Recently, after selecting to do a search in Microsoft Outlook, I got a “No Results” message. I was certain the email I was seeking existed in the folder I was searching. So I did a few tests. Sure enough, I discovered that any search I now attempted came back with “No Results.” Uh-oh.

This led me to check Microsoft’s Answers site. Here I found a thread precisely describing my symptom. This, in turn, led to another helpful Answers page. The postings on these pages contained several potential solutions. While no one solution worked for everyone, there was agreement as to the most likely road to success. It’s a road that may surprise you: Outlook depends on OS X’s Spotlight database for its searches. Therefore, anything that causes problems between Spotlight and Outlook may prevent Outlook’s searches from succeeding.

The top recommended solution is to re-index the relevant Outlook data in Spotlight. To do this:

1. Open System Preferences and select the Spotlight pane.

2. Click the Privacy tab.

3. From the Finder, go to your Home directory -> Documents -> Microsoft User Data folder. Locate a subfolder named Office 2011 Identities.

4. Drag the Identities folder to the Privacy window. This adds the folder to the Privacy list, which means Spotlight will not search this folder in the future. But this is not your goal. You want the opposite. So…

5. From the Privacy window, select the newly added Identities folder. Then click the minus (-) button near the bottom left of the window. This removes the folder from the list.

On the surface, this appears to have accomplished nothing; you just undid a change you made a moment before. However, it should force Spotlight to reindex the Identities folder. If there was a problem with Spotlight and the data in this folder, the re-index will hopefully fix it. This worked for me.

You can track the progress of re-indexing by selecting the Spotlight menu bar item. The reindexing time should be relatively brief in the above case. However, if the time appears so brief that you suspect no re-indexing was done at all, and if the search problem thus remains, you can force a re-index of your entire drive. To do so, launch Terminal and type:

sudo mdutil -E /

Enter your admin password when requested. As this re-indexes everything on your drive, prepare to wait awhile. Depending upon the size of your drive and the data on it, you may have to wait several hours.

Once the re-indexing is over, Outlook searches should work again. If not, the aforementioned threads offer a few other potential fixes. One user claimed that, before re-indexing would work, he had to first delete a backup copy of his main Identity folder. Another user reported success by moving the entire Office 2011 Identities folder from its default location to the Desktop and then moving it back again.

A trio of Quick Fixes

Not content to solve just one problem per column, I offer a quick fixes to a trio of other matters you may confront:

Get old versions of Flash Player to work with Safari 5.1.7. The just-released 5.1.7 version of Safari disables all out-of-date versions of Adobe Flash Player as part of its installation process. However, as Apple explains in a support document, it is still capable of working with the older versions (if you prefer not to get the latest Player for some reason). To re-activate a previously installed Player, go to the root level Library folder on your drive and locate the “Internet Plug-Ins (Disabled)” folder. From within this folder, find Flash Player.plugin and drag it to the “Internet Plug-Ins” folder in the same Library folder. Quit Safari and restart it.

Problems after using “Apply to enclosed items…” If you select Get Info (Command-I) for a folder in the Finder, and select the Action menu at the bottom, you’ll find a command called “Apply to enclosed items…” If you make any changes to the Sharing & Permissions section, you can use this command to apply the changes to all items within the folder (as opposed to just the selected folder itself). Unfortunately, if you are running Lion (OS X 10.7.3 or older), this can lead to a host of problems. Possible symptoms include a persistent failure to save changes made within System Preferences and/or a loss of changes made to Dock icons. Happily, the fix is fairly simple: Update to the newly released OS X Lion 10.7.4. Next, as detailed in an Apple support document, select the “Apply to enclosed items…” command for your Home directory folder, click OK when requested and wait for the process to complete.

Solve TextEdit Open and Save failures. I use TextEdit so often that I leave it permanently open. This appears to precipitate some odd symptoms. On several occasions, after TextEdit has been open for a long while, TextEdit claims that it is no longer able to Save documents. In one instance, TextEdit also refused to open existing documents, claiming that it had “insufficient permission” to do so (even though it had never had difficulty here before). In all cases, the solution was easy: Quit TextEdit and relaunch it. Everything then works fine again… until the next time that it doesn’t.

Ted Landau will be on vacation for the remainder of May. He will return in June.