Save Time and Money with Windows Desktop Search

We all know what it feels like to waste time looking for missing emails, documents and files on our computers. Multiply the time you spend each day looking for missing files by the number of people in your small business — and then by each working day — and you’ll see that time spent looking for missing files costs you serious money.

The answer isn’t buying more small business software; instead it’s much closer and far less expensive than you think. A smart search tool like the free Windows Desktop Search reduces the time it takes to find missing files and gets you back to more productive work. In this column, I’ll show you how to find and use Windows Desktop Search.

If you were frustrated by the search tools built into earlier versions of Windows, you’ll be surprised at how good Windows Desktop Search is. In contrast to the older tools, which were slow, cumbersome and — worst of all — didn’t always find files that were on your computer, Windows Desktop Search is much improved. It is now a key piece of small business technology for any business.

Windows Desktop Search; small business software
The Search dialog gives you access to a fully featured search tool.
(Click for larger image)

Installing Windows Desktop Search

If you’re using Windows Vista or Windows 7, you already have Windows Desktop Search built into your system. If you’re using Windows XP, you can download Windows Desktop Search 4.0 and install it onto your computer.

Getting Started with Windows Desktop Search

You access Windows Desktop Search in Windows Explorer via the Search box in the top right-hand corner of the screen. It also appears in some Vista versions as Search on the Start menu. If you can’t get to the Search dialog from the Start menu, press the Windows key + F to launch it.

The Search dialog gives you access to a fully featured search tool that looks a little different with each Windows version. In Vista you can select to show All results or only Email, Documents, Pictures, Music or Other types of files. In Windows 7 you have this option available by clicking Kind at the foot of the Search dialog and then choosing the kind of file to find from the dropdown list of options.

In Windows 7, you can select Kind and then choose the kind of file to search for from that dropdown list.

Type the text you are looking for in the Search area — Windows will look for text in a file as well as in the filename. For example, if you search for Excel you will find all files containing Excel in the filename or in the file’s contents.

If you search for Excel formula you will find all files containing the words Excel and formula but not necessarily side-by-side. If you use double quotes around the search text, Windows will look for the phrase “Excel formula.”

A list of files that match the search will appear in the Search dialog and, if you have the Preview showing (make this visible using the Organize > Layout options) you can click on any a document in the list and see its preview. You can also double click a file or document to open it in its associated application.

How Windows Desktop Search Works

Windows Desktop Search indexes the files on your computer behind the scenes, and it uses this index to quickly find files and emails when you search for them. If you hold the Alt key when the Search window is active, a menu appears. Choose Tools > Folder Options > Search tab to configure Search settings including what and how Search should, well, search. You can also configure natural language searches so, for example, you can type the search term “emails yesterday” to find all emails dated yesterday.

Windows Desktop Search; small business software
Use the Indexing Options dialog box to select which files to include in the index.
(Click for larger image)

To configure the Indexed locations choose Control Panel > Indexing Options (in Windows 7 you may need to type its name into the search dialog to find it). This dialog contains a list of the locations that are currently being indexed. If desired, click Modify > Show All Locations to open the indexed locations dialog, and you can then see and edit the locations that are indexed.

The Indexing Options dialog lets you choose which folders you want included in the index.

A PDF Add-in for Windows Desktop Search

By default, Windows cannot display or search inside a pdf file, but you can add this functionality by installing a PDF iFilter. The add-in comes installed with 32-bit versions of Adobe Acrobat 9 and Adobe Reader 9 but, if you are using Windows Vista 64-bit edition, you will need to download and install the PDF iFilter.

Note that you should also set your system PATH environment variable as shown on that page. This free PDF iFilter does not work with Windows 7; you need to purchase and install Fox iFilter 2 from to get this search and display functionality for PDF files.

With a PDF filter installed you can search inside and preview PDF files in the Search dialog.

Windows Desktop Search Operators

There are a number of search operators that you can use in Windows Desktop Search. For example: ext:ppt telephone will locate all PowerPoint PPT files that contain the word telephone. Searching for ext:ppt returns all PowerPoint ppt files and you can, if you have the preview pane visible, see the contents of that file.

You can use Boolean operators such as AND, OR and NOT between words to search for both words, either word, or one word but only where the other word is not also used. Click for more information on search terms you can use in Windows Desktop Search.

If there is a search that you often perform, create the search and then save it by clicking Save Search. It will then appear in your Searches collection so you can find it by clicking your user name > Searches and then click the search to run it.

Windows Desktop Search lets you find files, documents and emails very quickly; it will significantly reduce the time it takes to find missing documents. Best of all, it’s free and probably already installed on your computer.

Helen Bradley is a respected international journalist writing regularly for small business and computer publications in the USA, Canada, South Africa, UK and Australia. You can learn more about her at her Web site,

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