A deeper look at Windows Vista's integrated search feature

The integrated Search features in the pre-RC1 build 5536 of Windows Vista are fully functional and much more responsive. Here's a closer look.

In last week's edition of the Windows Vista Report, I talked about several of the most notable performance enhancements in pre-RC1 build 5536. As I did, I mentioned that the integrated Search features in this build of Windows Vista are fully functional and much more responsive. Since that time, I've been experimenting with the integrated Search features and have been pleasantly surprised with just how good this new tool is. In this article, I will take a deeper look at the integrated Search features.

Author's note:

As I was writing this article, Microsoft released the real RC1 build! I haven't really had a chance to thoroughly investigate it yet but I will and let you know my thoughts. In the meantime, I thought that I'd run this article on the pre-RC1 build since many of you will still be experimenting with that build since it's open to the public. In any case, there should be few, if any, changes to the Search feature at this point in the game.

Using Start Search

One of the more prominent places in which you'll encounter the new Search is right on the Start menu. When you open the Start menu, you'll see the Start Search text box, right above the Start button, as shown in Figure A.

Figure A

The location of Search directly on the Start menu makes it very quick and easy to begin a search operation.

You'll notice that the Start Search text box is selected by default. This means that as soon as you click the Start button, you can begin typing the name of an item for which you want to search. As soon as you type the first letter, Search immediately begins compiling a list of applications, folders, and documents that begin with that letter. As you continue typing letters, Search refines its list to match the letters that you're typing and displays the results in a categorized list right in place of the Start menu, as shown in Figure B.

Figure B

This particular search results pane includes items in the Programs, Favorites, Files, and Communications categories.

Searching the Start menu

While it's nice to be able to conduct an all-inclusive search right from the Start menu, one of the nicest benefits is that this search makes it very easy to track down application shortcuts that are nested within the Start menu. For example, the Windows Explorer shortcut is nested in the All Programs|Accessories folder and you can get to it very quickly by typing exp Start Search text box and pressing [Enter].

Extending your search

At the very bottom of this dynamic results pane, you'll notice the Search options titled See All Results and Search the Internet. When you select the See All Results option, the main Search interface will appear and will display a more comprehensive results list. When you select the Search the Internet option, Internet Explorer will appear and transport the search query to the Windows Live Search site which will then display the results, as shown in Figure C.

Figure C

Clicking the Search the Internet option transports the search query to the Windows Live Search site.

Using the main Search interface

While you can switch over to the main Search interface from the Start Search's results pane, you can still click the Search command on the Start menu. When you do, you'll see the main Search interface and can immediately begin typing in the search text box, which is selected by default, as shown in Figure D.

Figure D

The main Search interface launches a blank page with the search text box selected by default.

As soon as you type the first letter, the Search interface changes and immediately begins compiling a list of applications, folders, and documents that begin with that letter. As you continue typing letters, Search refines its list to match the letters that you're typing and displays the results in a list, as shown in Figure E.

Figure E

The Search interface changes as soon as you begin typing in the letters.

As you can see, the main Search interface provides a host of ways to manipulate your initial search. On the Search Pane, you'll see that you can narrow your search by selecting one of the Show Only categories: All, E-mail, Document, Picture, Music, or Other. If you select the Advanced Search button, you'll see a new panel that provides you with a set of options that will allow you to further narrow your search, as shown in Figure F.

Figure F

The Advanced panel provides you other ways to narrow your search results.

Saved searches

On the Command Bar, you'll see the Save Search button which allows you to save your search criteria as a special Saved Search folder. You can then, at a later date, reopen the Saved Search folder and instantly access the results. However, since the Saved Search folders are dynamically updated, you'll find that files and folders will be added or removed automatically as you create or delete items in the file system.

Once you save a search, you can find it in the Searches folder, as shown in Figure G. You can access the Searches folder from My Computer and Windows Explorer as well as from the main Search interface.

Figure G

The Searches folder dynamically maintains all of your saved searches.

Control Panel search

When I said that the Search feature is integrated into Windows Vista I wasn't kidding. How many times have you opened up the Control Panel and stumbled around trying to find a particular configuration tool? Well not in Vista. When you open the Control Panel, you can click the search text box and type in the first few letters in the name of the tool that you're looking for. As soon as you do, you'll the Control Panel interface will begin to display the search results, as shown in Figure H.

Figure H

Searching for tools in the Control Panel is a very nice feature that will save you time and frustration


Microsoft has really done a nice job of integrating its Search engine throughout the Windows Vista operating system. I'll continue to evaluate this integration as we move on to the RC1 phase and will cover Search again in the near future. In the meantime, if you have comments or information to share about the Windows Vista's integrated Search features, please take a moment to drop by the Discussion area and let us hear.

By Greg Shultz

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.