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This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book

Desktop Searching

One of Microsoft’s goals in Windows 8.1 was to make search a truly useful tool that provides complete results quickly. Did it succeed? For the most part, yes. As you saw in Chapter 4, “Using the Windows 8.1 Interface,” searching via the new interface (particularly app searching) is as easy as just typing what you’re looking for.

If you’re a dedicated Desktop app user, however, then we’re sad to report that searching has taken a step backward in Windows 8.1. In Windows 7 you could quickly search your system by clicking the Start button and then typing a search string. The Start menu would then generate a list of programs with names that include the typed characters, a list of your user account documents with content or metadata that include the typed characters, and a list of other data—such as contacts, email messages, and sites from Internet Explorer’s Favorites and History lists—with content or metadata that include the typed characters.

That was extremely convenient and fast, but with the dismissal of the Start menu in Windows 8.1, that convenience and speed went along with it. The good news is that, as you see in the next section, you can still run relatively quick and powerful searches from the desktop, as long as you know where to start.

Desktop searching remains powerful in Windows 8.1 because it still uses the Windows Search service, which starts automatically each time you load Windows 8.1. On the downside, it can still take Windows 8.1 a long time to search, say, all of drive C. However, that’s because Windows Search does not index the entire drive. Instead, it just indexes your documents, your offline files (local copies of network files), and your email messages. If you’re searching for one of these types of files, Windows 8.1 searches are lightning quick.

Note that you can control what Windows Search indexes and force a rebuild of the index by opening File Explorer, clicking inside the Search box to display the Search pane in the ribbon, and then selecting Advanced Options, Change Indexed Locations. (You can also open Control Panel and click Indexing Options.) This displays the dialog box shown in Figure 6.13. To customize the search engine, you have two choices:

  • Modify—Click this button to display the Indexed Locations dialog box, which enables you to change the locations included in the index. Activate the check box for each drive or folder you want to include.
  • Advanced—Click this button to display the Advanced Options dialog box, which enables you to index encrypted files, change the index location, specify the file types (extensions) you want to include in or exclude from the index. You can also click Rebuild to re-create the index.
Figure 6.13

Figure 6.13 Use the Indexing Options dialog box to control the Windows Search engine.

As-You-Type Searches with Instant Search

We mentioned earlier that as-you-type searching, while still alive and well in the new Windows 8.1 interface, is no longer possible through the Start button. That’s the bad news. The good news is that you can still perform desktop-based as-you-type searches in any folder by using the Search box that appears in every Explorer window.

What gets searched depends on several things:

  • If you just want to search within a particular folder, display that folder before clicking inside the Search box. By default, Windows searches within subfolders as well. To turn that off, click All Subfolders in the ribbon’s Search tab.
  • If you want to search your entire computer, either display the This PC folder and then run the search or click inside the Search box and then click This PC in the ribbon’s Search tab.
  • If you want to search your user account, click the arrow next to the current folder icon in the Address bar (see Figure 6.5, earlier in this chapter), click your user account in the list, and then run the search. This is as close as you can get to emulating Start button searches in the Windows 8.1 desktop.

Whatever location you choose, as you type, Explorer displays those files in the location with names or metadata that matches your search text, as shown in Figure 6.14.

Figure 6.14

Figure 6.14 As-you-type searching using the Explorer window’s Search box.

Using Advanced Query Syntax to Search Properties

When you run a standard text search from any Search box, Windows looks for matches not only in the filename and the file contents, but also in the file metadata: the properties associated with each file. That’s cool and all, but what if you want to match only a particular property. For example, if you’re searching your music collection for albums that include the word Rock in the title, a basic search on rock will also return music where the artist’s name includes rock and the album genre is Rock. This is not good.

To fix this kind of thing, you can create powerful and targeted searches by using a special syntax—called Advanced Query Syntax (AQS)—in your search queries.

For file properties, you use the following syntax:


Here, property is the name of the file property you want to search on, and value is the criteria you want to use. The property can be any of the metadata categories used by Windows. For example, the categories in a music folder include Name, Track, Title, Artists, Album, and Rating. Right-click any column header in Details view to see more properties such as Genre and Length, and you can click More to see the complete list.

Note, too, that Windows will immediately recognize a property as soon as you type it (followed by a colon) and will then display a list of the unique property values, as shown in Figure 6.15. You then click a value to complete the search string.

Figure 6.15

Figure 6.15 Type a property name in the Search box to see a list of unique property values.

Here are a few things to bear in mind when constructing AQS strings:

  • If the property name is a single word, use that word in your query. For example, the following code matches music where the Artists property is Coldplay:

  • If the property name uses two or more words, remove the spaces between the words and use the resulting text in your query. For example, the following code matches pictures where the Date Taken property is August 23, 2014:

  • If the value uses two or more words and you want to match the exact phrase, surround the phrase with quotation marks. For example, the following code matches music where the Genre property is Alternative & Punk:

    genre:"alternative & punk"
  • If the value uses two or more words and you want to match both words in any order, surround them with parentheses. For example, the following code matches music where the Album property contains the words Head and Goats in any order:

    album:(head goats)
  • If you want to match files where a particular property has no value, use empty braces, [], as the value. For example, the following code matches files where the Tags property is empty:


You can also refine your searches with the following operators and wildcards:


Matches files where the specified property is greater than the specified value. For example, the following code matches pictures where the Date Taken property is later than January 1, 2014:



Matches files where the specified property is greater than or equal to the specified value. For example, the following code matches files where the Size property is greater than or equal to 10,000 bytes:



Matches files where the specified property is less than the specified value. For example, the following code matches music where the Bit Rate property is less than 128 (bits per second):



Matches files where the specified property is less than or equal to the specified value. For example, the following code matches files where the Size property is less than or equal to 1024 bytes:



Matches files where the specified property is between (and including) two values. For example, the following code matches files where the Date Modified property is between August 1, 2014 and August 31, 2014, inclusive:



Substitutes for multiple characters. For example, the following code matches music where the Album property includes the word Hits:



Substitutes for a single character. For example, the following code matches music where the Artists property begins with Blu and includes any character in the fourth position:


For even more sophisticated searches, you can combine multiple criteria using Boolean operators:

AND (or +)

Use this operator to match files that meet all of your criteria. For example, the following code matches pictures where the Date Taken property is later than January 1, 2014 and the Size property is greater than 1,000,000 bytes:

datetaken:>1/1/2014 AND size:>1000000


Choose this option to match files that meet at least one of your criteria. For example, the following code matches music where the Genre property is either Rock or Blues:

genre:rock OR genre:blues

NOT (or –)

Choose this option to match files that do not meet the criteria. For example, the following code matches pictures where the Type property is not JPEG:

type:NOT jpeg

Saving Searches

After taking all that time to get a search just right, it would be a real pain if you had to repeat the entire procedure to run the same search later. Fortunately, Windows 8.1 takes pity on searchers by enabling you to save your searches and rerun them anytime you like. After you run a search, you save it by clicking the Save Search button in the ribbon’s Search tab. In the Save As dialog box that appears, type a name for the search and click Save.

Windows 8.1 saves your searches in the Searches folder, appropriately enough, and also adds each saved search to the Favorites section of the Navigation bar, so you can rerun a saved search with just a click.

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