six colors

by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Dan Moren

Flashlight makes Spotlight shine brighter

OS X Yosemite brought some nice improvements to Spotlight, so on a whim I decided to forego my traditional launcher-plus-kitchen-sink Alfred and see if I might get by with the built-in alternative.

So far, I’ve actually been pretty pleased. Unlike previous iterations, Spotlight is much faster at launching applications, which was primarily what I was looking for. Alfred, with all of its various powers and capabilities, ended up being a little heavier than what I was looking for—I never even touched most of its features.

But I did miss some of Alfred’s additional features—I made myself a “Paste as Plain Text” OS X service that ended up being a lot harder to create than I thought—so I was intrigued by Nate Parrott’s Flashlight project.

Spotlight with Flashlight
Searching IMDB via Spotlight (with Flashlight)

Flashlight extends Spotlight with a number of additional plugins, letting you quickly bring up a weather forecast, quickly perform a Google search, query Wolfram Alpha, and more. All of these results show up in Spotlight’s preview pane, which is essentially treated as a webview. (It also seems to use the mobile version of some of the sites, such as IMDB, which is a little peculiar, but probably fits better.) You can also write your own plugins, presuming you’re conversant with Python.

Spotlight with Flashlight
The Flashlight interface.

As Parrott himself notes, Flashlight’s kind of rough and is, in essence, a hack, since it relies on code injection (obligatory security warning). But it’s a clever, free utility nonetheless, bringing a little additional juice to Spotlight without getting in the way of its simplicity and elegance. Still, it’s probably not going to get any devotees of LaunchBar, Alfred, and so on to toss their preferred solutions to the wind.

For my part, I haven’t ended up missing Alfred as much as I thought, especially when my muscle memory retrained itself after a few days. We’ll see if Flashlight increases my dependence on Spotlight.

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[Dan Moren is a tech writer, novelist, podcaster, and the Official Dan of Six Colors. You can email him at dan@sixcolors.com or find him on Twitter at @dmoren.]