How do I... Save and refine desktop searches in Microsoft Windows Vista?

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One of the more useful features of Microsoft Windows Vista is the built-in desktop search capability. In theory, you can type a word or two into the search box on the start menu and get to any application, file, or folder you want, which should save you time and frustration from perusing the program folders tree made famous in Windows XP.

The even more useful thing about the Vista desktop search is that you can save your searches and use them in the future to find exactly what you want when you want it. This feature adds a significant layer of organization to what can become, in a world where 250GB hard drives are common, a chaotic mess of files and folders. This How do I... shows you how to save your Vista searches using advanced options to hone the search to just find what you are actually looking for.

Starting a search

Starting a search is about as simple a procedure as you'll ever find in Windows Vista. Click the Start button and type your search term. In Figure A, I have opted to search for .doc.

Figure A

Searching .doc
As you can see in Figure B, searching for the extension .doc returns quite a mess of files and folders.

Figure B

A mess of .doc

Refine and save

There are several options for refining a Windows Vista search to return a more focused result. The first option is to limit the locations on the hard drive where you want the search to be performed. This can include limiting the search to certain folders and possibly limiting or specifying a hard drive other than the typical C: drive that is the default.

One set of these options is located under the Search Tools tab on the menu bar of the results page, as shown in Listing C. The one option you should turn on from this screen is the Search Pane, which reveals several common filters and the Advanced Search button.

Figure C

Search Tools
The Search Tools tab is also where you find the Folder Options dialog box shown in Figure D. From this screen, you can designate what to search, how to search, and where to search. You can modify viewing options and even revert back to the Windows classic folder look, if you'd like.

Figure D

Folder Options dialog box
To further refine your search results, you can apply a filter that shows you only e-mail or pictures or music or perhaps just documents. In Figure E, I chose to filter out all but documents from the results. I also clicked the Advanced Search button to reveal several other ways you can refine a Windows Vista search.

Figure E

Apply filters and reveal Advanced options

With the Advanced Search options revealed (Figure E), you can change the location where the search is conducted, the date modified, and the size. You can specify a name or tag or author to the search conditions.

When you are satisfied with your search results, you can save the search by clicking the Save Search button shown in Figure E. That action will bring you to the Save As box shown in Figure F.

Figure F

Save your search for future reference
Once your search is saved, you can refer to it over and over again to always get just the results you are looking for. The saved search becomes part of the search menu, as you can see in Figure G.

Figure G

A saved search added to the Start Menu


The ability to save and even tag searches means that you can associate files and folders with a specific project name. By saving a search, you can find all of the relevant files for that project tag no matter where they are saved. For example, in Figure H, I saved a search for Doc Watson. Now, whenever I add music to my Doc Watson collection, whether it is on my external drive or the internal drive, it will show up in this saved search as long as I save the new files in what I have defined as an indexed location.

Figure H

Looking for Doc Watson
One nice feature of the Windows Vista desktop search feature is that it recognizes the different types of files. For example, in Figure I, I have applied the Music filter so that I see only music files. Under the Advanced Search pane, I can also further refine the search to look for a specific song title, a contributing artist, or a particular album.

Figure I

Apply music filter

Beyond organizing music files, imagine how you could apply the same categorizing principles to a project with files from several different applications. By using a tag, you could find the files no matter which application or even which person actually created them. If the files or folders exist in the right spot, they can be found with the saved Windows Vista desktop search. Organization is only a saved search away.


Mark Kaelin is a CBS Interactive Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He is the host for the Microsoft Windows and Office blog, the Google in the Enterprise blog, the Five Apps blog and the Big Data Analytics blog.


They have hit my blog too Microsoft Windows Vista to my blog I sent both Bill Gates a personal e-mail inviting them to post on my blog and expand upon their comments. %)


I am finding Saved Search files in my user Explorer folders on searches I neither made and did not request to be saved. Whether I made the search or not this is leaving an unwanted footprint of private document names and locations. If I try to remove the names of sensitive files from these search history lists, the sensitive files are deleted from the computer. How can I remove these saved search history just like deleting cookie, temporary files and internet search histories when that level of "cleaning" is needed?


Thats great and all, too bad the rest of the os sucks.. I told myself when vista came out that I would buy a mac before I would ever go to vista. Don't have the money yet, so I started running Ubuntu, Turned out I really liked it. Don't plan on going back to windows.. Still might buy a mac though, or put ubuntu on a ps3 maybe..


While the search functionality has been offered by competitors for quite a while, I like that Microsoft has built in the ability to save the search criteria for easy recall. No wonder Google is sweating the validity of its Desktop Search tool going into the Vista era.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

I know there is a lot of Vista bashing going around, and in your experience it may be justified, but I've been using Vista for months now and I have no problems with it at all.


I hate to rain on your parade, but Mac OS X has given the ability to save "Spotlight" searches in smart folders for the best part of two years now. Not only that, but the Mac approach is much easier. Simply go to the File menu in the Finder ... and select "New Smart Folder". Done.

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