How to use and control the Search tool in Windows 10

You can now customize the Search tool through its own dedicated settings page in the Windows 10 May 2019 Update.

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Image: Matt Elliott/CNET

The search feature in Windows 10 has evolved into a versatile tool over the years. Beyond helping you search for general information, either on your computer or online, it can steer you to specific applications, documents, email, photos, folders, and other items. It can also show you recent items and help you access the Windows Timeline. The Windows 10 May 2019 Update brings further change by dissolving the tight integration between Search and Cortana . So you can now configure and customize Search as its own separate tool. How can you best use and control searching in Windows 10? Let's go over the steps.

SEE: Windows 10 May 2019 Update: 10 notable new features (free PDF) (TechRepublic)  

To check out the latest changes in Search, you'll need to have the Windows 10 May 2019 Update. Assuming you control the updates on your own personal computer rather than receiving them through an organization, you can install the May Update one of two ways. Go to Settings and then select Update & Security. Click the button to Check For Updates. If available for your PC, the May Update will appear as Feature Update to Windows 10, 1903. Click the link to Download And Install Now. If you don't see the update and want to install it manually, head over to Microsoft's Windows 10 Update page and click the button to Update Now.

To dive into Search, simply click the Search field at the left of the Taskbar. The Search window shows you your most recent documents and other files as well as your top apps—you can easily click a recent file or top app to open it (Figure A).

Figure A

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To search for a specific file, application, or general subject, simply type your keyword or words in the search field. Depending on your search term, the results may point you to documents, apps, web pages, and other types of content (Figure B).

Figure B

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You can expand or narrow the search results by type. Click any of the headings at the top of the search window—Apps, Documents, Email, or Web—to filter the results by that specific type. Click the More heading to filter the results by Folders, Music, People, Photos, Settings, or Videos (Figure C).

Figure C

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Next, you can access the Windows Timeline to see a recent history of documents, web pages, and other files. To do this from the Search window, delete your search term to go back to the main window and click the link for Manage History.

Now, let's look at some ways to customize and control the Search tool. First, you can free up space on the Taskbar by shrinking the Search field into an icon. To do this, right-click on the Taskbar, move to the Search menu item, and select the option to Show Search Icon (Figure D). You'll now have to click the Search icon to use the search field, but you have more room for other Taskbar icons. To revert back, return to the Search menu item and change the selection to Show Search Box.

Figure D

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For your next step, you should review the Search settings, especially now that Search is no longer joined at the hip with Cortana. To do this, click in the Search field, click on the ellipsis icon in the upper right, and then select Search Settings. Alternatively, open Settings and click on the setting for Search. The Search settings window appears, with the section for Permissions & History.

Here, you can start by customizing the search results to include or exclude adult content. Next, you can enable or disable Search's ability to find content from any cloud-based services you use, such as Outlook and OneDrive. Then, you can enable or disable Search's ability to view your device and search history. You can also click on the link to Search history settings to display a web page where you can view and delete your search history for privacy reasons (Figure E).

Figure E

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Next, click on the category for Searching Windows. Here, you can customize what type of content gets indexed by Windows for search purposes (Figure F).

Figure F

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The Classic option searches only your libraries and desktop. To use this option but modify the search locations, click on the link to Customize Search Locations Here. That opens the Control Panel applet for Indexing Options where you can add or remove locations to be indexed (Figure G).

Figure G

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Under Excluded Folders, you can add a folder that you don't want indexed by clicking on the button to Add An Excluded Folder and then selecting the folder. You can also include an existing folder that has been excluded by clicking on the folder name and selecting the button to Remove Excluded Folder (Figure H).

Figure H

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Finally, click on the category for More Details. Click on the link for Privacy Statement to view details about how and why Microsoft collects certain information. Click on the link to Windows Privacy Options to view and change your privacy options. Click on the link for Cortana & Search to view a web page about Cortana and your privacy (Figure I).

Figure I

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Also see

By Lance Whitney

Lance Whitney is a freelance technology writer and trainer and a former IT professional. He's written for Time, CNET, PCMag, and several other publications. He's the author of two tech books—one on Windows and another on LinkedIn.