How to find files on Windows 7 with the advanced search

Windows 7 no longer has the easy search wizard I am used to from Windows XP. In every Windows Explorer window there is a search box in the upper right hand corner. What you type there automatically becomes a search for files with that text in the name. But some searches need more help than that.

Microsoft has really done Windows 7 a disservice with the usability of search. The claim is that Windows 7 now has search as a basic function of the operating system, but the result is an obtuse interface that nobody can love.

First the good part. There are special keywords that provide advanced instructions for your searching. Enter them as you would any text you hope to find in a file name. Combine them to get very specific:

Find all pdf files in the current directory type:pdf
Files newer than 12/25/2010 after:12/25/2010
Files older than 3/14/2011 before:3/14/2011
File modified yesterday datemodified:yesterday
File size between 100KB and 3MB size:100KB .. 3MB
Office file saved by user Peter lastsavedby:Peter
Image file with width 640 pixels Width:640
All music type files Kind:music
The My Pictures folder kind:folders My Pictures
All indexed files that contain text: “bubble” contents:”bubble”

That last search was for a particular text in a file. Windows is particularly weak for this search. Not all file types are searched. To improve the scope of this search, we have to modify some system wide settings. We can modify the indexing rules, but the change takes a while, so this won’t help for a search right now. Here is what to modify:

  1. Press the Start button
  2. In the Search programs and files field enter search
  3. Under Control Panel select Change how Windows searches
  4. Click on the Advanced button
  5. Select the File Types tab
  6. Choose Index Properties and File Contents
  7. Add a check next to any extensions you want indexed for search

That is a lot of trouble, and there are still file types that aren’t searched.

Before I leave native Windows 7 searching, let me direct you to documentation on many of the special search keywords and syntax. The format is called Advanced Query Syntax (AQS).

When you have despaired of native Windows 7 file search. It is time to add a freeware tool called SearchMyFiles. It is easy to install, just copy the contents of the downloaded zip file to your desktop, to somewhere in your path, or create a directory for it and add it to the All Programs menu. Run SearchMyFiles and use the graphical user interface (GUI) to search for files based on their contents.

It is a good program. You can search inside binary files. Limit your search to files changed in the last 10 minutes, or files that are read only. There are many simple and advanced options. It is almost good enough for me to forgive Microsoft for the lack of a real built in search option. Almost.

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