One of the coolest features of Vista, which is now somewhat available for Windows XP, is the search feature. With background indexing, there’s no denying that Vista’s search functionality is zippy, faster than Windows Search ever was before. Along with the fact that the animated creatures are gone (the dog by default, “Goodbye Clippy 2.0”), Vista’s file search is a lot less annoying all around. That being said, there are still some ways to improve upon it and some things to know.
Vista’s search can be changed from the default settings to behave better for you if your habits don’t happen to conform to the defaults. Vista uses an intelligent indexing system in order to search for files faster. To get to the search options, open up an explorer window (My Computer, for example) and go to Tools, Folder Options. You may have to press the Alt key in order to see the Tools menu. Under the window that popped up for Folder options, switch to the far-right tab labeled Search.
Here you can set such options as searching file names and contents, include subfolders, include compressed files and system directories. Most of these options allow you to negotiate the trade-off between speed and results. A search might take longer if you search the contents of files not in the index, but it’s more likely to find you the file you want.
In regards to speed, searching the indexed locations is much faster than searching those not in the index. To ease the speed trade-off, it might be better to just add more folders to the indexed locations.
In order to define the Indexed Locations on your computer, we’ll need to do a search. Either perform a search using the bottom of the Start Menu or open an Explorer window and do a search in the top-right corner. After the search starts, you’ll notice the toolbar changes to be relevant to searching. On of the objects on the menu is Search Tools. Click on that drop-down and then select ‘Modify Index Locations…’.
This will open another window where it shows you the current locations in the index as well as information about the background indexing process. To add more locations click the Modify button at the bottom of this window. Then on the window that pops up, browse to any other directories you want to include and put a check in front of them. Hit Ok through all the windows when you’re done.
You wouldn’t want to just include all folders as this would decrease the efficiency of the index, require the indexing process to run more frequently in the background (using resources), and more likely lead to an out-of-date index with many changes to keep track of. Instead, only add directories that will include files you’ll want to search, like a downloads directory or any other main directories you frequently use and change the contents of.
Another thing that you can do to improve your searching in Vista is learning the syntax to specify your query. You can use the syntax to really drill down your search. Some examples:
If you’re searching the contents of a file, in the search string use Contents: [query]
To search for only files modified within a specific time frame, in the search string use Modified: [date]
You can also use wildcards to find a specify file extension, in the search string use *.[extension] like *.mp3 to find all MP3 files.
See more information with these Microsoft articles:
Searching in Windows Vista
Of course, if Vista’s search just isn’t up to par for you, you can try third party solutions. One that I’ve tried and liked is FreeCommander.
You can see from the screenshot below that it allows you to just simply fill in forms (like previous versions of Windows) and run the search. It’s pretty fast and very straight-forward. It became a necessity for me after Vista wasn’t successfully searching the contents of files for me.