Spotlight

Hello There! You guys should have read the earlier post by Andy Ruff mentioning that 'We're Back' and more people from our team will be blogging here. I am not exactly part of MacBU or Entourage product development group, but I work very closely with them. So who am I and what do I do for living?

Who am I?
My full name is M. Amir Haque and I go by Amir (pronounced as 'Aamer'). I joined Microsoft in Sep. of 2000 as a Support Engineer in PSS (Product Support Services). I have always been part of 'Microsoft Enterprise Messaging' support group, which provides Exchange support to big enterprises (like Fortune 1000 companies) and professional customers out there. I specialize in 'Exchange Client Connectivity' (Outlook & Entourage), Outlook Web Access, RPC over HTTP, and other Exchange Mobility-related features like Exchange ActiveSync (server-side). In my current job role as a 'Support Escalation Engineer', I focus on technical mentoring and support case escalations. I develop & present training to support engineers and provide product feedback to different development groups here at Microsoft. I also work closely with Entourage product group in Mac Business Unit at Microsoft and this has enabled me to beta test Entourage since it started talking to Exchange Server with 10.1.4 Update for Entourage X, released on Aug. 4th, 2003. I recently tested new features released in 11.2.3 Update for Entourage 2004 for Mac and plan to post some blogs about them over here. This is the first blog of that series.

What does this new feature provide?
With the new 11.2.3 Update installed, you can now use Apple’s Spotlight feature to execute searches against your Entourage database contents. Spotlight can find any item inside your Entourage database; it does not matter, where that item is. You can find any item related to any kind of mail account (POP, IMAP or Exchange) which is present in a folder inside your Entourage database. Folder type also does not matter, i.e. Spotlight can search all folders of any type related to any kind of mail account. As Entourage downloads a copy of each item in its local database, even when you use IMAP or Exchange mail account (which are only ‘mirrored’ locally in database, Entourage does not delete messages from the mailbox on server after downloading), thus using Spotlight you can execute searches against all of those items.

What are the basic requirements to use this new feature?
So what does one need to do to start using this feature? Nothing! Yes, nothing if you have already installed the 11.2.3 Update for Office 2004 for Mac from Mactopia on top of your Mac OS X (Mac OS 10.4 or higher is required, recommended is latest i.e. 10.4.5) system. You don’t need to configure anything; it just works right out of the box. We recommend waiting for some time if you have a huge database (in gigabytes), so that Spotlight can complete its indexing process for Entourage’s database. Otherwise, wait for just a few minutes and you will be all set to go!

Where are the preferences for this feature?
If you want to set preferences inside Entourage related to this feature, just go to Entourage : Preferences : General Preferences : Spotlight (screenshot)

You will see the following 2 options:

1. A check box saying 'Include Entourage items in Spotlight search results'

This box will be checked by default for the very first identity (if you have multiple identities) which you will use in Entourage after you install 11.2.3 Update. Checking this box makes the Entourage database available to Spotlight for indexing, which is needed for you to be able to search quickly thru items inside Entourage database. If you want to turn off this feature, just uncheck this box & items inside this identity won't show up in your Spotlight search.

2. A button labeled as 'Rebuild'

Pressing this button will remove and recreate the Entourage index that Spotlight uses. Depending on the size of the Entourage database, rebuilding can take some time. Rebuilding process starts as soon as you press this button (pressing ‘OK’ button at the bottom of that window is not required). It's recommended to rebuild your cache if you continue to see inconsistency between what you have in Entourage and what Spotlight finds for you.

Note: Pressing the 'Rebuild' button repeatedly is not recommended as each time you press this button, the Spotlight has to remove the previous Entourage items from its index and add the new items back into the index. If a user presses it too often, he’ll swamp both Entourage and Spotlight with indexing requests, causing both - an inconsistency in his Spotlight search results and a general performance hit to his computer.

How can I use this feature?
Let’s take this new feature for a test drive. Here is how I have set the Spotlight preferences (under 'System Preferences') on my Mac OS 10.4.5 system (iBook, PPC, G3, 600 MHz, 256 MB RAM, 14 GB HD). I am connecting to a mailbox on an Exchange Server out there on the Internet and have some data in my mailbox (~10 MB). I went to the top right hand corner of my Finder, clicked on that blue Spotlight search icon and typed 'test' in the search box. Voila! I got what I was looking for! This screenshot shows the types of items Spotlight was able to find which I have in my Entourage database. Notice that a ‘Note’ in Entourage shows up under ‘Documents’ category in Spotlight search & a ‘Task’ in Entourage is showing up under ‘Events & To Do’s’ category. Spotlight is just using the Apple terminology for these items. Here is another screenshot of the same search when I clicked on ‘Show All’, which lists ‘Top 5’ items in each category and provides a link to see more of them under each category.

Can I execute Spotlight searches from within Entourage?
At this time, you may not use the Spotlight search engine from within Entourage. In order to perform Spotlight-powered searches, you must use the OS provided tools, i.e. Spotlight Menu, Spotlight Window, Smart Folders, Command Line Tools or for developers, they can use MDQuery.

How does this feature work with multiple identities in Entourage?
Entourage does support the indexing of multiple identities for Spotlight feature. However, by default, the Entourage Spotlight indexing preference is only enabled in the first identity launched with Entourage updated with 11.2.3 Update. If you switch to another identity, the Spotlight preference will not be automatically enabled - you must enable it manually (Entourage : Preferences : General Preferences : Spotlight). Keep in mind that indexing multiple identities within the same Mac OS user account will result in each identity’s items appearing intermixed with other identities in the Spotlight search results. If you want to keep identities separated, it’s recommended that you create separate Mac OS user accounts and use ‘Fast User Switching’ (best method, provides data privacy/security) or you can use ‘Smart Folders’ in Mac OS.

Summary
This blog was intended to provide a general introduction of the new feature, later we will expand on different aspects of it. Let us know using comments if you have any questions or concerns. Thanks for listening!

- Amir