spotlight to build its own indexes (plural as you can have multiple) but does not solely rely on the Mac’s Spotlight index. For example, by default FoxTrot uses Spotlight’s metadata importer to extract text from PDF documents, but the alternate Xpdf method will give better results with some documents than Spotlight’s importer.
NOTE: in FoxTrot Professional Search the plural “indices” is used as the term refers to a technical process from their point of view. An index like the one you find in a book can be pluralised to indexes, which is what I’ll be using throughout this review.
FoxTrot Search consists of an app where you search, a menu applet and a 25$ iOS partner app, FoxTrot Attaché.
Creating an index takes little time. On my slow mid-2017 iMac three indexes of 165,000 46,000 6,000 files took less than 10 minutes to create. I was bracing myself for at least half an hour. You can encrypt an index which is useful if you want to share it across devices. Interestingly, you can index DEVONthink content.
Searching can be exciting, because FoxTrot finds things of which you didn’t even know you had it on board. I’ll give you an example. Without first going through the help files or the app itself, I created a query with the following words: Arq 7 backup. That returned six documents of which three were reviews I wrote on the backup software and two were email messages sent to my editors. I was surprised to find yet another one: the user guide of DEVONthink Pro 3.
Conclusion: even without taking as much as a tour of the interface, FoxTrot Professional Search was useful. Without quotation marks it returned every document that contained either one of the terms. In DEVONthink’s user guide, for example, there were a lot of occurrences of the term “backup” and the digit “7”, as well as the exact query. When I put quotation marks around my query, the list contained documents that contained this exact query only.
If you do take a tour of the interface, though, you’ll find there is a lot more to FoxTrot than my simple search. You can exclusively search for metadata, file names, subjects, titles, authors, contact names, keywords, comments, tags… You can filter by date or apply an advanced filter. You can do all of those at once and end up with a complex query.
That’s not all. You can include all the words, at least one of them, only consecutive words, neighbouring words, match the FoxTrot Query. The latter, the query syntax system of the app, includes the query with quotation marks that I instinctively created when trying out FoxTrot without further looking into its workings. It has its own help pages, though, and it includes the ability to exclude words, use wildcards, proximity searches — it even supports regex (regular expressions)!
Finally, you can construct a query using multiple parameters in a boolean AND or OR structure. For instance, you can create a query that first looks up all PDFs on your system and searches only these for content.
The advanced filter is another gem. It lets you finetune your search by filtering on file name, extension, parent folder, full path, and more. Each of those can further be narrowed down to starting/ending with the string and/or ignoring a number of criteria such as lowercase/uppercase, etc, etc.
Once you are satisfied with the list FoxTrot has generated, you can start looking into the found documents set. The first thing you’ll want to do when the list still is considerable, is to select an exact location, file type, or other criterium from the left sidebar. This again narrows down the list’s scope until you click these criteria again.
By default, the app displays the FoxTrot Preview of your documents, which is what FoxTrot considers to be the best rendition for the document type, but you can choose other preview types, either ad hoc or permanently. If the document contains text, it will highlight the search terms throughout so you can jump from one occurrence to the next. If you used multiple terms like I did, each term will be coloured differently which makes finding the exact one you’re after a breeze.
With images, FoxTrot does not show the IPTC or EXIF information, but it does offer a path to opening the file with Preview or to reveal it in the Finder.
You can add a bookmark to a file you found. That makes it easy to return to that file later on, and you can rename the bookmark and organise bookmarks in folders. If you find yourself entering the same queries over and over again, you can save your query as a template as well.
Is FoxTrot Professional Search worth the money? FoxTrot is incredibly fast, flexible and powerful. Other search apps do exist but none come close to FoxTrot’s feature set, speed and power.
FoxTrot Search Professional retails at $120. A 5-Users licence retails at $240 while Server costs $480. The Server edition lets you share indexes with other people worldwide and supports encrypted networks and SSL/TLS.