Microsoft

Finding information from everywhere with Federated Search in Windows 7

Derek Schauland shows examples of how Federated Search can be used in Windows 7 to search directly from the Start menu. Not only can you search your local computer and network, but you can also configure search connectors for Internet sites.

Microsoft spent a great deal of time listening to customers and adding items to Windows 7 that bring a great deal of information right to the desktop, both from the internal network and from the Internet through the use of Federated Search. Ed Bott did a video tour of search in Windows 7 here, but I thought I would dig in to other parts of the search capabilities in the new OS.

In the Release Candidate of Windows 7 (and in Windows Vista), files and folders on your computer can be found from the Start menu. Simply press the Start key (or click the Start menu) and begin typing in the search box. As matches are found, files and locations will appear in the Start pane, as shown in Figure A.

Figure A

An example of search from the Start menu in Windows 7

In addition to looking for things on your own computer, which I personally use all the time rather than sifting manually through documents and programs, you can include Search Connectors, which will allow you to search from the desktop on both your internal network and the Internet.

A search connector for the Internet will allow you to search that particular Web site or service from Windows Explorer. Figure B shows an example of a search using the Twitter Search Connector, returning results for the hash tag #Windows7.

Figure B

Searching Twitter from Windows Explorer using Search Connectors

There are a number of Search Connectors coming, and the list is growing every day; some I have used so far are:

  • Bing
  • Yahoo
  • Google
  • Technet
  • Ebay

A third-party site containing these and other connectors can be found at: http://www.sevenforums.com/tutorials/742-windows-7-search-federation-providers.html; also provided are instructions for creating your own provider.

Microsoft is working to get a list of these connectors published, but I have not seen it as of this writing.

How do I use Federated Search to find things on my own network?

Searching locations on your network is a snap as well in Windows 7. For machines that are domain joined, you can look for things on the network from Windows Explorer as well. Simply enter the name or partial name of the file, folder, or item you are looking for and press Enter. The search will use your network credentials to return results you have access to.

Searching outside the folders and files on your computer from the Start menu is available but must be enabled in Group Policy. To change this setting, open the Group Policy Editor and expand the following:

User Configuration | Administrative Templates | Start Menu and Task Bar. With this grouping of policies visible, you can enable Internet searches from the Start menu by enabling Add Search Internet Link to Start Menu.

When adding pinned searches to the Start menu, these are referred to as Search Again links. When you look for something on your PC like the word Microsoft, Windows will return results on your local PC. With these Group Policy settings enabled, you will be able to resubmit your search against a different scope (the Internet, libraries you have created, or specific sites) and see related results.

To enable Library searches and Search Connectors from the Start menu, go to User Configuration | Administrative Templates | Windows Components | Windows Explorer and enable the following Group Policy setting: Pin Libraries and Search Connectors to the Search Again Links and the Start Menu. From here you can also enable the setting for Pin Internet Search Sites to the "Search Again" Links and the Start Menu.

Figure C shows a Start menu search with all these policy settings enabled.

Figure C

Search options pinned to the Start menu
When adding libraries and Internet sites, you will be asked to specify which library locations and search sites to add. Figure D shows the configuration pane for Internet search sites.

Figure D

Configuring Internet Search sites via Group Policy

These search capabilities are a great addition to Windows 7 and will be something I use regularly. I am interested to know how you might use the search features to boost your productivity.

About Derek Schauland

Derek Schauland has been tinkering with Windows systems since 1997. He has supported Windows NT 4, worked phone support for an ISP, and is currently the IT Manager for a manufacturing company in Wisconsin.

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