Say Goodbye to Wimpy Searches


Q: I find myself frequently wasting time by launching and closing data files in an effort to find the one I am looking for. My friend has suggested that I reorganize my files in various folders instead of the single data folder I use now, but that is going to take a lot of work. Is this a good approach, or is there a better approach to finding the files I am looking for?


A: Organizing your files in various file folders used to be the right approach, but that measure is now less necessary because Windows Vista and Windows 7 both provide a tool called Instant Search that can search all of your files in just a few seconds. Instant Search uses “indexed searching,” which is the same fast search method used by search engines such as Google and Microsoft Bing.


To use Instant Search, open an Explorer window by rightclicking on the Windows Start button and choose Explore or Open Windows Explorer in Vista or Windows 7, respectively. Browse to the desired drive or folder, and enter your search terms in the Search Box located at the top right of the screen. Within seconds, Instant Search will list every file and folder that contains your search terms in the file or folder name, file contents or properties. For example, in the screen on the next page, I have browsed to my data folder and typed in the phrase regression in the search box. In about two seconds Instant Search displays 2,231 data files that contain the phrase regression. (If I don’t find the exact file I want immediately, I can use additional search tools to narrow my results. I will discuss these additional search capabilities next month.)


Note: By default, Windows Vista’s and Windows 7’s Instant Search tools only index and search those files in your Documents folder. If you save data files elsewhere on your computer, you can direct Instant Search to index additional drives or folders as follows:

  1. Go to Control Panel.
  2. Under System and Security, select Review your computer’s status.
  3. Select View performance information.
  4. Select Adjust indexing options.
  5. Click the Modify button.
  6. Click the Show all locations button.
  7. Place a check mark next to drives or folders that you want included in your search index.
  8. Click OK.


For Windows XP users. If you are still using Windows XP, but you would like to perform the same type of fast indexed searching that Windows Vista and Windows 7 provide, you can download and install the Google Desktop for free at this Web address: By default, Google Desktop will index all of the files on your computer.


A few notes: Both Instant Search and Google Desktop can index and search your e-mails for fast searching. You can adjust the settings to direct both Instant Search and Google Desktop to include other computers and file servers in the indexed search. Instant Search and Google Desktop will take time to index all of your files, perhaps overnight. Thereafter, new files that you create are indexed automatically as they are created.


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