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How to Find Stuff on Your Windows 7 PC

A typical PC has many files –  thousands and thousands of them. If you are like me and you collect a lot of stuff, you may even have several million. So what do you do when you want to find one of those files? If you know the name or part of the name of the file, you can just stick that in Start- Search. Or if you know the folder location, you can use the Windows Explorer search bar and enter the file name and search through the folder.  Depending on your settings for indexing, Windows 7 can be pretty good at turning up the file in those cases. 

But suppose you don’t want to search the name. Or maybe you forgot the name. Maybe you want to look for files of a given type or created in a certain time frame or containing certain subjects. In Windows XP searches were available with wildcards and date and size filters. The possible ways to search were increased in Vista (see this link ) and more so in Windows 7. Here is how to find things in Windows 7.

Advanced Query Syntax

In Windows 7 something called Advanced Query Syntax (AQS) was introduced. It uses a set of operators and properties that allow searches to be narrowed down in a large variety of ways. The set of possibilities is far more than I can cover here but here are the basic parameters:

  • File kinds- folders, documents, pictures and so on
  • File stores- specific databases and locations
  • File properties- size, date, title and so on
  • File contents- keywords

Here are just a few examples of the many possible search queries. In each case the query is to be entered into a search bar.

Purpose of search Search query 
To find all files with extension mp3 ext:mp3
To find files modified yesterday date:yesterday
To find pictures (JPG, PNG, GIF, etc.) kind:pics
To find pictures but no JPGs kind:pics NOT jpg
To find pictures modified this week kind:pics date:this week

There are numerous ways to search picture and music files for various properties, ways to search emails, ways to serch documents, and many other possibilities. Here are two Microsoft references with details:  

Using natural language to search

Windows 7 also has a search feature that is often overlooked. It is called “natural language search”. It allows search queries to be phrased a little more loosely than the Boolean kind. It is not enabled by default. Here is how to enable natural language search:

  1. Go to  Windows Explorer for any folder
  2. Open the drop-down menu “Organize”
  3. Select “Folder And Search Options”
  4. In the Folder Options dialog box, click the “Search” tab
  5. Check “Use Natural Language Search”

Here is an example of the simplification provided by natural language search. The search  “kind:pics date:yesterday” can be reduced to “pics date yesterday”. No great reduction, but every little bit helps.

And there you have it. Happy searching!

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This tips section is maintained by Vic Laurie. Vic runs several websites with Windows how-to's and tutorials, including a site for learning about Windows and the Internet and a blog with computer tips and commentary.

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Comments

by silveto on 26. February 2013 - 17:17  (105775)

"Everything" search tool is a keeper. Why couldn't MS include something like this in W7. Forget so many bells and whistles and make things work and hassle free. Boy did MS really screw this feature! should have left it the way it was in XP. If you can't improve on it, leave it alone!

by Nelson Carvalho (not verified) on 15. April 2012 - 22:47  (92142)

Good options:
SMF Search my Files => http://funk.eu/smf/
Find and Run Robot (FARR) => http://www.donationcoder.com/Software/Mouser/findrun/index.html

by John McNeil (not verified) on 15. April 2012 - 22:38  (92141)

I have used Copernic Desktop Search for years, and could not live without it. It's brilliant for searching inside pdf files, and even more so for finding emails, which I never seem to be able to find otherwise (it searches the trash and sent folders as well, which is a life-saver).

by Kent Dyer (not verified) on 14. April 2012 - 3:50  (92069)

http://www.easexp.com/xsearch/ > nice, portable stand-alone app

HTH,

Kent

by Frank D on 13. April 2012 - 17:15  (92045)

I find that Agent Ransack (Agent Ransack - Free File Searching Utility
http://www.mythicsoft.com/page.aspx?type=agentransack&page=home ) is faster and more full-featured.

by Eppy27 (not verified) on 13. April 2012 - 17:11  (92043)

All the old MS-DOS wild cards such as * and ? still work.

by v.laurie on 13. April 2012 - 17:28  (92047)

They work but not in the same way as they did in Windows XP.

by Bruce_Fraser on 13. April 2012 - 13:55  (92011)

I also use Everything, almost every day. BUT it has one major limitation: you HAVE to have some idea what the name of the file is. If all you can remember is something of the contents, you're out of luck.

If you want to retrieve a file by searching the characters (words, numbers, etc.) within a file, AND you don't want to wait hours while the search program churns through all your files, you need a program which has already done that churning and maintains an index of the file contents.

These are the most commonly recommended tools:
- Window 7 Search

- Google Desktop: no longer developed, but still available to download: http://google-desktop.en.softonic.com/.

- Copernic Desktop Search: http://www.copernic.com/en/products/desktop-search/home/index.html

- SearchWithin: http://www.searchwithin.com/.

Unfortunately, I cannot offer any personal comment on any of these. I still use the last free version of X1 Desktop Search, which was published in 2008. It is fantastic. Sadly, they have scoured the internet, completely wiping out all traces of that free product.

by AnyOldMouse (not verified) on 13. April 2012 - 12:39  (92008)

It doesn't matter what you do to find files in Windows 7, you can get up and make a cup of tea before it will produce any results. I use Search Everything (as recommended by Gizmo) but I'm not that happy with it as it brings up that UAC screen all the time. Gets the results fast though.

by chesscanoe (not verified) on 13. April 2012 - 15:11  (92022)

Re UAC: Read the FAQ 1.12 and 1.13 at http://www.voidtools.com/faq.php .

by Theo Lockefeer (not verified) on 13. April 2012 - 9:09  (91995)

i use Everything from : http://www.voidtools.com/

this Little Gem (334 KB !) NEVER disappointed me during the time i use it (> 3 Years)

i think its a great FREE search engine for your PC.

it is probably better then the AQS mentioned above.

by Geert on 13. April 2012 - 12:33  (92006)

That's exactly how I think about it too!
Everything forever!

by Lowndes (not verified) on 13. April 2012 - 23:49  (92063)

Me three!!

by flutike (not verified) on 24. April 2012 - 12:54  (92526)

Try Ultra file search , 30 sec for 1T and 4 USB on my Pc . Cons that recognize FAT too .Is my favorite .

by Geert on 24. April 2012 - 13:24  (92532)

UltraFileSearch is not bad at all.
But when it comes to speed Everything is simply UNBEATABLE.
When you start it, it takes some time (not very long) to load and index the NTFS table data.
But once that is done, EVERY search term you enter leads to results IMMEDIATELY (while eg. in UltraFileSearch every new search term you enter, leads to a newly executed search and you have to wait another 10 or 20 seconds before all the results are displayed)

flutike, I think YOU should try Everything. Really.

by flutike (not verified) on 24. April 2012 - 13:30  (92535)

I allredy tried Everything in the past , but if i remember only ntfs support , maybe i miss something ? And i have lot of files to search on 4 USB drives too .

by Geert on 24. April 2012 - 13:49  (92539)

>> Everything ... only ntfs support
Unfortunately, that's correct.
>> And i have lot of files to search on 4 USB drives too.
I see. Then UFS is probably a good choice.

Btw, do you know Cathy? (http://www.mtg.sk/rva/)
Portable, small (47k) and fast.

I quote the site:
"An extremly small, very fast and easy to use media cataloging tool. You can use it to index files stored on removable media (CD's, DVD's or even diskettes), hard disks or net drives, and create searchable catalogs that can be used without having access to original media. Searching capabilities are based on file name, date and size. Additional features include filtering options, search duplicates or singles, customizable date format, etc. Found files can be opened (executed) or deleted directly, if they are present. Drag&drop support. Directory trees, MP3 album/song lists can be printed, disk space usage can be investigated. Single file executable, no install needed."

I use it EVERY day.
Pro:
- It indexes all kind of drives, NTFS or not.
- Once the index is built (which it does fast), it is lightening fast
- It can search disks that are offline. (I use it as my always-in-my-pocket, offline music collection searcher)
Cons:
- It doesn't search inside files
- It only allows one '*' wild card in your search term
(but on the other hand, surprisingly, it turns out to be sufficient in most cases)