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How to Perform Quick Calculations Using Spotlight in OS X

Posted by Jim Tanous on August 4, 2014

Desktop operating systems have included calculator apps since the very beginning, limiting the need for a traditional calculator on one’s desk. These calculator apps can be quite powerful, but if you just need to perform a simple calculation, there’s no need to launch OS X’s dedicated calculator app. Here’s how to perform quick calculations in OS X with Spotlight.
For the uninitiated, Spotlight is OS X’s system-wide search feature, first introduced in with OS X Tiger. You can access it in OS X by clicking on the magnifying glass icon in the upper-right corner of the menu bar, or pressing the default keyboard shortcut Command+Space Bar.
Instead of performing a search, we’ll use Spotlight to do some quick math. Simply enter any basic mathematical query and the answer will be displayed below the search box. There’s no need to press Return; the answer will update live as you enter your query.
Beyond basic functions such as addition (+), division (/), and multiplication (*), you can also perform more advanced calculations. Examples include using parentheses to determine the order of operations, and the use of advanced calculations such as sine (sin), cosine (cos), and tangent (tan), which is awesome because I don’t remember a darn thing from my high school calculus class.

The answers to basic calculations are easy enough to read, but what if your answer is a long patternless mess? No worries here, just press Command+C once your answer appears in the Spotlight window and it will be copied to your Mac’s clipboard, where you can easily paste it into a website field or document.
You’ll still want to perform most advanced calculations in the dedicated calculator app, thanks to helpful features like the paper tape, but for times that call for a quick calculation or two, the speed and convenience of Spotlight can’t be beat.

One thought on “How to Perform Quick Calculations Using Spotlight in OS X”

Jaiden Patel says:
Also does things such as sqrt()
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