OS X: Everything you need to use Smart Folders

Inside OS X since 2004, Smart Folders can save you time -- so long as you use them. In this short report, we'll look at what they are, how they're made and create an example folder.

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What they are

Like Spotlight, Smart Folders originated with BeOS in the mid '90's. They don't contain the original files, just automatically created aliases that link to the original content wherever on your drive it happens to be.

Smart Folders use Spotlight to populate themselves according to your own search criteria. 

What does this mean? It means you can set up Smart Folders to find, for example, images imported in a month; documents created within certain dates or even songs in a particular tempo. You can use multiple values in your search, confine it to particular file formats, set date ranges and more.

Once you create a Smart Folder it will automatically update itself with any relevant new files you add. Since the release of Mavericks, many Mac users have used Tags; I prefer Smart Folders, as I don't need to remember to Tag things while I work.

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[ABOVE: There are over 100 different criteria you can use.]

Create Smart Folders

1. Make Smart Folders in Finder by:

File>New Smart Folder or Command-Option-N.

Or, by beginning a search in a new Finder window.

2. Under the title bar, select where you want the folder to search. To limit this to a specific folder, select it and begin a search in the search bar. The criteria selector appears when you click the + button to the right.

3. See the words "Kind" and "Any"? These are the criteria. Change these using the drop down list accessed by clicking on the words. Default "Kind" alternatives include Size and Created Date, with over 100 more possibilities available if you select Other. Define specific document types in the "Any" menu: Application, Archive, Document, etc.

4. As you begin defining criteria, you'll see results appear in the window below. Make these more accurate by adding new criteria -- just click the + situated to the right of each new criteria strip.

5. You get a host of new options, a few in the drop down menu that appears and dozens more once you select Other. If the search still isn't accurate enough, you can add another line of variables just by pressing the + button.

6. Once you've created a Smart Folder that accurately finds what you need, save it using the Save button. The search will be saved inside "Saved Searches" in the Library folder. To make it accessible in the Finder sidebar, tick "Add to Sidebar" in the Save dialog.

7. To edit a Smart Folder, right-click it in the sidebar and select "Show Search Criteria," or open it and select that option in the gears menu.

8. You can save a Smart Folder so it only appears in specific apps if you select Command-F in the Save dialog of the app.

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Population control

As an example, we're going to create a Smart Folder to monitor large files.

  • Press Command-Option-N.
  • Select This Mac and click the + button
  • Select File Size and choose "Is Greater Than".
  • Pop 1 in the text box and select GB.

Now you see every file on your system over 1GB in size

To refine this click the + button.

  • If you want to refine the search to monitor Movies, select Kind and choose Movie in the new criteria line -- choose whatever criteria you need.
  • Save the search and check Add to Sidebar.

I hope this short guide helps you make better use of Smart Folders.

Mavericks Tips and Tricks

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