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Searching for Office Files

The Open dialog box displays a list of all files and subfolders in a single folder. Searching for a specific file can be tedious if the folder is full of files with similar names, or if it’s organized into many subfolders. So how do you find the exact file you’re looking for? From any Office program, you can open the Search task pane, which enables you to search for files, Outlook items, or web pages by using almost any criteria. If you can remember a few scraps of information about the file—part of the name, a date, or even a word or phrase that you remember using in the document—you can probably find it.

For example, you might look in your homework folder for all files that you created or updated in the past week. You might search for files that include the word report and that are not marked as completed. If you’re trying to clean out clutter in your My Documents folder, you can search for all Office files that were last modified more than six months ago, and then burn them to a CD or move them to an archive folder.

In Office 2003, the file search tools are tightly integrated into Office programs. To display the Basic File Search task pane (see Figure 3.8), choose File, File Search.

Figure 3.8

Figure 3.8 Search for a file or Outlook message by using simple search criteria in the Basic File Search task pane.

Basic searches are quick and simple. Enter your search text, select the locations you want to search, choose what file types you want the search to return, and then click Go to begin the search. Basic searches follow these rules:

  • The search looks for any files that contain the search text, whether that text appears in the body of the file, in keywords, or in file properties.
  • Search results also include files that contain forms of the words you entered as search text, such as plurals or alternate verb forms (paying or paid instead of pay, for example).
  • You can use wildcards in basic searches. An asterisk (*) substitutes for a group of characters, whereas a question mark (?) fills in for a single character.
  • You’ll have better results when searching the My Network Places option if you specify only the network locations you want to search. Many network locations do not support searches, and others allow searches only in document libraries.
  • When searching Outlook messages, you can use natural language rather than keywords, entering a phrase such as show me all messages received this week.

Advanced searches, on the other hand, can be complex, with sophisticated logic and multiple criteria. To make the switch, click the Advanced File Search link at the bottom of the Basic File Search task pane. Figure 3.9 shows a typical advanced search.

Figure 3.9

Figure 3.9 Be careful when using AND/OR logic in the Advanced File Search task pane. The correct order affects your search results.

You construct a search by adding criteria to a list. Each entry in the criteria list consists of three pieces:

  • Property—Includes file system properties (name, date created, and file size, for example), statistics (such as the number of slides in a PowerPoint presentation or the number of paragraphs in a Word document), and Office custom properties.
  • Condition—Defines the comparison that you want Office to make. The list of available conditions depends on the property you selected previously.
  • Value—Defines the specific text, number, or other data type for which you want Office to search.

A pair of buttons (And, Or) at the left of the criteria definition boxes enable you to combine criteria, and you can specify that Office search multiple folders and subfolders.

Criteria can be extremely simple—for example, all files last modified this week. For more sophisticated searches, combine criteria to quickly filter a huge group of files into a manageable list. After you enter the first set of conditions, click the Add button. After you’ve entered all your search criteria, click the Search button. Options at the bottom of the pane let you restrict file types and locations using check boxes.

To improve the performance of searches on your local computer, especially those that have to chug through folders filled with large numbers of documents, you’ll need to enable the Windows Indexing Service, which is referred to in the Basic and Advanced File Search panes. Don’t confuse this feature with the old, much-despised FindFast feature from past Office versions. The Indexing Service is a Windows feature that also benefits other programs and runs only when the system is idle. Although you might see some performance degradation on computers with low system resources (in particular, those with 128MB or less of RAM), in practice the effect should be unnoticeable.

To turn on the Indexing Service, open the Basic File Search task pane, click the Search Options link, and select the option to enable the Indexing Service.

Finding Files or Messages by Content

To conduct a simple search by content—whether you’re looking for a file, a message, a contact, an appointment, a task, a note, or a web page—bring up the Basic Search task pane and follow these steps:

  1. Type the text (content) that you’re looking for in the Search Text box. You can use wildcards: ? stands for any single character (m?t searches for met or mat, but not meet); * stands for one or more characters (b*nk searches for bank and blank but not band).
  2. In the Search In list, specify where you want Office to look. You can narrow the search to specific drives or folders in My Computer or Outlook; you can also limit the search to specific locations in My Network Places.
  3. In the Results Should Be box, specify which types of Office files and Outlook items to look for; you can also search in web pages.
  4. Click the Go button. The matching items appear in a list. If you click once on a filename, the appropriate Office application opens the file. You can also choose from a drop-down list to the right of the filename if you want to create a new file based on the selected one.

Using Document Properties to Locate Files

Use the Advanced File Search task pane in conjunction with file properties to construct a powerful document-management system. It takes training and discipline for a group of workers to routinely enter the correct information in file properties. You can automatically add some of these details by customizing templates or using Visual Basic for Applications. For example, you might use simple AutoNew, AutoOpen, and AutoClose macros, which run automatically when you open or close a document, to prompt the user to enter specific details about a document.

All built-in file properties are available from the Property drop-down list in the Advanced File Search task pane. To search for properties that you’ve added to the Custom tab, you need to manually enter the name of the property.

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