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Bring Google, Wolfram Alpha, the weather and just about anything else to Spotlight. Flashlight is a third-party plugin system for your Mac’s search, and all we can say is it should have been a part of Yosemite by default.
It’s a new feature in Yosemite that some users missed – what was once a tiny menu is now a large, central pop-up. There are some things this new tool can do: you can look up the definition of any word, search Bing, and launch music in iTunes. But there’s not a lot of flexibility, if you want to use tools other than those provided by Apple.
Unless, that is, you install a free program called Flashlight.
A Collection Of Plugins For Spotlight
Fire up Flashlight and you’ll see a series of switches. First hit “Enable Spotlight plugins”, then explore everything and turn on anything that interests you. “Featured” is worth checking out first.
Probably the most straight-forward example of what this can do (and something Apple probably should have included by default) is weather. All you need to do is type “weather” followed by the name of a city to see current conditions and a few days’ forecast:
It’s quick, and it looks great. But there’s more here: you can also translate just about anything.
If you prefer numbers to words, you can query Wolfram Alpha – meaning almost any stat or calculation is just a few keystrokes away.
Wolfram Alpha does all kinds of things you wouldn’t expect, so be sure to play around with this one. You can look at the site within Spotlight, or hit “Enter” at any time to bring up the same page in your default browser.
Bring Google To Spotlight
Were you excited to hear that Spotlight in Yosemite would include results from a major search engine, only to be disappointed when you found out it was Bing? Good news: you can get your Google back. A Flashlight plugin called “Web Search” lets you quickly query Google just by typing “g” and your search terms.
You can hit “Enter” to open this same search in the browser, or click any of the results. Note that there’s a lot of different information that pops up by default. Google results – addresses and phone numbers, for example, or even sports scores. If you’re a Leafs fan (as I am) you can see the latest reason for your sadness by typing “g Leafs”
Maybe you need to see something happier than that. If you prefer images, you can simply type “pictures of” follow by the cutest thing you can think of:
It works for non-cute things as well. The same plugin can also search DuckDuckGo, Twitter and even Reddit so be sure to check all of that out.
Create Your Own Spotlight Plugins With Automator
Can’t find a plugin to do what you want? There’s not a lot out there on the broader web yet, but if you’re curious you can try your hand at creating your own Spotlight plugin. Python coders are encouraged to play around with existing plugins to see how everything works, but if you’re not a coder you’re not out of luck: there’s support for creating simple Automator extensions. These won’t feature in-line results, but also don’t require any coding.
It’s going to take some experimenting to get everything working, but I was able to set up a simple script for playing any folder full of music on my computer in VLC – it works flawlessly. Here’s what that looks like:
The automator script is on the left –it searches my music collection for folders, using what I typed in Spotlight (I’m using the variable ~album). The second step narrows by results to only folders, and the third opens the folder in VLC.
On the right you can see the name, description and examples I set for Flashlight. Setting examples teaches Flashlight how to recognize when you’re trying to use this script – feel free to include a few. Also be sure to use the variable you set in Automator to represent your text in the example – this is what lets Spotlight connect with Automator. I got my script to work in a few hours (much longer than it took to accomplish in Alfred), and it works.
It’s not simple – at this point it’s probably easier to create your own workflow in the Spotlight-alternative Alfred. Let me know what you create!
Only The Beginning
How does this work? Flashlight essentially injects itself into Spotlight – it’s basically a fork of SIMBL. This isn’t supported by Apple, to say the least. To quote Flashlight developer Nate Parrott:
It’s very rough right now, and a horrendous hack, but a fun proof of concept.
It will be very interesting to see how this project evolves.
I personally hope Apple eventually supports third-party plugins in Spotlight, because it makes the service a lot more useful. Do you think that’s likely to happen? And what Flashlight plugins are you finding most useful? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.
Where should Apple take Spotlight next?