Editorial: Has Windows Search Got Any Better Over The Years? Hint: It Hasn't

By on November 7, 2012, 2:51 AM

Last weekend I was feeling a bit nostalgic and fired up Windows 2000 on my home computer. Win2k has a special place in my heart. Sadly, due to planned obsolescence it's no longer possible to use this fantastic operating system with the latest software available.

Be that as it may, what annoys me even more are the "improvements" made to Windows search through the years. The search box in Windows 2000 is very powerful, there are no cute animations and there are no exclusions. It's just no-nonsense search, as you would expect it to be. I'm afraid to say, Windows search has got worse, and not better over the years, 8 included.

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User Comments: 47

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VitalyT VitalyT said:

So true

Nice article!

Punkid said:

Nice article.. and I couldnt agree more on the categorization of results in windows 8, that is just downright stupid...

if anyone knows a way around that, please comment :P

Guest said:

I always use search tools from third parties like this tool called "Everything" just google it :D

1 person liked this | Puiu Puiu said:

In metro search is the only thing I use and it's only because I'm forced to. I find it really annoying.

2 people like this | gbhall gbhall, TechSpot Chancellor, said:

Well said Per, it all leaves you biting the carpet over how stupid younger developers can be. How can the new ebay search be called an improvement? Don't they actually use these things themselves?

Plenty of opportunity for third-parties to do better. I would also like to know how such artificial stupidity (as opposed to artificial intelligence) can actually help people find things at our present time where information is just exploding in quantity and complexity beyond all reason.

Google still seems (just about) on top of how to return the most relevant results of searches incredibly quickly. Long may it stay that way.

Right now, we are at the point where MS systems are actually making work less productive. I would welcome a comparison with how things are done under competitive OS's such as Linux and Mac OS.

1 person liked this | ET3D, TechSpot Paladin, said:

I'll second the vote for Everything.

Also if you use Windows key + F you get a global search which has more filters and can search in more places, and also displays the result in a much better format. I have no idea how else to get to it, so it's certainly possible that few people know about it (hey, I didn't until a few minutes ago).

I hated it when Google removed support for '+'. There's now no way to tell the search engine "I really want this word in the result".

1 person liked this | Darth Shiv Darth Shiv said:

Agreed. Up to Win7 I turn off indexing because I don't know what it is skipping. Win2k search ftw!

2 people like this | raybk said:

It's true.

The searching function in Windows 7 is rubbish, total rubbish!!!

In Outlook, I can see the word in my email but it cannot find it. I need to turn off indexing to make it work.

In file/folder, I cannot search the file content I need easily. I need to do some setup for that folder or file type to make it work. If the folder is network folder, it completely fails!

Guest said:

I use locate32....works in a similar way to linux locate but with a gui.:D

Staff
Per Hansson Per Hansson, TS Server Guru, said:

I'll second the vote for Everything.

Thanks for the recommendation, for me it's not really a choice to install some third party search software on all machines I use at work though...

Edit: And after some more research it's not very usable in a large corporate network, from their own FAQ: ""Everything" will only locate files and folders on local NTFS volumes."

Also if you use Windows key + F you get a global search which has more filters and can search in more places, and also displays the result in a much better format. I have no idea how else to get to it, so it's certainly possible that few people know about it (hey, I didn't until a few minutes ago).

For me this search box is no different than the one shown in my screenshot in the article.

It is the same search box that you can invoke when performing a search under the start-menu in Windows 7 and then press "See more results" at the bottom of the menu... (Or in 2000/XP by going to "Start > Search > For Files or Folders..."

Agreed. Up to Win7 I turn off indexing because I don't know what it is skipping. Win2k search ftw!

I don't turn off indexing but when I don't find what I'm looking for I feel the need to login to a pre-vista machine and perform the search there, just to be sure...

-And indeed in about 9/10 cases when doing this I do find what I'm looking for!?

This might be useful if you are having problems with indexing on servers btw: [link]

See the questions "Why aren't files from an indexed folder showing up in search results?"

And "What if I'm using Windows Server 2008 R2?"

1 person liked this | psycros psycros said:

<standing ovation>

This article so nails it, and so exemplifies the laziness and outright idiocy of the modern developer. We've went from free-form queries with instant response to "exact text only" that takes an age; from unlimited multitasking to "dual panes"; from point-and-click to type-and-pray. No doubt the next step will be doing away with the GUI altogether, because pure text is "so minimalistic". Because that's what I want from my quad-core smartphone or octa-core PC with a high-powered gfx chipset - bland, unattractive, user-unfriendly minimalism. Windows 9 is shaping up to be DOS 5.0, and if Microsoft wants to kill itself, I say more power to 'em. Somebody will happily take their place.

psycros psycros said:

Oh, and for a <b>real</b> search utility: Agent Ransack. It slams.

Amigosdefox said:

I'm using windows 7 64 bit and I really like searching in the start menu and having results show up as I type and clicking enter to launch programs(I wish pressing enter would work with files and not only with programs). It's great to launch applications and pretty much eliminates the need to have your desktop cluttered with shortcuts. However as you state in the article the system is broken. As I posted here for some reason results for searches disappear as I finish typing file names. Also, indexing frequently stops working and I have to restart Windows search as described here. It's a shame that what worked in Windows 7 has been eliminated in Windows 8. Just for this reason I wont upgrade anytime soon.

Staff
Jesse Jesse said:

I disagree. The standard image at my workplace is a windows xp image. I use a non-standard windows 7 machine and people come to me just to search for things on the network because I can find things ten times faster than the xp machines.

1 person liked this |
Staff
Julio Franco Julio Franco, TechSpot Editor, said:

As mentioned in the article, I have my own issues with Windows search especially with 7/8 for not delivering good results across all files, programs and settings. OS X does it with better and makes it look effortless since you're rarely bothered by any "indexing" service: http://d.pr/I/XFtC

While in the topic, I wanted to bring up another Windows annoyance that's been present since Vista, but from what I've observed has been resolved in Windows 8. Browsing a local directory or network address can sometimes take ages for no good reason; the address bar would keep "working" showing a progress bar so 1 minute later it would show results? At least in the month I've been using Windows 8 final that's never happened. Crossing fingers.

jobeard jobeard, TS Ambassador, said:

Hmm; I'm using Win/7 Pro SP1 and find no need for the global '*' prefix. For fun I searched for '.doc' without the quotes (yea, 100's of them) and got both folder and file names returned. A suffix like PDF without the dot performs well too. Tokens mid-file-name also finds all variations just as well.

My folder view has the Search tool and using it finds files nicely, even in nested folders if so requested.

One annoyance to me is searching for example check, I get results which include specific files like topic185.html and mysql-DataTypes.html which makes no sense!

I'm not trying to denigrate the article, but only to note sometimes we see different behaviors due to configurations which are totally inexplicable.

On the whole however, the article makes several good points.

Staff
Per Hansson Per Hansson, TS Server Guru, said:

@jobeard what you say is true on my system aswell.

For example I have one file named: dogbone profile.docx

I can find it by searching for just: .docx

And I can find it by searching for: dogbone

But I can not find it by searching for just: bone

To do that I need to add the asterisk, so this works: *bone

And that is what I meant by the quote "That's not so bad you might say, but why make the change, and why isn't it consistent? Why can I find vnc if I search for "tight" or "ultra" without an asterisk at the end of the string?"

As for your search: "check"

And it returning files like topic185.html & mysql-DataTypes.html

That is because the content of those files contain the word "check"

This is the nice thing IMO with Win7 search, it indexes file content aswell, making it possible to find files that you have no idea what they are named, so long as you know what is written in the files...

EXCellR8 EXCellR8, The Conservative, said:

Windows search is largely useless; skips entire directories.

Kralnor said:

Great article! I have to say that I miss Wink2 sometimes.

1 person liked this | Darth Shiv Darth Shiv said:

I disagree. The standard image at my workplace is a windows xp image. I use a non-standard windows 7 machine and people come to me just to search for things on the network because I can find things ten times faster than the xp machines.

Finding things 10x faster is one thing. The problem is the index can skip things and not display the results you are after. To me that is unacceptable and the reason I don't bother with indexed search.

Also configuration of the content indexing... there is no automated smarts for this. It is manual config to set it one way or another and have you looked at the list of extensions windows has registered?? Who wants to spend hours or even days configuring the settings or validating the existing ones from some seemingly endless list??

Kyriacos Kyriacos said:

Seems to be a nice article, but I won't bother reading it...

Windows search has been amazingly improved, ever since windows Vista, then W7 and now it even works better, if you know what you are looking for...

nickblame said:

3 out of 4 times I want to search something in a Windows machine, I type the search, I wait 5 seconds, I get bored and I try to find the file while waiting for the "search" to "find" files. As it turns out I tend to put files where I will most probably find them if I search for them (I know me quite well and I always find the damned file after some careful browsing in my directories. Then I return to the "search results" which almost never have any non ridiculous findings and close the search so that the hard drives stop crunching.

Locate32 is awesome. Thank god there is that solution for Windows too. Shame to MS for not doing it right after so many years.

jobeard jobeard, TS Ambassador, said:

But I can not find it by searching for just: bone

while my search for check operates as if I entered *check*.*

and I do find checklist.doc, user_checks.xls, etc . . .

PC EliTiST PC EliTiST said:

As mentioned in the article, I have my own issues with Windows search especially with 7/8 for not delivering good results across all files, programs and settings. OS X does it with better and makes it look effortless since you're rarely bothered by any "indexing" service: http://d.pr/I/XFtC

Wow! First time I see an image of Apple's search mechanism... It's so simple and all I could dream of... Why, oh, why are we in the dark for so many years? Damn gaming... Especially on Metro, couldn't they make it behave a little smarter? Why must I click on each category?

Zeromus said:

I'll second the vote for Everything.

Also if you use Windows key + F you get a global search which has more filters and can search in more places, and also displays the result in a much better format. I have no idea how else to get to it, so it's certainly possible that few people know about it (hey, I didn't until a few minutes ago).

I hated it when Google removed support for '+'. There's now no way to tell the search engine "I really want this word in the result".

They changed it where quoted terms have the same effect. Hope that helps.

Staff
Jesse Jesse said:

Finding things 10x faster is one thing. The problem is the index can skip things and not display the results you are after. To me that is unacceptable and the reason I don't bother with indexed search.

Also configuration of the content indexing... there is no automated smarts for this. It is manual config to set it one way or another and have you looked at the list of extensions windows has registered?? Who wants to spend hours or even days configuring the settings or validating the existing ones from some seemingly endless list??

As I mentioned, I am talking about searching of network shares. They are not indexed.

JohnnyStone JohnnyStone said:

I never ever use Windows search. If you have Total Commander, why would one? It is not only Windows' search which is terrible, it's file manager or explorer cannot even be compared to the old DOS Norton Commander. If you have TC your file system becomes liberated. The same goes for Android with TC (use Beta 2.0).

Why MS cannot learn from others in this area after so many years and billions of Dollars research, blows my mind.

ET3D, TechSpot Paladin, said:

For me this search box is no different than the one shown in my screenshot in the article.

It is the same search box that you can invoke when performing a search under the start-menu in Windows 7 and then press "See more results" at the bottom of the menu... (Or in 2000/XP by going to "Start > Search > For Files or Folders..."

You're right. I guess I skimmed the article too much.

avoidz avoidz said:

I also miss Windows 2000. Remember you can always configure XP's "dog search" to look like the Windows 2K search box too, without any third-party tools.

SearchMyFiles is another alternative search program to try (free).

Staff
Per Hansson Per Hansson, TS Server Guru, said:

I disagree. The standard image at my workplace is a windows xp image. I use a non-standard windows 7 machine and people come to me just to search for things on the network because I can find things ten times faster than the xp machines.

As I mentioned, I am talking about searching of network shares. They are not indexed.

They are indexed if the server is Windows Server 2008 or later.

This is great at my workplace when it works, which is sadly only 1/10 times.

But the reason for that is not Windows fault, I think it is filesystem permissions on the server preventing indexing from being performed (It runs under the System account)

It is possible to fix, I linked to this article previously, see the question: [link]

I have sent the same link to our IT dept ages ago, but I can only lead a horse to water, I can not force it to drink

while my search for check operates as if I entered *check*.*

and I do find checklist.doc, user_checks.xls, etc . . .

Do you know what you have changed to get this behavior?

Because it is not the default, and I have used search on enough Windows 7 machines to know this

I also miss Windows 2000. Remember you can always configure XP's "dog search" to look like the Windows 2K search box too, without any third-party tools.

Yes, I do this myself on every XP machine I need to use for more than 5 minutes

And on machines I use more regularly than that I disable the functionality that connects to Microsoft each time you enter the search window via a group policy in gpedit.msc

Likewise [link] which has the same functionality of looking at the web for your application to open files with, saves a useless dialog box each time I open it up...

I try to find the file while waiting for the "search" to "find" files. As it turns out I tend to put files where I will most probably find them

Yea I do things the same way, I can recall where I have all files on my PC without even booting it up, since I have everything nicely structured.

Sadly I can't apply the same logic at work because there works 250 other people there :P

jobeard jobeard, TS Ambassador, said:

my search for check operates as if I entered *check*.*

and I do find checklist.doc, user_checks.xls, etc . . .

Do you know what you have changed to get this behavior?

Because it is not the default, and I have used search on enough Windows 7 machines to know this

Actually, NO :sigh:

I did use the Advanced Options to select the directories to be search, eg a few \root-dirs, the \users and to not look at AppData.

I was hoping that there was a [x] search file contents I could negate, but that's not there (in Win\7 at least).

I also took the time to REBUILD after making these changes to prune uninteresting contents.

ps: personally, I wish it were more literal in the requests, eg doc <> doc* <> *doc* <> *doc*.*

Staff
Per Hansson Per Hansson, TS Server Guru, said:

I was hoping that there was a [x] search file contents I could negate, but that's not there (in Win\7 at least).

This is possible, under Indexing Options > Advanced > File Types

Select "Index Properties Only" for the documents that you don't want to index file contents for...

jobeard jobeard, TS Ambassador, said:

Per file type??? OUCH

jobeard jobeard, TS Ambassador, said:

UPDATE: Just verified your suggestion. a) it is global and not per file type and (get this) b) is already set.

That makes Win/7 search really bizarre ; it ignores the option and indexes content anyway -- oops, I forgot, this is Windows.

1 person liked this | digge said:

I might be a bit old school when it comes to searching. But whenever the windows search doesnt give me the results im expecting I go back to the good old cmd.exe.

Doing a "dir file.txt /s" takes about 10 seconds on my ssd system drive (from the root of the drive). And best of all is it supports wildcards and is all built in :P

jobeard jobeard, TS Ambassador, said:

Doing a "dir file.txt /s" takes about 10 seconds on my ssd system drive (from the root of the drive). And best of all is it supports wildcards and is all built in :p

But that's not windows - - - that's DOS and Windows does everything better [just kidding, actually quite brilliant buddy!]

Staff
Per Hansson Per Hansson, TS Server Guru, said:

@jobeard it might be that you need to rebuild your index in the advanced indexing options for the changes to take effect

@digge yes, this is actually how I do it on our NT4 / 2000 / XP based Siemens machines to find stuff, since they by default do not load explorer.exe so there is no windows user interface available when the HMI is loaded...

Guest said:

Started using Fedora 17 x64. Don't have enough money to afford a x64 bit Windows OS. Fedora is free and works very well! Getting x64 bit is essential for being more productive.

Guest said:

For basic searching I have found Win 7 search to be good however it does have it's quirks. I have had times where I search for file.doc and in Start it shows up but not in Explorer, even though I can see file.doc in the current folder. I've had some users that have to reindex fairly frequently to get accurate results. I do like the network integration with 2008 R2, that has come in handy. As for Windows 8 search, I don't like the fact that I have to start the search and then click on a Category such as Settings to find what I'm looking for, just display everything.

Guest said:

Once again yet more proof of how moronic M$ is.. and sadly they just don't learn.

Fancier is NOT better. results are.

Win8 is another in the looooooooooooooooong list of f'ups from M$... hardly a shock though.

For those that doubt (fanboi's).. bet you don't remember "Edlin"

jobeard jobeard, TS Ambassador, said:

@jobeard it might be that you need to rebuild your index in the advanced indexing options for the changes to take effect
I did As I'm getting too much rather than too little, I'll opt to leave good enough alone.

btw: mapping a drive to OS X 10.4 system and using the folder search for doc finds doc.txt as well as letters.doc

stansfield stansfield said:

Why bother with windows search at all.

Just download EVERYTHING. Have used it for years on all systems and it's brilliant. I wonder why Micr osoft haven't bought them up!!

Guest said:

I subscribe to, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. Hence, my business will continue to run on three WinXP machines until I absolutely must up grade. A tool to quickly find a particular file from among the thousands of files stashed onto my hard drive over the past decade is essential to my business. I long ago gave up on the various Microsoft search tools and switched to Copernic professional. It has kinks that need to be straightened out every few months, but in general it works. However, it too will not find "pack" in search where the term is not at the head of the "word" such as in 10pack. My assumption has been that Copernic was going to be forced out of business as Microsoft added these great new search tools in their new operating systems, but perhaps that is not the case.

jobeard jobeard, TS Ambassador, said:

Why bother with windows search at all.

Just download EVERYTHING. Have used it for years on all systems and it's brilliant. I wonder why Micr osoft haven't bought them up!!

I think you missed the focus of the issue; searching our personal PC hard drives - - by definition, it's all local already :grin:

stansfield stansfield said:

Jobeard

???? Thats what everything does, it searches all local drives instantly unlike the cumbersome m/s

search function??

stansfield stansfield said:

jobeard

Yeah I guess it doesn't do networks!

Guest said:

I'm not brain damaged enough to use modern operating systems.

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