Investigating Windows Vista's new Search features

Here's a look at Windows Vista's new Search features and how they work.

In my October 12th column "An in-depth look at Windows Vista's Virtual Folders technology" I told you about one component of a whole set of new and improved data and file management features that Microsoft calls Windows Vista's new information visualization, organization, and search features. As I mentioned in that column, these new features are designed to address the problem caused by the fact that the amount of data we have access to these days can fill up a hard disk faster than we can keep it organized. We can't easily lay our hands on the one file or piece of information that we're looking for. It's called information overload and not only is it easier for us to generate tons of data with today's super efficient applications, but with the advent of the Internet and broadband access, we can download bucket loads of data in a matter of minutes.

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While Virtual Folders offers one technique to help us keep track of our data, there's still a need for a Search tool in the new operating system and the October CTP provides us with an early glimpse of the power that Microsoft is building into Windows Vista's new system-wide Search features. In this column, I'll take a look at Windows Vista's new Search features and describe how they work.

The main Search tool

As you know, to get to the Search tool in Windows XP, you first click the Start button and then you click the Search icon. Once the Search window appears, you can then fill in your search criteria and click the Search Now button. That's four steps, which currently doesn't even seem to be a factor. However once you begin experimenting with Windows Vista, you'll feel like launching Search via those four steps takes an eternity.

In Windows Vista, you click the Start button and then begin typing the name of the file in a search box. As soon as you type the first letter, the Search engine immediately begins compiling a list of applications, folders, and documents that begin with that letter and displays them in a categorized list right on top of the Start menu, which instantly converts itself into the search results pane, as shown in Figure A. As you continue typing letters, the Search engine refines its list to match the letters that you're typing.

Figure A

Windows Vista puts the Search tool right on the Start menu where it's quick and convenient.

In addition, you'll find what the Search engine considers the most likely candidate for the file or folder that you're looking for at the very bottom of the search results pane. If you press [Enter], Windows Vista will load that file or open that folder.

You'll also notice what I'll call secondary searches titled Search Computer and Search Internet that are both preloaded with the letters you've typed in the search box. If you click Search Internet, Windows Vista will pass the search job on to MSN Search, which will immediately conduct a search and present the results in an Internet Explorer window.

The secondary Search tool

If you click Search Computer, the search engine will instantaneously load a full featured Search window, as shown in Figure B, in which the search results include a search for matching text inside of documents as well as the matching filenames.

Figure B

This secondary search window provides you with controls refining your search with additional search criteria. 

You'll see that this Search windows provides you with controls to add further search criteria. For example, you can click the Add Filter button and choose from a variety of filters, as shown in Figure C. To add additional filters, you just click the Add Filter button again.

Figure C

To add further search criteria, you just click the Add Filter button and choose from a dropdown list.

And if that isn't enough, Windows Vista's Search engine provides you with Boolean operators. You just click the dropdown arrow adjacent to the Add Filter button and can further narrow your search using the Boolean operators AND and OR, as shown in Figure D.

Figure D

Windows Vista's Search engine provides you with Boolean operators to allow you to more precisely narrow your search.

Indexing

Just like Windows XP, Windows Vista's Search engine has an Indexing Service that is designed examine files in advance to speed responses to search operations. It also runs in the background, but appears to be much more efficient in that it doesn't index the entire hard disk--only specific locations. You can access it's interface, as shown in Figure E, in the Control Panel by double-clicking the Indexing and Search Options icon.

Figure E

Windows Vista's Search engine uses an Indexing Service that is designed to examine files in advance to speed responses to search operations.

Conclusion

Now, as I close, it's important that I point out that you have to take this information with a grain of salt, considering the fact that Windows Vista's release date is over a year a way and the operating system, while more solidified than it has been prior to this point in time, is still in a state of flux

As always, if you have comments or information to share about Windows Vista's new Search tool, please take a moment to drop by the Discussion area and let us hear.