Chapter 4. Built-In Utilities

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3.4 Searching Your Computer

Sometimes, finding a file on your disk is like hunting for a lost robot on Mars ‚ time-consuming , often futile, and sweaty. Here are tips and workarounds to help you find what you need fast ‚ whether you're looking for a budget document from last year or an MP3 Martian music file you downloaded last week.

3.4.1 Customizing Windows XP's Basic Search Tools

Windows XP's search tool, Search Companion, offers some very basic search tools for finding lost files. While Search Companion isn't going to help you find the Holy Grail, it's not bad for quick retrievals of files you know are lurking somewhere on your computer. And if you mix in some of the advanced search tools, described later, you can really beef up your search capabilities. Four ways to launch Search Companion

You can launch the Search Companion in any of these ways:

  • Choose Start Search.

  • From anywhere , press Windows key+F.

  • In an Explorer Window, press F3.

  • In an Explorer Window, choose Search. Selecting or deleting an animated helpmate

Many people find the animated canine companion ‚ dubbed Rover by his creators ‚ more annoying than comforting. To turn off Rover, choose Change Preferences "Without an animated screen character." If you're a fan of animated characters , but Rover skeeves you out, choose Change Preferences "With a different character," and then choose from a list of other animated alternatives. Types of searches

Search Companion offers four types of searches. You can choose one to limit the files Windows searches, potentially speeding up your search:

  • Pictures, music, or videos

  • Documents (word processing, spreadsheet, and so on)

  • All files and folders

  • Computers (on your network) or people (in your address book)

These search options all have wizards that can be tedious to click through. The advanced search option is a lot quicker and more effective, since it lets you search directly for all or part of a file name or a word or phrase in the file, rather than walking you through the wizard's multiple steps. Advanced search

The advanced search feature is pretty straightforward, and it lets you look for files in useful ways. For example, you can search by typing in file names . You can also use wildcards like an * when searching for files. (A wildcard is a character you can use to search for multiple variations of a file name.) Thus, if you can't remember whether you called a file AfricaProject or AfricaReport or AfricaHoeDown, type Africa* to search for multiple variations.

To use advanced search, from the Search Companion choose Change Preferences "Change Files and Folders Search Behavior" Advanced.

See Figure 3-17 for a view of the search window both with and without Rover and the wizard interface.

Tip: When you conduct a search, Windows doesn't normally search through system folders or hidden files and folders. If you want your searches to look in those places, too, first select the type of search you want to perform, then click "More advanced options." Turn on the "Search system folders" and "Search hidden files and folders" boxes. (Turn on "Search subfolders " too if you want your search to run through the folders that are contained within the folders you're searching through.) Now, whenever you use the Search Companion, it searches through system and hidden files and folders as well.

3.4.2 Finding Music and Picture Files

Finding the exact picture or song you want on your PC can be a nightmare. Unlike documents, music and photos typically don't have a lot of text you can search for, other than the file's name. Say you're looking for an MP3 file of Franz Schubert's Symphony #8, also known as the Unfinished Symphony. If you can't remember whether you called it Franz8, Schubert Symphony, Unfinished Business, FSS8AKAUS, or something else altogether ‚ and it's nestled among thousands of other media files on your hard drive ‚ you might be tempted to declare it the Unfound Symphony.

But you have another option. A little-known feature of the Search Companion looks not only for file names, but also for details embedded in a media file known as metadata . Metadata is descriptive information about a file, and it varies according to the type of file. For example, metadata for music files in the WMA and MP3 formats can include the artist's name, the album title, the musical genre , and even the lyrics. (Metadata for graphics files doesn't offer as much descriptive information, but does include the file's resolution and, if you've taken the photo with a digital camera, even the camera model.)

Metadata gets added to a file when somebody creates the file, so how much information appears mostly depends on the information grabbed at that time. For example, if you've recorded an MP3 file from a CD, the metadata for the MP3 includes whatever information your music recording software copied from the CD, such as the kind of music it is, the CD title, and the song title.

Figure 3-17. Left: The default Search Companion window forces you into a wizard-like interface that takes you through several extra steps when performing a search. It also includes an animated dog that many people would like to curb.
Right: The advanced Search Companion interface lets you search without an animated character and without wizards. Searching for metadata

You don't have to do anything special to tell Windows XP to search through metadata ‚ the Search Companion does it automatically, in both the normal and advanced modes. You just need to know what kind of metadata you can look for.

To see the metadata for any media file, right-click the file, and then choose Properties Summary. (Sometimes you have to choose Properties Summary Advanced.) Figure 3-18 shows the metadata associated with an MP3 file of Schubert's Unfinished Symphony .

Figure 3-18. The metadata for music files can contain a lot of hidden information about the file, including its genre, the CD title, song title, track number, the year it was recorded, and comments from the person who recorded the track. Often, not all the metadata fields contain information. What's available depends on the software used to record the music ‚ or info that someone added later.

Once you know what you can look for, launch the Search Companion, go to the box that says "A word or part of the file name," and type whatever you want to find. For example, if you type Classical , the Search Companion looks for any music in that genre. (If you have about 3,000 classical music files on your drive, consider typing something more specific, like Schubert or Unfinished Symphony to narrow the field.)

Graphics files don't contain as much information, but you can search for the resolution of the file. For example, type 800 600 in the box that says "A word or part of the file name." If you've taken a picture with your digital camera, you can type in the camera name. (This trick works only if your camera was smart enough to put metadata in the file ‚ not all cameras are.)

Note: For the media files you can see already, you can edit or add to the metadata. The editing process can be tedious, but the more information you put in the metadata field, the easier it will be to find that file when you're searching for it later on. From the Summaries tab shown in Figure 3-18, click any metadata field and you can add, edit, or delete at will (say, if the comments about the band don't match your opinion).

3.4.3 Saving a Search for Future Reference

If you frequently perform the same search ‚ like looking for Word files that contain the phrase " outrageous things my mom said" ‚ you don't need to retype those words every time you go hunting. Instead, you can save your search. Saved search files are a godsend if you do advanced searches, like looking by file size or date, and often perform the same search over and over, like doing a monthly search for memos you've written.

To save a search:

  1. Enter the search criteria and perform the search as usual .

    You first have to run a search before you can save it.

  2. Choose File Save Search from the Search Companion, then choose where you want to save the file .

    Windows XP normally saves the search in your My Documents folder, but you can save it anywhere. In fact, if you plan to save a lot of searches, you might want to create a separate folder for them.

  3. When you want to run the search again, find the file and double-click it .

    When you save a search, Windows XP creates a file named after the main criteria of your search. For example, if you search for all .doc files that contain the phrase "To Do list" and which have been modified in the past month, Windows names the file "Files containing text To Do list.fnd."You can rename the file, as long as it ends in the .fnd extension ‚ for example, "To do list finder.fnd." You can't edit the actual search by changing the file name, though. So even if you renamed the original file "Vacation ideas finder.fnd" it would still search for the phrase "to do list," not "vacation ideas."

Tip: If you perform a search particularly often, consider creating a shortcut to it on your desktop. That way, you can just double-click it from the desktop to run it. Just create the search and then drag the .fnd file from Windows Explorer to your desktop.

3.4.4 Using the Indexing Service to Speed Up Searches

The Search Companion is useful, but for power searchers , it leaves much to be desired. For example, if your PC is stuffed to the gills, searches can take quite a long time. And the kinds of searches the Search Companion can perform are fairly limited. For example, it can't find files based on properties like when a file was last printed or its word count.

Windows XP's Indexing Service is a far more powerful tool. It can perform searches literally hundreds of times faster than the Search Companion and offers a sophisticated query language you can use. The service works by indexing the files on your disk ‚ creating the equivalent of an index in a book. Then when you do a search, it looks in the index (called a catalog) rather than searching your entire hard disk.

But the Indexing Service has some drawbacks, too. Here's what you should know before deciding whether to use it:

  • The Indexing Service takes up a lot of disk space . The index it creates requires anywhere from 15 to 30 percent of a typical drive, according to Microsoft. That means giving up a lot of gigabytes.

  • The Indexing Service can't do case-sensitive searches . If you need to search by upper or lower case, use the Search Companion instead. For example, if you want to find a file named cookiemonster.doc, but not CookieMonster.doc, the Search Companion can help you but the Indexing Service can't.

  • The Indexing Service searches only certain file types . These types include HTML files, text files, and Microsoft Office documents. If you want it to search other file types, such as graphics files, you have to get a third-party filter, and there aren't filters for all file types.

Note: For more information on where to find these filters, use Google or your favorite search engine to look for "indexing service filters."
  • There are times when you won't be able to use the Indexing Service . While XP is indexing your hard drive, either initially or when updating (which it can do several times a day), you won't be able to use the Indexing Service. But you can still use the Search Companion at those times. The initial index usually takes a few hours; after that, most updates usually last only a few minutes.

The bottom line? If you search your hard drive a lot and can spare the disk space, it's worth using the Indexing Service ‚ the speed alone is a major benefit, even if you don't take advantage of its sophisticated query language. Turning on the Indexing Service

Ordinarily, the Indexing Service isn't turned on, so you have to activate it. First, launch the Search Companion, then choose Change Preferences With Indexing Service. (If you see Without Indexing Service instead, it means the Indexing Service is already turned on.)

After you activate the Indexing Service, building an index for the first time can take awhile, especially if you have a slow computer and lots of files. In any case, it's a good idea to start the Indexing Service and leave your computer on overnight.

You submit a search to the Indexing Service the same way you do to the Search Companion (it's the same interface), so you don't need to do anything special to use it once you turn it on. Turning off the Indexing Service

To turn off the indexing service, run the Search Companion and choose Change Preferences Without Indexing Service. The index remains intact (and still takes up space on your hard disk), but when you do a search, you won't be searching the index. You can always turn the index back on later.

If you decide that you'll never use the indexing service, you can save hard disk space by deleting the indexes that it created. To do so:

  1. At the Run box (Start Run), type ciadv.msc and press Enter .

    The Indexing Service Microsoft Management Console launches, which lets you manage a number of aspects of the indexing service, including deleting indexes.

  2. A list of catalogs appears. Right-click on the catalog you want to delete and choose Delete from the menu. Then click Yes from the dialog box that appears .

    Each catalog is a different index. For each index, you'll be shown a variety of information, such as the size of the catalog in megabytes. If you're not using the Indexing Service, you should delete all the catalogs because you won't need any of them. In many instances, there will only be a single catalog.

Downloading Better Search Software

Windows XP's search tools can usually help you find what you need, but if you want the most powerful search tools available, you need to download add-in software. One of the best search tools around is Sleuthhound, which indexes your hard disk on a folder-by-folder basis, and lets you search the index it creates. The results show up in a browser interface, much the way Google works.

The basic version of Sleuthhound indexes most common file types, while the Pro version even indexes Adobe Acrobat PDF files and other hard-to-index file types. Both versions are free to download from, but

if you decide to keep using them, the company charges $20 for Sleuthhound and $34.95 for Sleuthhound Pro.

Another program that can find a needle in the haystack of your hard drive is X1, which, like, Sleuthhound, indexes your hard drive when your first install it. It then lets you search for anything: emails, email attachments , contact, files, you name it. Even better, this powerful program lets you organize your stuff through its window; want to reply to an email or move an old message in Outlook or Outlook Express to a new folder? You can do it within X1 ‚ even if your email program isn't open . ($74.95 from

Windows XP Power Hound
Windows XP Power Hound: Teach Yourself New Tricks
ISBN: 0596006195
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2003
Pages: 119

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