When I first started using Snow Leopard, I used spotlight to launch programs. I would type cmd-space and the first few letters of the program (chr to launch Google Chrome, for example).

This worked great for about a week -- the first result was always the application, and results turned up instantaneously.

Since then Spotlight has gotten progressively slower, to the point that now, if I type "illus" to launch Adobe Illustrator, it takes more than 10 seconds (a loonnng time) to find the Illustrator application. This even though I use it all the time and it's in the recent programs list.

Does anyone know why Spotlight is so slow to find a file near the top of the disk hierarchy that's in frequent use?

I have tried adding and removing various disks etc. from the privacy pane of the Spotlight system settings. Even when I put every disk and folder in the "prevent" list except applications, Spotlight is agonizingly slow.

I also tried deleting the spotlight preferences in the preferences folder, and disabled all the "mdimporter" files that were in /Library/Spotlight:

  • AppleWorks
  • GBSpotlightImporter
  • iWork
  • LogicPro
  • Microsoft Office

Nothing helped.


The best solution I've found so far is to periodically remove the applications folder from Spotlight using the privacy pane of the System Preferences. After adding it back, Spotlight speeds up quite a bit.

  • After doing this for a few weeks, it is not clear that it helps very much. I did it yesterday, and today Spotlight is slow again. Dec 21 '10 at 10:28

I found a better way to launch programs quickly in Snow Leopard than using Spotlight (which turned out to be too slow).

  1. change the keyboard shortcut for Spotlight (cmd-space) to activate the dock.

  2. group your dock icons alphabetically, but by frequency of use within each letter. For example, I use Adobe Photoshop more than Adobe Illustrator so I put Photoshop before Illustrator in the Dock.

Programs beginning with F should go right after the Finder.

Now, I can launch any program by typing command-space then the first letter of the program (and a down arrow or two if necessary).

It's instant, whereas using Spotlight to launch programs meant a 2-3 second wait each time.

  • 1
    You have heard of application launchers, such as Quicksilver, Alfred, Google QSB or LaunchBar, right?
    – Daniel Beck
    Feb 15 '11 at 16:47
  • Of course. I would have used one of them as a last resort. But I prefer to keep my system as simple as possible, and the dock solution works perfectly with no extra installs. Jun 16 '11 at 9:08

I got a big speed-up when I added my Time Machine disk to the excluded locations in the Privacy tab of Spotlight Preferences (System Preferences > Spotlight).

Before that, it took like 20 seconds just to look up a contact name (which is my most common use case). Now it's almost instantaneous.

I manually reindexed Spotlight after excluding the Time Machine disk using:

sudo mdutil -E /

from the command line in Terminal.

  • That would help, but I had trouble even without a TM backup. Thanks! Apr 6 '16 at 9:17
  • Yes, I definitely get the idea the fight for Spotlight performance is a war of attrition :) I just thought I'd add this response for the benefit of anyone arriving here on search as a possible avenue worth trying.
    – scanny
    Apr 6 '16 at 19:11

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