Exploring Vista's Advanced Search

I used the file search function in Windows XP a lot, particularly to find groups of files. But the XP search syntax doesn't work in Vista. Vista uses the Windows Desktop Search query syntax. Which means

This is a companion discussion topic for the original blog entry at: http://www.codinghorror.com/blog/2006/11/exploring-vistas-advanced-search.html

Or, someone could go back to the '80s and dust off a copy of Lotus Magellan, and upgrade it for today’s OS.

Someome made a good attempt:


(WinXP’s search is flawed, it ignores certain file extensions unless you tweaked it.)

“There’s nothing to install, nothing to configure, searching just works in Vista.”

Except that it took you five screenshots, an options dialog, a bunch of “painful” trial and error to only search a small fraction of your hard drive. That’s not Google-icious, it’s Google as viewed through the eyes of a stereotypically bad Microsoft PM.

Hey, at least it’s on the Start menu.

What are you talking about? Press Windows key (or CTRL+E), type what you’re looking for, results are displayed in real time like Google Suggest as you type.

I was explaining a more advanced query, along with some under the hood background on how it all works.

Do you know of anyway to change what filter is used for particular extensions for the full-text indexing?

Not that I don’t trust the html filter, but I’d prefer to search asp, aspx etc… using the plain-text filter.

This used to be possible in XP by setting a reg key, but I’m guessing that Vista’s search system is considerbly more complex now.

Being able to just hit start and then enter your search string is neat, but it unfortunately breaks an old feature I’m gonna miss quite a bit. I used to just be able to hit Start then R, for example to open a command window. Or Start + U + R to restart the computer, Start + U + U to shut it down. There were a few other combos I used a lot that will now not work because the search box has focus.

BTW, the + syntax above means ‘then’, not ‘plus’.

In other words, three years later Microsoft finally re-implemented Spotlight. Poorly.

Oh, and not only that, they also have reimplemented Mac OS X’s Users (aka UNIX /home) directory. Also poorly. I mean, come on now, how about also copying the good stuff, such as per-user settings stored as files, per-user Apps installed by dragging into user’s Applications folder (no admin permissions required!), per-user fonts and color profiles (which get switched correspondingly when you switch users). The list can go pretty long. Oh, and Spotlight still kicks WDS’s ass any day. For one it’s much faster, for two it doesn’t choke keyboard input as it searches so it feels “fluid”, for three its UI “Doesn’t Suck” TM.

That BeOS filesystem guy did his job pretty well at Apple.

Windows+R is your friend for invoking the Run command.

It looks like many of the people reading this entry have not tried Vista. I guess I’m not explaining this very well, since I picked an advanced scenario.

used to just be able to hit Start then R,

Use Windows+R, that’s what I always used in XP, and it works the same way.

What’s this thing with learning a search syntax

You don’t have to learn a search syntax. Just like Google, type what you want, and matches appear. It’s actually more like Google Suggest since it happens in real time. And just like Google, you CAN OPTIONALLY enter advanced queries right in the search box. Does this mean you have to? Nope.

The uppercase boolean thing is incredibly annoying, though. I don’t know how anyone would ever figure that out on their own. The good news is that the AND clause is implicit-- if you type a space in your query, it’s treated as an AND.

Again, just like Google.

So let me re-emphasize: if you know how to use Google, you know how to use Vista’s search. Just press the Windows key, or CTRL+E, and start typin’.

So is it not possible to exclude archives in indexed locations from searches? It looks that way.

Why does everything Microsoft include a bushel of weird caveats and exceptions?

I think Vista is looking more and more like “lets throw in some features”, a LOT will be completely amazingly annoying to the average user. What’s this thing with learning a search syntax ? Come on, research something better than that.

If I want to search for an extention I should just be able to write it and it should understand that is an extention. And to require the boolean operators to be all uppercase is quite frankly amazingly stupid.

This an a number of things really bugs me with Vista and I’m not entirely sure it will be a hit.

I think I agree with Joel’s assesment of the situation at MS:

“Every piece of evidence I’ve heard from developers inside Microsoft supports my theory that the company has become completely tangled up in bureaucracy, layers of management, meetings ad infinitum, and overstaffing. The only way Microsoft has managed to hire so many people has been by lowering their hiring standards significantly. In the early nineties Microsoft looked at IBM, especially the bloated OS/2 team, as a case study of what not to do; somehow in the fifteen year period from 1991 - 2006 they became the bloated monster that takes five years to ship an incoherent upgrade to their flagship product.”


And more, directly from a MS developer that worked on Vista:


Jeff I think you explained it correctly the first time. Its the fact that people love jumping on the smash M$ band wagon so much that they miss alot of the good things M$ puts out. There too busy fighting there holy war instead of just enjoying cool features.

Let me start another war. JAVA vs .NET.
.NET destroys JAVA easily.

I suggests you try Google Desktop as a search interface, I stopped using Win XP search a while back

Dude, so many people just upped and got to bashing Vista with preconcieved notions, unfortunately I judged upon a preconcieved notion too, I thought all of them were either hardcore Mac users who never used Vista, or people who hate XP and never used vista, and it didn’t even occur to me the possibility that someone there might be using Vista.

So if any of you out there are actually using Vista while bashing it, then my deepest apologies for judging you so harshly.

Bashing Vista is easy because they changed so much without making a single thing easier.

I really don’t understand how anyone can be happy with the new startmenu for example, either you have to search all the time (= back to good old commandline basically) or you have to scroll a useless list.

Second, the UAC, the msot annnoying thing ever, and if you turn it off you break things instead of getting something like a login dialog which is standar din comparable systems.

Third, the million of links to a million of features in every window, read joels blog on “choices are bad”.

It’s really not the most user friendly system that Microsoft produced.

You can get search in XP, what more is there in Vista really ? I know, lots “under the hood” that will eventually force us to upgrade even though we don’t want to but that’s another thing.

It will probably be like XP where it wasn’t really mature until SP2.

It still doesn’t beat good old grep!

KL, when people talk about fanboys, that haven’t tested Vista at all, they mean you.

I have no idea how you can even think of comparing the new start menu with a command prompt. Can you type ‘Del’ + Enter to start Delphi in the command prompt you have in mind? Because that is how Vista’s start menu works.

And UAC, while it seemed annoying in the beginning, shows much less often once you’ve configured your Windows. And, of course, you can turn it off. I didn’t.

Hmm, ok, weird since I have tried it since day one.

Maybe it’s the fanboys like you that shoudl take a closer look ?

Here’s some more annoyances:

I can no longer drop a path onto command line windows, what’s up with that ?

I can no longer drag files onto the explorer window on the taskbar and have it popup like in previous windows versions.

Again, what did they make easier in this system ? It’s unbelivable.

I ment shorcuts, not files, try and drag a shorcut from a webpage or the location bar in IE onto a folder or explorer window on the taskbar in Vista, it wont popup like in XP.