Put the default Search back in Windows Vista SP1

Greg Shultz investigates the removal of the default Search command from both the Start menu and the context or right-click menu in Microsoft Vista SP1. He then shows you how you can put the Search command back.

Ever since I've been using Windows Vista, I've been creating and using Saved Searches for files that I most commonly need to find on my hard disk. In fact, I've amassed such a large list of saved searches that I rarely need to conduct a new search. As such, I completely missed the fact that Microsoft removed the default Search command from both the Start menu and the context, or right-click, menu in SP1.

Apparently, this removal was brought on by the threat of another antitrust suit by the EU over the notion that Vista's built-in Windows Desktop Search feature prevented third-party search providers from getting fair access to searching the hard drive. Of course, Windows Desktop Search is still integrated in Vista, and other means of accessing it are available. It's just that the Search command no longer has exclusive positioning on the Start menu or on the context menu.

In this issue of the Windows Vista Report, I'll investigate this removal in a bit more detail and describe some of the corresponding changes. I'll then show you how you can put the Search command back on both the Start menu and the context menu.

This blog post is also available in the PDF format in a TechRepublic Download.

Providing access to third-parties

As I alluded to, removing the main Search access points, thereby crippling Windows Desktop Search, was not really something that Microsoft wanted to do. Rather, they were forced to do it so that third-party desktop search creators would be able to easily integrate their products into Vista.

Removing the Search command from the Start menu and from the context menu removes the perception that Windows Desktop Search is the only option that is available to you. And, to complete that picture, Microsoft had to make the remaining Search access point generic enough to accommodate any desktop search tool.

For example, if you type any text in the Start Search box on the Start menu, you'll see that the See All Results option has been changed to the more generic sounding Search Everywhere. Comparing Figure A, which shows the pre SP1 Start menu, with Figure B, which shows the post SP1 Start menu, highlights the differences.

Figure A

In SP1 the Search command no longer appears on the Stat menu.

Figure B

The See All Results has been changed to the more generic sounding Search Everywhere.

Now, it is important to keep in mind that Windows Desktop Search is still the default search tool, right out of the box, so to speak, but you can now easily install a third-party desktop search tool and configure it to be the default.

To see this for yourself, just click Start | All Programs and select the Default Programs item. When you see the Default Programs window, select the Associate A File Type Or Protocol With A Program item. Now, scroll to the bottom of the Programs list and select the Search item. When you do, you'll see that you can now replace Windows Desktop Search, as shown in Figure C.

Figure C

You can now replace Vista's native Windows Desktop Search with a third-party desktop search tool.

When you click the Change Program button, you'll be able to select any third-party desktop search tool that you have installed and make it the default search tool.

The alternative access points

Regardless of whether you install a third-party desktop search tool or stick with Windows Desktop Search, using any of the following Search access points will launch whatever search tool you have set as the default.

  • Pressing [Windows]+F
  • Clicking Start and pressing [F3]
  • Pressing [Ctrl]+F in Windows Explorer
  • Clicking Start and typing any text in the Start Search box on the Start menu

Putting Search back on the context menu

Fortunately, you can put the Search access point back on the context menu by editing the registry. However, before I show you how, I have to remind you that editing the registry can be tricky, so make sure that you create a restore point and have a recent backup.

To launch the Registry Editor, click the Start button, type Regedit in the Start Search box, and press [Enter]. When you see the User Account Control dialog box, you'll need to respond accordingly. Once the Registry Editor appears, navigate to the following folder:

Now, select the LegacyDisable value, as shown in Figure D, pull down the Edit menu, and select the Delete command. As soon as you delete the LegacyDisable value, the Search command will reappear on the context menu.

Figure D

Deleting the LegacyDisable value will bring the Search command back to the context menu.

Putting Search back on the Start menu

Putting Search back on the Start menu is a bit easier as you just need to create a shortcut, but you won't be able to put it back in the same exact location. Right-click on your desktop and select the New | Shortcut command. When you see the Create Shortcut wizard, type

C:\Windows\explorer.exe search-ms: in the text box, as shown in Figure E.

Figure E

You can create a shortcut to Vista's native Windows Desktop Search tool.
To continue, click Next, name the shortcut Search, and click Finish. Now, drag the Search shortcut to the Start menu, and place it at the very top of the left-hand panel, as shown in Figure F.

Figure F

You can put the Search shortcut at the top of the Start menu.

Searching in Vista

Are you likely to ditch Vista's native Windows Desktop Search in favor of a third-party desktop search tool now that you can do so? If so, which one will you use? Or, are you going to stick with Windows Desktop Search? If so, will you use these techniques to put the main Search access point back on the Start menu and the context menu?


Greg Shultz is a freelance Technical Writer. Previously, he has worked as Documentation Specialist in the software industry, a Technical Support Specialist in educational industry, and a Technical Journalist in the computer publishing industry.


Does anyone know howto remove the "search everywhere" line after typing something in the search bar? Search Internet can me removed with a normal policy but i couldn't find a way to hide / remove the "search everywhere" link.


You know.. you act like microsoft ONLY had this option.. they didn't.. what they SHOULD have done, was make the search option open to 3rd parties, without having to remove any access point that activated "Search" Again, people that seem to not think about how microsoft COULD have complied, and still kept things easy for everyone, have just added to the problems that we all face, days, weeks, and yes even A YEAR down the road when we're finally forced to use Vista and find that microsoft has yet again f**ked us all. You (Greg) you're in the biz.. and even YOU won't come straight out and label this for what it is.. Microsoft acting as their arrogant asses can, forcing everyone to live without easy access and allowing themselves to be called "the victim" of government overregulation ... absolute BULL! Stop feeding the MS machine.


It's great that posts like this exist to undo things that an update changes, regardless of the reason for the change by Microsoft, It has become a frustrating part of the Microsoft platform where something that provided good usability gets undone. The solution in this case does not adhere to good useability that Microsoft used to claim they spend millions of dollars researching, would it not have been better to give the user the choice from control panel or the task bar to offer a selection for the search feature - use Microsoft Search or Others - thus allowing a hook into the OS for third parties? This would maintain good useability with a consitent location for search, rather than the user having to resort to registry hacks every time a feature needs to be changed or fixed to be as designed. The novelty of registry changes has worn off for me now as I just want to get on and use the computer.


Another great article from Greg Schultz.


I have been using this utility since XP came out and the MS search would not search all file types but required a registry hack for EACH file type. This will become my deafault search in my Vista machine. This tip/trick is one of many I will use. The reason- This product can search for text within the file type being searched, displaying the line containg the word (which is highlighted) to the right. This in an awesome tool for searching and the interface is simplistic. Multi-select files found with the text you are searching and the lines appear on the other side or you can highlight and go down once at a time. It is a quicker faster and more usefull tool than the MS default. Did I mention it was - FREE - Check it out:


Good one! Many thanks.............

Mycah Mason
Mycah Mason

I found this 'problem' quite frustrating. I want to use Vista's search tool and now I can't. Isn't the whole point that you have a CHOICE? This is not a choice at all, it's just that instead of being forced to use it we are all being foced to NOT use it. Fine for those people that didn't want to use it, but what about those of us who did? Anyway, thanks for the workaround. I've noticed that this hack doesn't show the search option in the context menu at the root level of a HD. Any way to add it there? I want to search my C: drive often.


I was just wondering if there is any reason to put the shortcut on the Start menu if you plan on leaving MS search to be used by the Search box on the bottom of the Start menu.

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