Windows 7 Search might be all you need

If you're coming from Windows XP land, you know the frustration of trying to find files on your hard disk – it's slow and cumbersome. In fact, much of the software covered in our main reviews was created to solve this problem.

Best desktop search tools

But with many organizations on the cusp of switching to Windows 7, can you get by with Windows 7's built-in search? Based on my testing, for basic tasks, the answer is probably yes.

Windows 7 indexes most common files by default, including documents, e-mail and offline files – though the initial process is two to three times slower compared with X1. But it's easy, using the Windows Control Panel, to add or remove a folder location or file type. Windows 7 also searches external hard drives, networked PCs and document libraries.

Microsoft gives you a reasonable number of other indexing options, such as indexing just a file's properties or the entire contents. Conversely, you can disable search. But only rarely did I notice extra hard disk and CPU activity, usually when the system was indexing a large amount of new content. So even if you decided to add Google Desktop or another application, I'd leave Windows Search alone.

To file a file, start typing into the Start menu search box and you'll see a list of relevant documents, pictures, music and e-mail on your PC – almost as fast as you can type. Results are grouped by category and a preview pane shows the document with keywords highlighted. If search results are too numerous, you can narrow them by date, file type and other categories.

For power users, Windows 7 Search includes an Advanced Query Syntax as an alternate way to narrow a query. For instance, typing 'author:mike' finds all items with 'mike' in the Author property. Similar commands work for attachments, numbers and date ranges and file types. Unfortunately, you need to use this harder method to search using meta tags associated with files.

Because Search is engrained in Windows 7, you can also use the search box in a folder or library. It filters the current view based on your query, looking for the search text in the file name and contents. From this main file explorer, Windows 7 makes it easy to expand your search to other libraries, specific locations and the Internet.

That's all good. But there are still some limits to Windows 7 Search. For example, it only searches PST within a running instance of Outlook – and shared drives can only be indexed after they're mirrored on your local system.

So while Windows 7 Search is a notable improvement, it still leaves the door open for third-party desktop search applications.

Heck manages portals for a large pharma company and writes about enterprise applications. He can be reached at

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