Finder: File name not considered part of its ‘contents’

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Macintosh
August 17th, 2005 • 2:35 pm

This is something that can be rather significant for Mac users running Mac OS X 10.4 (Tiger).

When you do a search using the global Spotlight menu, Mac OS X searches for matches both in file names and in file contents (as well as other file attributes). In other words, if you type “agreement” in the global Spotlight menu, for example, the search returns not just files whose contents include the word “agreement,” but also files whose file name includes the word “agreement,” even if the word doesn’t appear anywhere in the contents.

Similarly, in Mac OS X’s Finder, when you type “agreement” in a Finder window’s search field, the search returns files with “agreement” either in their name or in their contents (or in other searchable attributes).

On the other hand, if, in the Finder, you do a search (or create a smart folder that searches)  for “agreement” in the contents of files, then the search will not return files that do not contain the actual word “agreement” in their contents, but whose name includes the word “agreement.

In other words, if you have a Pages document that is called “Agreement.pages“, but doesn’t contain the actual word “agreement” in its contents, it will not be included in the results of such a search.

Is this a problem? Yes and no. It’s, of course, a good thing that the user is able to narrow his search by restricting it to file names only or to file contents only. On the other hand, in the real world, it’s quite possible to have a file whose name includes an important keyword, even though this keyword doesn’t appear in the contents of the file.

For example, I might have a file called “Agreement.pages” that only contain a few paragraphs of text starting with “I hereby agree to…” If I search for files with “agreement” in the contents, this file won’t be included in the results.

The problem is that, for end users, the file name can be used as a substitute for the title of the document. After all, in today’s computer environments, there is no standard way of specifying a document title. Sure, Microsoft Word has its “Properties…” command in the “File” menu, which lets you enter a title (as well as other properties) for your document. But this is a Microsoft-only feature. Pages doesn’t have such a feature. Other word processors don’t have such a feature. It’s not a standard.

Unless the user always makes sure that all the keywords of the title of his document are not just used in the file name, but also in the file contents, then there is always a risk that some obvious matches will not be returned by a Spotlight search.

I don’t know if Apple should consider altering its indexing engine to include the keywords in a file’s name as part of its contents. But at the very least Mac OS X 10.4 users should be aware that searching for specific keywords in the “contents” of a file will not return files where the keywords only appear in full in the file name.

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