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Getting the most out of the revamped OS X Spotlight search in Yosemite

One of the biggest changes in OS X Yosemite is Apple's Spotlight search, which has gained a completely new, front-and-center look, and also adds the ability to search well beyond your Mac.

The link to Spotlight search remains in the upper right corner in Yosemite, but clicking it — or using the command-space shortcut —  no longer brings up a drop-down menu. Instead, the Spotlight search bar occupies in the middle of the screen in a big, bold presence.

As users begin to type, the text box will automatically suggest words and begin to list appropriate search results. In addition to previous results like applications, files, emails, definitions and conversations, Spotlight now also taps into websites, the App Store and iTunes Store, movie times, and even current news.

Results from Spotlight in Yosemite appear quickly, populating the pop-up window within a matter of seconds. And the Spotlight window automatically disappears once a user moves on to another task.

Results are presented in a list on the left side, and selected items can be previewed with a large QuickLook Pane presented on the right. Any file that can be viewed using QuickLook can be previewed within Spotlight.

This quick preview of content includes information from the Web and external sources, such as movie times, Wikipedia pages or an App Store listing.

OS X Yosemite also adds new calculation functions to Spotlight, with unit conversions of distance, temperature and currency. For example, entering "100 dollars" into Spotlight automatically presents the conversion rates to euros, British pounds, Japanese yen, Canadian dollars, and Swiss francs, with euros receiving the most prominent placement in the QuickLook pane.

Web data in Spotlight is pulled from a variety of sources as well. While up-to-date currency information is culled from Yahoo, movie times are provided by Fandango, and general Web search results come from Microsoft Bing.

As before, Yosemite users can still choose which sources to include in Spotlight searches through System Preferences. A total of 21 categories are included, and all are enabled by default.

Under the Privacy pane in Spotlight settings, users can also add a list of folders or disks they want to prevent Spotlight from searching.

Following the launch of Yosemite last week, some critics alleged that Apple was automatically collecting user information, including search and location data, through its Spotlight Suggestions. But Apple has addressed those concerns by explaining that it minimizes the amount of information collected.

According to Apple, the company doesn't retain IP addresses from users' devices, and exact location data is never sent by Spotlight. The Spotlight Suggestions feature is also said to avoid using a persistent identifier, so search history can't be tracked.

Apple devices use a temporary anonymous session ID for a 15-minute period before the ID is discarded. And for Bing searches, only commonly searched terms and city-level location information is provided to Microsoft.

Users still concerned about the privacy of Spotlight Suggestions can opt out via System Preferences. Spotlight Location Services and Bing results can also be switched off to a user's liking.