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Apple’s aptly-named smart folders can find, filter, and focus content on your Mac, saving you the trouble of hunting down and cleaning up your data. Pierre Benard’s powerful HoudahSpot ($29.00) turns smart folders into super smart folders with a simpler user interface and smart search templates.

Smart folder technology is a dynamic, but probably underused, feature in Mac OS X. Smart folders can collect files from anywhere on your Mac, based on a pre-defined set of criteria. You can create a folder for collecting all your recently downloaded applications Automatically Clean Up Your Mac OS X Downloads (or Any) Folder Automatically Clean Up Your Mac OS X Downloads (or Any) Folder The Downloads folder is often one of the most cluttered and disorganised places to be, so let your computer take a share of the burden and have it clean your Downloads folder automatically. Read More , PDFs, photos, recently created documents — anything for which search criteria can be defined.

The more you use Apple’s smart folders, the more you will want more power from the feature. Enter HoudahSpot. 

Finder Smart Folders

Similar to smart mailboxes in Apple Mail Five Essential Smart Mailboxes For Apple Mail [Mac] Five Essential Smart Mailboxes For Apple Mail [Mac] Read More , to create a smart Finder folder, simply go to the Finder and select File > New Smart Folder. From there either conduct a search for the type of file you’re looking for, or click the plus “+” button on the top-right side, and select the kind of content you want to the smart folder to capture. You can click the plus “+” button again to add additional criteria.

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For example, we can create a criteria search for files opened in the last two weeks. Additional attributes include searching for specific types of files, such as applications, PDFs, images, or text files. This smart folder will capture all the files based on the criteria without relocating the files in their original folder.

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You can save your smart search as a permanent folder anywhere on your Mac. You can also elect to add the saved folder to the Sidebar of Finder windows, where it can be quickly accessed.

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Apple’s smart folder feature includes dozens of other attributes to choose from. Click on “Other” from the drop-down menu, and you can put selected attributes in the menu for quicker access.

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Right-click on a saved smart folder to show and edit the criteria.

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Apple’s smart folders work for simple searches, but you will soon notice limitations. For example, the collection of attributes doesn’t include a way to exclude certain types of files from a search, though you can specify just one kind of files to search for.

Smart searches also don’t allow for searching several locations on your Mac at once, nor do they allow you to exclude specific locations. You also can’t save searches as templates to be used as the basis of new smart folders. This is where HoudahSpot comes in, with lots more advantages.

HoudahSpot Smart Searching

HoudahSpot works similarly to Apple’s smart Finder folders, but you will see that it offers several more options, and its features allow for creating smart folders easier, as well as saving them as a templates. 

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Though the application may not look that intuitive when you first open it, it comes with a collection of smart folder templates to get your started. So for example, the Applications template is set up to locate all your applications, and from there you can refine your search, for example, to filter for applications that have not be opened recently.

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With this type of search, you might decide to delete those applications because you’re no longer using them. Deleting files can be done from within HoudahSpot. 

As with Apple’s smart folder search, HoudahSpot can search for recently opened files, but notice that also includes additional criteria for refining the search. As an example Content Kind ‘is not’ can be used. 

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HoudahSpot allows you to drop file types on top of a new attribute to create a new criteria.  For example, if I wanted to exclude .003 OmniOutliner files from my search, I can simply drag and drop the file onto an existing attribute to make it a criteria.

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Some other useful ready-made templates include Long Lost Files, which collects content that hasn’t been opened in over five years. Notice in the criteria, HoudahSpot can exclude folders from searches, and also search more than one date range. It can also include more than one location on your Mac and/or exclude others.

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Working With Features

One drawback to HoudahSpot is that you can’t save searches in the sidebar of the Finder. But they can be saved and re-opened anywhere on your Mac. HoudahSpot also allows for creating multiple searches as tabs within the application, similar to how multiple windows can be opened as tabs in Finder.

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Notice also in the info pane how HoudahSpot provides a Quick Look of selected files, in addition to metadata about files, which can be useful for further refining research. For example, I refined an image search that captures my most recent imported iPhone camera images, by simply clicking on the Device Model (iPhone 6) in the list of attributes for images files. 

File attributes

If you do several types of searches with similar attributes, HoudahSpot provides a snippets feature that allows for saving a multiple attributes to use for creating a new search. So for example, you can save a Date Create range snippet for the first three months of the current year, or one for a specified prior year. 

To create snippet of criteria, start a new Smart Search Tab from the File menu, set and highlight each of your criteria, and then click on Search >Save As Snippet.

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Similarly you can create custom templates for the various types of searches you conduct on a regular basis.

Powerful Tool For Advanced Search

HoudahSpot might not appeal to all general Mac users, but for power users who manage lots of files and data, the advanced search program is a good investment. You can quickly create searches that would take twice as long (or would be impossible) using Apple’s limited features. 

In addition to smart folders, we highly recommend you take advantage of other automation programs like the third-party program Keyboard Maestro Automate Everything On Your Mac with Keyboard Maestro [Mac] Automate Everything On Your Mac with Keyboard Maestro [Mac] I've written several articles about Mac automation, including a MUO Automation Guide on how to get started with Apple's Automator and the built-in OS X features for creating smart folders, playlists, albums, and mailboxes. But... Read More , the folder management program Hazel Hazel - Performing Tasks On Your Mac So You Don't Have To Hazel - Performing Tasks On Your Mac So You Don't Have To I have previously written an entire MUO guide about using Apple's smart folders and Automator program, but a classic third-party application called Hazel is one of my personal automation assistants that works in the background,... Read More  and the powerful smart folders, albums, and playlists available in Apple’s default applications.

Let us know how you use smart folder technology, and what you think of HoudahSpot.

Image Credits: optical glass with Folder Via Shutterstock

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