Miscellaneous Ramblings

Pismo Spotlight and Find Woes Persist with Latest Version of Tiger

Charles Moore - 2007.03.12 - Tip Jar

In early 2006, both Spotlight and the Find utility had stopped working on my G4-upgraded Pismo PowerBook running (at the time) Mac OS X 10.4.4 "Tiger". It had worked fine for eight months or so, but now when I typed a word or phrase into the Spotlight or Find search fields, no response. And there was no audible indication that Spotlight was updating the index on my hard drive.

I hadn't changed or installed anything new other than reverting to a fresh OS install, and as far as I could fathom, the glitch just manifested spontaneously.

Back to Panther

I booted back into OS X 10.3.9 "Panther" on my external FireWire drive to double check that Panther's (superior) Find utility still worked. It did. What the hey?

Maybe it was something in my settings or preferences imported when I reinstalled the system. I figured I might as well bite the bullet and do a completely clean install of Tiger and live with the time-consuming hassle of having to restore all my settings by dragging them over from my iBook and reinstalling some software. I don't use a lot of system add-ons, and ones I do - like WindowShade X and TypeIt4Me - are easy and quick to install, so that wasn't too bad a prospect. In the end, it turned out that the preferences I dragged over from my iBook Home Library folder mostly worked fine with my applications, and I didn't have to do much registration key reentry.

Unfortunately, it was all for nought. With the fresh system install, Spotlight and Find still obstinately refused to work. So why not cut the aggravation (I had by that point run a dozen or so system reinstalls and updates) and just "downgrade" to 10.3.9? I would miss Spotlight, but on the other hand, I dislike Tiger's Find utility and much prefer the one in Panther anyway, which would mitigate things considerably. Besides, third party disk search utilities like Devon Technologies' EasyFind (freeware) and SpeedSearch (shareware) can serve as alternatives to Spotlight. I decided to go for it and hopefully end the hassle and aggravation I was experiencing with Tiger.

It worked.

For more than a year, OS X 10.3.9 has been giving me pretty much flawless service on the Pismo with no problems to speak of. Not a one. I reboot every couple of months or so to refresh the memory and have otherwise done about zero maintenance. I can't even recall whether I had bothered to run OnyX or MainMenu to activate the cron system maintenance scripts, repair permissions, and so forth over the past 12 months.

To the only fly in the ointment, so to speak, has been Spotlight - or rather the lack of it. I have something of a love/hate relationship with Spotlight, but I've become seriously addicted, and I miss it more and more when it's not available. Devon Technologies' freeware search utility EasyFind helps filled the void, but being unindexed, it's substantially slower.

Giving Tiger Another Try

Consequently, a couple of weekends ago, I decided it was time to give Tiger another shot on the Pismo. When I experienced the problems last year, it was with OS X 10.4.4, and there have been four Tiger upgrades released since then, so I hoped that whatever the issue had been in early '06, it had by now been dealt with.

Toward ensuring that everything would go as smoothly as possible, I ran DiskWarrior to create a nice, fresh, optimized disk directory. It is another testament to OS X 10.3.9's stability that after a year of daily use and no maintenance, the verification scan found only two or three very minor improper filename issues that were easily repaired.

I also used OnyX to run the cron scripts, repair permissions, and dump the various system caches before running the OS X 10.4.8 combo updater. That all went smoothly, and after the update's tandem reboots, I hopefully tried hitting Command-F.

The Find dialog appeared, but typing words into the search field produced no response. Ditto for Spotlight.

Of course it hadn't had time yet to index the hard drive. I listened for audible evidence that indexing process had commands. Nothing. Just the hum of the hard drive.

Bummer. "Should have stuck with 10.3.9," I thought ruefully. On the other hand, Tiger seemed to be running happily - and without the sluggishness I had noted on this machine with earlier builds of Tiger prior to 10.4.8.

Of course, 10.3.9 doesn't have Spotlight either, although it does have an excellent Find utility that does make quick and convenient filename searches - and Find was not working at all with Tiger.

By Googled a bit and found a Spotlight troubleshooting tips tutorial on OS X Daily that offered a variety of suggestions on on how to goose recalcitrant Spotlight indexing into action. At least the problem isn't unique to my old PowerBook, although I'm not sure that's especially reassuring. I tried the fixes.

Solution #1: Kill SystemUIServer using Activity Monitor.

Did so. No improvement.

Solution #2: Rebuild the Spotlight Index manually using the command sudo mdutil -E / in the Terminal.

Tried that. Still no indexing.

Solution #3: Change Desktop Resolution

Didn't help

Solution #4: Clear caches and preferences

Tried it with MainMenu, since I had already run OnyX, but no joy.

Solution #5: Reboot your Mac

That's what I tried first.

A Persistent Problem

I'm stymied. Whatever the problem is, it has survived several system reinstalls including a clean one, a year plus running OS X 10.3.9 again, and an update to 10.4.8. The weird thing is that Spotlight worked okay on the Pismo when I first installed Tiger back in the spring of '05.

LocatorWhat to do? I'm not inclined to go through the hassle and configuration tedium of downgrading to OS X 10.3.9 again, but I can't live without a decent filename search utility. Happily, I discovered one called Locator, which is a GUI front end to the /usr/bin/locate command that works very nicely and quickly to find files on the computer. It will also search within results, which is something I find frustratingly lacking in Spotlight. Locator offers regular expression searches and is able to index removable media like CDs.

Of course, Locator is just for file name searches, but there is always EasyFind for searching content. Another workaround option would be to have DEVONthink Pro, which has an absolutely kick-ass search engine, index all my documents.

Of course, I'd love to find a fix for the Spotlight glitch, but I'm not holding my breath. If anyone has any suggestions I haven't tried, please email me. [Please see Pismo Spotlight Woes Solved with Simple Fix for the unexpected solution.]

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Charles Moore has been a freelance journalist since 1987 and began writing for Mac websites in May 1998. His The Road Warrior column was a regular feature on MacOpinion, he is news editor at Applelinks.com and a columnist at MacPrices.net. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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