Discover Your Mac: Spotlight Training CD
Posted: 7-Jan-2006

Mac Guild Grade

Publisher: Pantheon Design


Reviewer: Sterling McLane $29.99

Discover Your Mac: Spotlight Training CD
By Rick Ligas
Version 1.0, 2005

What is on the CD?
This CD contains a fairly comprehensive User Manual for Apple's Spotlight in the form of a QuickTime movie, a Table of Contents Viewer for the movie, and the requisite Read Me PDF file. The nearly 3-hour long movie can be played end to end, or once activated, the user may access any of the individual topics directly from the Table of Contents viewer. This CD is the first product in the Discover Your Mac series from Pantheon Design. The included topics range from using Spotlight directly from the Spotlight menu to utilizing Spotlight as it is integrated into Apple applications like iPhoto, to getting into Spotlight data via HTML and the OS-X Terminal.

The Spotlight movie scenes are arranged in an order that leads the viewer through the topics in an order of increasing complexity so that some of the later topics assume the viewer is familiar with capabilities discussed earlier in the movie. Fortunately, the Table of Contents Viewer makes it easy to go back and access that earlier topic.

Target Audience
Anyone running a current version of Mac OS X that includes Spotlight stands to benefit from this CD. The capabilities of Spotlight are pervasive throughout the current Mac operating system and the latest versions of Apple applications, and mere mortals are not likely to realize anything approaching its full benefit by just trying it from the menu bar and looking through the help files. This CD uncovers the Spotlight capabilities in a series of examples based on the scenario of a trip to Italy, and Spotlight is used to find and manage information related to that scenario.

What to Expect
The presentation of the material on this CD is clear and very well organized. The movie is presented as a Mac desktop display so there are no extraneous embellishments to get in the way. The audio is clear and understandable - again with no extraneous embellishments like music or sound effects: just the speaker's voice. That voice is clear and distinct, and perfectly suited for an individual topic, but for a non-stop pass through the entire movie it tends to make one drowsy.

The material on this CD is very detailed and useful. Using the example scenario, the presenter goes through detailed step-by-step procedures for not only the use of Spotlight, but how to set up your data to exercise the feature being discussed. He demonstrates the use of Smart Folders, Smart Groups, and Smart Mailboxes - logical constructs to organize the contents of your Mac by attributes and not their physical storage location. As an example, the segment on Spotlight and Address Book, includes a series of possibilities selecting a name in your Address Book and then pulling down the action menu and selecting Spotlight: "name" to look for everything on your computer associated with that name to setting up a "Smart Group" that will pull out people with a birthday coming up in the next 7 days and initiating emails to them.

In the segment on Spotlight and Keynote, the session begins with using the "Show Inspector" option from the View menu to add metadata associated with the presentation. He then goes on to show multiple ways to launch Spotlight from within the Keynote application. This is followed by a tutorial on using Spotlight to help create the presentation. Using a presentation that is barely an outline, he shows how to use words from the slide titles to search his iPhoto library for the images that are candidates for the slide, and places the images in the presentation by dragging them from the Spotlight menu to the slides. The presentation was built without having to work with dialog boxes or exhaustive searches through directories (or the iPhoto library)

The section on the Pages application followed up on the examples from the Keynote with a demonstration of using Spotlight to find and select text in notes files to build the final document.
The one topic that doesn't get explained in much detail is the Spotlight Query Language. After a couple of brief displays of examples, you are referred to the Apple Developers website for more information on this language.

I didn't find much to complain about with this CD except that you have to launch QuickTime before you can use the Table of Contents Viewer. If you try to launch QuickTime directly from the Table of Contents Viewer, Quicktime doesn't recognize the movie file.

One of my favorite things about this CD is the ability to use the movie playback controls to pause a presentation and go off to my desktop to try out what had just been demonstrated, and then return to the movie for the next bit of the presentation. This capability allows the viewer to determine the amount of information being digested at any point, and to reinforce what is demonstrated by some hands-on experience.

Another favorite feature of the CD is the Table of Contents Viewer with its high level of granularity that allows you to use it as a tutorial or "help" function when needed and go right to the part of the movie that will provide the information you need.

Finally, I very much appreciate that the producers of this CD realize that the material presented will most likely be accessed again and again in the "help" function mode, and have not done anything cute to make it hard to put the material on your hard disk where it will be readily available when you need it.

Mac Guild Grade
A (Outstanding)

Final Words
Overall it is excellent for its intended purpose, it has a good, but not great interface, its use is intuitive, and at the price point of $30 it provides good value for your money. I would recommend it for anyone running OSX 10.4 or higher.