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Leopard's beefier Spotlight may reconfigure Tiger indexes

Apple's search technology Spotlight is getting a serious makeover in Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard: speedier performance, a greater reach for its searches and an overall improvement in its usability. However, the new version appears to use a different format for its indexing and some folks qualifying Leopard report trouble when dual-booting into Tiger.

Leopard’s beefier Spotlight may reconfigure Tiger indexes
Apple's search technology Spotlight is getting a serious makeover in Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard: speedier performance, a greater reach for its searches and an overall improvement in its usability. However, the new version appears to use a different format for its indexing and some folks qualifying Leopard report trouble when dual-booting into Tiger.

Yesterday I spoke with a longtime reader who's a Mac IT director. He is qualifying Leopard client and testing Leopard from an external FireWire drive connected to an Intel Mac. He boots between the external Leopard system and his internal Tiger setup.

He said that Leopard appears to be overwriting either a preference or the index on the Tiger volume. When he reboots back into Tiger, Spotlight starts churning the machine to recreate the index. It also wipes out the preferences, he said.

"When I rebooted back into Tiger from the internal drive (to get my actual work done), all my Spotlight prefs were reset and mdimport began working. I went back to Leopard and added my internal HD to the Privacy list, then went back to Tiger, where Spotlight again began rebuilding the database," he said.

"I haven't been willing to reboot into the new system again quite yet, as I don't have the time or inclination to have it chugging away on indexing. Spotlight rebuilding slows my machine down too much," he concluded. He said the reindexing took about 9 hours.

A developer, who also declined attribution, when contacted about the rebuilding issue said: "That might explain some of the problems I'm having."

It appears that the index internals were changed for Leopard. This makes sense since the technology is checking and reporting on more resources on the drive. From the reports, Leopard can read Tiger indexes but not the other way around.

According to reviews, Leopard Spotlight results are retrieved more quickly than in Tiger. Often such speed boosts from a data store are enabled by an optimization in the index format and structure. This kind of change is always incompatible.

However, another longtime Mac developer said this action sounded like a bug, rather than a feature.

Switchers from the Windows side often remark on the speed of Spotlight on Tiger, especially when compared with Windows XP. Still, the performance of Spotlight's search-ahead feature was always annoying — after typing in a few letters, the search would stall and then catch up with you in a bit for the whole word or phrase. I always typed out the query and pasted it into the search box.

Now, Spotlight in Leopard gains a lot of power with the addition of Boolean AND, OR, and NOT conditions, and exact phrase searching.

However, the Spotlight feature I look forward to most in Leopard is the searching of visited websites. In the past, I've avoided a website management utility or Google Desktop, which also offers this feature.

However, it sounds as if Leopard Spotlight does more than search for the name of the site. Apple says Spotlight can now search for content on the sites and then open a result in the browser. That's a good increase in functionality.