Ways to Search in Windows Vista

By Matthew Murray
Computers might not take up much space, but they offer a lot of places for files and folders to go missing. With Windows XP, searching for a file could take forever, which made utilities like Google Desktop invaluable. But you don't need desktop search apps anymore—Windows Vista has a number of search tools to help you find what you're looking for fast, wherever it might be lurking on your system.

INSTANT SEARCH

The easiest method of searching your system involves using a tool you're already familiar with: the Start menu. Either click the Start button in the lower-left corner of your screen or hit the Windows key, and just start typing what you're looking for. As you enter your text, Vista will present you with organized lists of the top 20 or so files and programs that best match the words you're typing.
Instant Search is also available in most Explorer windows. Just look in the upper-right corner; if you see a field that says "Search," you can use it exactly the same way.
Looking at results: If you're using Instant Search from the Start menu, you can click on "See all results" to view the complete list of what Vista found while it was searching. This brings up the Search Results window. (If you're searching from Explorer, the window will change to the Search Results view.) Here, you can sort the results by Name, Date modified, Type, and other criteria, just as you can in other folders in Windows. The "Show only" bar, located just beneath the Location bar, lets you further refine your results by letting you see everything, or just e-mails, documents, pictures, music, or whatever doesn't fit into these categories.


ADVANCED SEARCH

You can assume even more control over what Vista finds by using Advanced Search, which is available from the "Show only" bar in the Search Results window. Click on the downward-pointing arrow next to "Advanced Search" to bring up additional options. Among the criteria you can specify here:

Location: Select from Everywhere (any place Windows can see), Indexed Locations (See "What's the Index?" below.), your computer, or your various drives.
Date: You can specify whether you want to find a file that was created or modified on a certain date or range of dates by selecting "Date modified" or "Date created" from the Date drop-down; then choosing "any" for all dates, "is" for the exact date, or "is before" or "is after" for range; and then picking a target date.
Size: If you know how big the file is (or isn't), set Size (KB) to "equals," "is less than," or "is greater than," and then specify a value in the field.
Name: If you know the name of the file, or any part of it, type it here.
Tags: If you have assigned a tag to the file, you can search for it by typing its name in this field. (Note: You can assign a tag to most, but not all, file types by right-clicking on the file, selecting Properties, selecting the Details tab, and then typing the words you want to use in the Tags field.)
Authors: If you know the person who created the file, you can type his or her name in this field to tell Vista to search for that.
Once you've entered all the applicable criteria, click the Search button, and Vista will search for files again, this time using these new specifications.
Note: If you're still having trouble finding something, but you know it's there someplace, you can try checking the box marked "Include non-indexed, hidden, and system files (might be slow)" to search over everything in the location you specified.

WHAT'S THE INDEX?

Vista is smart enough to know not to search everywhere on your computer, since a lot of its system files and other random locations probably won't include whatever it is you're looking for. So the index tells Vista the most likely places to look, such as your Personal folder, in your e-mail, pictures, music, and videos, and your address book and calendar, so that your searches don't take forever. But if you have a habit of creating directories for filing and backup that aren't in the usually indexed places, it's possible that Vista might not see them in your searches, so telling Vista to search outside the index will catch everything—but it can add minutes to your search time.
You can change how searching with the index works by opening an Explorer window, clicking the Organize button, selecting "Folder and Search Options," then opening the Search tab. Here you can specify how the search sifts through the index, what Search should do when searching non-indexed locations, and so on. We've found that the default settings are just fine most of the time, though.
You can also add or remove folders or file types from Vista's indexing by going to Indexing Options in the control panel (or by searching for it using Instant Search). Here, you can click the Modify button to change which locations are indexed, or click the Advanced button to change which file types are indexed, or change other settings (whether you want to index encrypted files, rebuild the index, and so on).

SEARCH FOLDERS

If you constantly find yourself searching for the same thing on your computer, you don't have to go through the same rigmarole every time of building a complex search. You can save it using Vista's handy Search Folders.
To use this feature, construct your search, then click the button marked "Save Search." This will create a new Search Folder that will run that search every time you double-click on it.
To see the list of Search Folders, open an Explorer window and click on "Searches" in the left-hand pane. This will show you all the Search Folders you've created, along with a selection of pre-defined Windows searches. (These include Recent Documents, Recent E-mail, Recently Changed, and Shared By Me, which can also be very helpful for finding files.) Just double-click on the folder you want, and you'll instantly be presented with a window full of the appropriate search results.


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