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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"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!