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August 9, 2013

by Diana Weynand


Computers, these days, have lots of functionality which is often left untouched because people are either not sure what use it could be put to or are, in fact, a bit intimated by something new or unknown, when there is a chance of messing things up!

Today’s tip is all about Smart Folders, which definitely fall into this category. I must confess too that I never used them until I discovered just how useful they can be.

So, what the heck is a Smart Folder?  It’s a folder which you can make ‘smart’ by creating a set of rules for it that will determine its contents and thereafter dynamically update that folder’s content by that set of rules.

So, for instance, if you set the criteria for the contents of a Smart Folder to be all documents created by a specific application, then not only will that Smart Folder contain all documents created by that application, but also any future documents created by that application will also be added to that Smart Folder as you work.

Note, Smart Folders do not move or copy any of your files and documents etc. around on your computer. They are still where you originally saved them on your hard disk i.e. on your Desktop or in folders. As I said, what Smart Folders does is create a folder containing aliases of all your files that meet the criteria you set for the Smart Folder. 

Think about it! It is really a powerful tool. Say, for some reason whatever, you want instant access to all pdf files, no matter where they are saved on your hard disk, then you can create a Smart Folder with its contents determined by the specific search criteria of ‘pdfs’.  And remember, it which will also add to that Smart Folder any future pdfs you create too.

Smart folders make use of Spotlight, the Mac OSX search tool, to do all this.

Let’s start first by going to the Finder. Select New Smart Folder.


You can also use the shortcut to access a New Smart Folder – Command-Option-N. This will open a new Finder window.


In the Spotlight search entry box, start to type the criteria you want, for example pdfs.  As you type, you will see a list of all the pdfs, which you have created, in the first column as well as a drop down menu of your search criteria under the Spotlight search entry box. (Note, the menu under the search field will disappear if you click away from it)


Along the Search menu bar,  you will see a list of options which you select to instruct the computer where to search.

In this instance, the search criteria is for the Desktop or This Mac only.

Next to the Save button is a Plus Sign. Click on the Plus sign.


This will bring up an additional menu where you add other attributes to your Smart Folder search criteria.


Kind and Any work together to define your search. Kind will give you a selection regarding name, date and contents.


Any, will offer you a file type, like Application, Document, Image, Music, etc.


You will notice that both lists have an Other choice. Selecting Other under the Kind menu will bring up a very extensive list of additional options you can add to your search criteria.


This may seem horribly overwhelming at first, but if you scroll down and read some of the Attribute options, you’ll find some to be very useful, e.g. File Label. Remember, if you know what you are looking for in particular, you can use the Spotlight search field in this window to find it.


I’ve selected File Label, so I’m now adding this to my search. My search so far, is PDFs, This Mac and File Label. However, I am now going to select the Red label by clicking on it, as shown below, to add it to my search criteria. Now, you will see in the first column only those pdfs, which have a Red Label.


If you select Other from the Any menu, it will bring up another search field, which you can use to further customize your criteria.


You can now save and rename this Smart Folder by selecting the Save button at the top right of the window. This will bring up a Save As window to let you rename and save your Smart Folder.


If you check the Add to Sidebar box, it will also add the Smart Folder to your Sidebar too. Now select Save and remember to choose where you want to save it. (The default Saved Searches folder can be found under your user Library menu.)

Now, any time you select a Pdf and add a red label to it, it will automatically drop it into this Smart Folder. My favorite use of a Smart Folder is for when I’m searching for images on the web. I download them to my Desktop and label them with a different colored File Label, according to their subject matter, and then they get aggregated into their respective Smart Folders.

To modify a Smart Folder, simply open the folder or right click on the Cog Wheel (if the folder is in your Sidebar) and select Show Search Criteria.


By the way, you can also create Smart Folders in the Mail application although the set up is slightly different. More on that next time.