Speed up searches in Windows 7 (Feature)
By Jay Dougherty May 3, 2010, 3:06 GMT
Washington - Searching for files in Windows 7 is supposed to be greatly improved. But is it really? While it's now possible to open up Windows Explorer, navigate to a folder full of files, place your mouse cursor in the Search box, and type a word or phrase you know exists in some file, the search itself can take forever. And occasionally you can wait for many minutes, only to find that the search facility has found no files at all.
The problem is usually not the search capabilities of Windows 7 itself but rather the way that search options are set up by default. You can improve the situation a lot by optimising Windows 7's search tool for the way you work and the way you store files. Here's how.
--- Set Folder Options
Open your Windows Start menu and type 'folder options.' Click the Folder Options entry that appears. From the resulting Folder Options dialogue box, select the Search tab. There, you'll see some settings that can make your searches truly powerful.
For starters, under 'What to search,' click the option button labeled 'Always search file names and contents.' The default setting ignores the contents of files in locations that are not indexed, which in the case of most real-world computing means most locations. The result, unfortunately, is that the Windows Search facility comes up blank if you go to a folder and search for a word that you know exists in some file within that folder. The Search facility doesn't find it because it's looking only at file names, not the contents of files.
Changing this setting is the equivalent of the default setting in the File Search box of Windows XP. It looked through everything - file names and file contents - when you performed a search. True, it took a long time when dealing with a large folder of files. But at least it ended up showing you where the information was that you were seeking.
Also, if some of the files you might need to search are stored in compressed files (ZIP, CAB, and so forth), consider selecting the check box labeled 'Include compressed files.' That way, Windows Search will take the time to dig into those compressed files and archives to find information stored within.
--- Indexing Options
The next dialogue box you want to visit is called Indexing Options. Access this by opening the Start menu and typing 'indexing options.' Click the first entry that results.
Windows 7 greatly improves the speed at which it finds information that you search for by indexing certain locations in the background, and it's in the Indexing Options dialog box that you tell Windows where you typically store your files.
By default, Windows 7 only indexes the most obvious file locations: anything under the Users folder on your C drive, for example. If you're the type of person who never changes the file locations suggested by the applications you install, you probably do not need to change anything in the Indexing Options dialogue box.
If, like many, however, you like to be in control of where your files are stored - or you archive files in various locations on your hard drive or network - then you should add those locations in Indexing Options.
To add a drive or folder, click the Modify button in the Indexing Options dialogue box. It may take a while before the resulting Indexed Locations dialog box appears, but it will. Once it does, ensure that all of your local drives that contain files you wish to search are checked. Click OK to close the Indexed Locations dialog box and return to Indexing Options.
While you're still in Indexing Options, click the Advanced button, which will open the Advanced Options dialog box. Here, you can tell Windows 7 whether to index encrypted files, and, most importantly, you can tell Windows 7 where to store its index files by clicking the Select New button and specifying a specific drive and folder. This option is important because those index files can chew up a lot of disk space - multiple gigabytes if you're indexing many folders - so it's a good idea to move the index files to a drive where you have plenty of space.
Note that Windows 7 will only index files located on your local computer - not on networked drives. There is a workaround for this limitation, however, that essentially involves replicating the files on the networked drive to your local machine. Use Windows Explorer to navigate to the network folder that you wish to have indexed, right click the folder, and select Always Available Offline from the pop-up menu. Doing so actually activates Windows 7's file synchronisation tool, placing the networked drives on your local machine and therefore enabling them to be indexed.
The synchronisation process could take some time - and it will definitely take some hard drive space. So be sure you've moved your =index to a location with plenty of room, as mentioned earlier.
--- Measuring Success
Once you've added new locations to index, give Windows 7 some time - perhaps overnight - to search through the new files. The next day, you should notice considerably speedier searches, from the Start menu, from Windows Explorer, and from any other area in Windows 7 where you can perform searches.