Windows Vista, 7, 8, 8.1 and 10 have Windows Search, powerful indexing and searching software pre-installed. Windows 10 enhances search capabilities with a digital assistant called Cortana, allowing voice input and direct interaction with e-mail, calendar, music, and other apps.
Windows XP has quite lame search capabilities by default. The somewhat functional finder is available, but well hidden behind a cute yellow puppy (called Search Companion) looking for files. You should download and install Windows Search 4.0 to get better search results. Those using the 64-bit edition of Windows XP should download the program from here instead.
Users have been able to search from the Start menu/screen since Windows Vista: just open Start and begin typing.
In Windows 10, use keyboard shortcut Windows Key+S (for keyboard input) or Windows Key+Q (for voice/speech input) to invoke Cortana.
Keyboard shortcut Windows Key+F opens a Search Folder in Windows XP, Vista and 7, or Search charm in Windows 8 and 8.1.
Windows Search notes
Search results are based on both full and partial names. You could locate Minesweeper by typing in minesweeper or mine. Typing in picture displays both your Pictures folder, photo files, programs containing word "picture" in their name, etc.
Please keep in mind that typed letters will be matched against the beginnings of words - so typing in sol finds Solitaire, but typing in taire finds nothing.
Windows 8/8.1 and 10 display folders in search results only if there are files in it - empty folders are discarded. Libraries are still displayed, even if they are empty.
Windows Vista users must reconfigure Search and Indexing settings in Power Options in order to prevent Windows Search from grabbing all system resources.
In Windows 10, there is no search box on the Start menu. Just type a few letters after opening Start to get results from local and OneDrive files or folders, settings, Windows Store, installed apps, and suggestions from the web (that means from Bing, of course). Results are grouped by category.
There are four buttons on the top of results: Apps, Documents, Web, and More. The first three narrow search results to the appropriate item category, the last one opens the list of all search categories, aka types or kinds.
You can also use category names to limit search results - for example, to search for excel in photos only, type photos: excel; to find backup in the Settings app and Control Panel, type settings: backup.
Cortana button (the ring to the right of the Start button in the example above) is available only if Cortana is enabled - otherwise, there is a magnifying glass icon instead.
Enabling Cortana for the first time takes only a few simple steps after clicking its button.
As common since Windows Vista, there is also a search box on File Explorer's right side. Use this to locate items in the current folder.
In Windows 8 and 8.1, search boxes in File Explorer work just like in Windows 10 and 7, but keyboard shortcut Windows Key+F opens the new Windows Store style (aka Modern UI/Metro) Search pane that looks for local and OneDrive/SkyDrive files only.
In Windows 8, it offers three last searches that you can click to reuse; or you can type in a new search and press Enter. Windows 8.1 does not offer recent searches the same way - it offers a previously used term on top only if some letters in the Search box match with it ("Lightroom 5" is an example in the picture below).
Keyboard shortcut Windows Key+Q opens apps search in Windows 8, and Search everywhere (a global search in your local and OneDrive files, installed apps, available actions, and the Internet) in Windows 8.1.
Windows Key+W opens Settings search in Windows 8 and 8.1.
In Windows 8, many Windows Store apps are also able to display search results - just click any listed app to see its matches. To remove or pin (put on top of the apps list) any search-capable app, right-click or tap and hold it and select Hide or Pin. App selection and pinning have been removed in Windows 8.1, but Search everywhere still uses all search-capable modern apps.
In Windows 8.1 you can quickly switch between search categories/types using the down arrowhead button next to the current type. New types here are Web images and Web videos.
Windows 8.1 Update (available since 8th of April, 2014) also adds the Search button to the Start screen.
In Windows 8, search results cover the whole screen. More details for a found item are shown if you stop mouse pointer on it.
In Windows 8.1, partial or full matches are displayed in the same Search pane. If there are no results, a list of suggestions appears instead. To see the results in full-screen, press Enter key or click/tap the Search button (magnifying glass icon). In full screen, you can click the black bar on the top left (or press Space key) to reopen the current search in Search pane for modifications.
Windows 8 and 8.1 display a bottom scroll bar and hide Search pane to display more results - press Windows Key+F or Windows Key+Q again to restore the Search pane. To exit search results, press Esc key repeatedly or press Windows Key once to open the Start screen.
Here's an example of Search everywhere results in Windows 8.1. There were no local or OneDrive results, so Bing is used to displaying its own suggestions. Note how videos and photos are prioritized.
If you click the black bar (Results for "jessica alba") or press Space key, you can refine your search in the Search pane. The back button (circle with an arrow pointing to the left) can be used to restore a previous search.
In Windows Vista and 7, you can search using Start menu's or Windows Explorer's Search box, or the Search Folder (accessible via keyboard shortcut Windows Key+F). There is not much difference between the latter two, Search Folder is just a clean search window and Start menu search displays fewer results without previews and helpful tips due to limited space.
In Windows Vista, the Start menu does not allow the usage of kinds or categories in search criterion, such as "kind:picture".
Searches are performed among installed programs and items in Control Panel, too - to find a setting to change screensaver, type in screensaver. To launch Solitaire, type in solitaire and click on the relevant search result. Actually, you do not have to type the whole name, just sol will do just as well.
All results are grouped by category/type: for example, Programs, Control Panel, Pictures, Files, etc.
If there are more results than fit into the Start menu window, click Search Everywhere in Windows Vista or See more results in Windows 7 above the Search box. This will open a Search Folder window with all search results.
To clear search results and see Start menu contents again in Windows Vista or 7, click the X mark in the right corner of the Search box.
Here's how the Search box and Search folder look like in Windows Vista and 7.
In Windows XP, you need to download and install Windows Search 4.0. Those using the 64-bit edition of Windows XP should download the program from here instead.
Just type a few letters into Windows Search Deskbar (press Windows Key+Shift+F to activate it) to see results. If there are more matches than fits in the results window, click the more link to see all results. Or just type more letters to narrow down your search results.
Results are grouped by category or type for a better overview.
If the Deskbar is hidden in Windows XP, right-click an empty area of Taskbar, expand Toolbars and choose Windows Search Deskbar.
Here's how the Search folder looks in Windows XP. Either click the Search button in Windows Explorer or open it using keyboard shortcut Windows Key+F.
Search button (in Windows XP) or box (in Windows Vista, 7, 8/8.1 and 10) in Windows/File Explorer and Search Folder can sometimes be more convenient ways of searching for items.
The most important difference between these is that search results are limited to the active folder while using the Search button or Search box - if you are in My Pictures folder, the results will be only from that folder, not from anywhere else. Search Folder looks for items in all indexed locations.
If you did not find the needed item in a current folder, Windows Search can still look for the file or folder in all locations without opening a separate Search Folder:
- In Windows XP, click the current folder name and select All Locations.
- In Windows Vista, click Advanced Search in the Did you find what you were searching for section. Then select Computer from the Location combo box (to search for absolutely all files, enable the Include non-indexed, hidden, and system files option).
- In Windows 7, click Computer in the Search again in section.
- In Windows 8/8.1 and 10, open the Search tab in Ribbon and click Computer (Windows 8) or This PC (Windows 8.1 and 10).
Cortana can be enabled in all regions, no matter what your default language is. Turning the digital assistant on for the first time takes only a few clicks.
Since Windows 10 May 2020 Update (version 2004), Cortana is a separate app that can be uninstalled.
By default, Cortana shows up as a large "Ask me anything" or "Type here to search" search box on Taskbar. You can reduce this to a button with a circle by right-clicking or tapping and holding on an empty space of Taskbar, expanding Cortana, and choosing Show Cortana icon.
In most cases, Cortana works just like Windows Search would. It adds voice/speech input that can be activated using the microphone button or with keyboard shortcut Windows Key+Q. You do need to speak English for Cortana to recognize your speech.
When you open Cortana, it shows the current weather, news, tips & tricks, etc.
To control what Cortana knows about you and what information it can access, click the Notebook button on the left, go through all sections and modify settings and data if necessary.
Cortana does work best if it has access to your e-mails and other data. Not everything works if this information is not in English.
In the original Windows 10 release, there is the Reminders button on the left. You can use this to add simple tasks and notifications.
In Windows 10 Anniversary Update, Reminders have been moved to the Notebook section shown above. You can always use natural language in Cortana - just type or say something like "remind me to pick up groceries 7 pm" and complete the reminder options.
Completely new in Cortana is the response to some natural language searches. For example, you could say or type "how much is Microsoft stock" and the correct result will appear after a second or so.
To create lists with Cortana (available since late 2016), just type or say something like "add bananas to shopping list": this prompts you to create a list named "shopping" and then adds "bananas" to it. If you already have a list with the same name, the command will just add the bananas item.
To check a specific list, type or say something like "show shopping list". You can mark items complete in the list.
To see all lists added to Cortana, type or say "show list".
As Cortana's list functionality is pretty limited, there is the option to connect to your WunderList account.
You can also convert currencies (35 eur in gbp), perform calculations (16+91*5), track flights and packages (ua 6200), ask for facts (who is the president of Estonia), check the weather (weather in Tallinn), see sports scores, translate between languages, etc. To see all available categories and options, type help, and choose Get help. A little practice can make you and Cortana get along very well.
Cortana is able to work with several apps, such as Mail and Calendar, Notes, Alarms & Clock, Groove Music, Maps, etc. This makes a breeze to add appointments, send e-mails, even identify music (what is this song), get directions, etc. Many actions do not even require launching a separate app.
CNet has a pretty extensive list of common Cortana commands for Windows 10 devices.
In my experience, not everything works smoothly in all countries (for example, getting directions to somewhere or finding a restaurant might only offer web results instead of Cortana results). This might improve in the future, as Cortana is officially available in a few largest English-speaking countries only.
So far, Cortana has improved a lot with every Windows 10 milestone update.
Not everyone is fond of sharing their information with Cortana - it is a cloud-based service and some private data is uploaded to Microsoft's servers so that all your Windows 10 devices can use it. While Microsoft promises to keep all data anonymous, some privacy gurus are not very convinced it will.
Luckily, you can turn off Cortana in Windows 10 with a few steps. Please note that this will disable all enhanced features and Cortana will be replaced by Windows Search similar to that in Windows 7 and later.
Windows 10 Pro/Enterprise users can use Group Policy to shut down Cortana for good. Open Start, type gpedit, and choose Edit Group Policy.
In the Local Group Policy Editor window, navigate to Computer Configuration, Administrative Templates, Windows Components, Search. Double-click Allow Cortana in the right pane.
Choose Disabled, click OK, and close the window. Sign out and back in, or just restart your device for the change to take effect.
In all other Windows 10 editions, you can use Registry Editor to turn off Cortana. Open Start, type regedit, and click or tap the result.
Please do not mess with other keys or values - Registry Editor is a very powerful tool and doing something wrong can make your device inoperable.
Navigate to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Software\Policies\Microsoft\Windows\, right-click or touch and hold the Windows key, expand New, and choose Key.
Type Windows Search for the new key name (mind the capitalization and space) and press Enter. Then right-click the Windows Search key, expand New and click DWORD (32-bit) Value.
Type AllowCortana for the new value name (no spaces, note the two capital letters) and press Enter. The value is set to 0 by default and this is what you need to disable Cortana.
Close Registry Editor, sign out and back in, or just restart your device for the changes to take effect.
After Cortana has been disabled, its circle-shaped button turns into a magnifying glass (Search the web and Windows). You can still switch between the modest Search icon button and the huge Search box by right-clicking on an empty place of Taskbar.
Although most examples below are in Search folder or Windows/File Explorer, you can use the same filters on the Start menu or screen in Windows 7 and newer.
In Windows 7, 8/8.1 and 10, the Search box in a folder window is helpful with syntax and criteria - it will display the calendar for selecting a date or a date range, suggestions for sizes, kinds, etc.
You can also use natural language search, such as earlier this week, large, last year, etc.
As you can define multiple criteria for searches, the Search box offers additional criteria after specifying the first filter. Click a filter name to add it.
In Windows XP and Vista, you can select the type of file to search for by clicking Other in the results window and selecting an appropriate item.
In Windows 7, 8, 8.1, and 10, Preview Pane can be activated in the Search folder with keyboard shortcut Alt+P for larger previews of pictures or videos, file details, or document contents.
In Windows Vista, the Preview Pane is hidden by default, but you can open it clicking Organize on Toolbar and selecting Preview Pane from the Layout menu.
In Windows XP, the preview pane is active by default.
In Windows Vista and later, when you feel that search is taking too long or you started a search in the wrong folder, you can always stop it by clicking the red X mark to the right of Address Bar.
Let's dig deeper - Windows Search syntax has a myriad of possibilities. You can always combine multiple search criteria by separating with spaces, for example, type:jpg datetaken:lastweek cameramake:canon.
Please note that you can exclude some Windows Search results by adding a minus sign or a word "NOT" to a criterion: for example, to find all photos that are not in subfolders containing the word "summer", type kind:picture -folder:(summer).
First, you can always use relative dates such as today, tomorrow, yesterday as well as combinations of this, last, past, coming plus week, month, year - thisweek, nextmonth, pastmonth, comingyear.
To specify ranges, use operators "<" (less than), "<=" (less than or equal to), ">" (greater than), "=>" (equal to or greater than) and "..".
For example, to find a file with size over 100 kilobytes (KB) and containing the word "horse", use: horse size:>100KB.
To find a file created between 31/01/2009 and 26/02/2009, use: created:>31/01/09 <26/02/09. Please note that this excludes files that were created on 31/01/2009 or 26/02/2009. To find those files, use: created:=>31/01/09 <=26/02/09 or created:31/01/09..26/02/09.
Just like searching with and without quotes produces different results, there are rules for combining search criteria. Suppose you want to use the same keyword - horse.
- horse author:bill - finds everything that contains "horse" and has "bill" for an author.
- horse author:linus torvalds - finds everything that contains "horse" and "torvalds" plus has "linus" for an author. This is a common mistake made by people - search criteria must be kept together with quotation marks or parenthesis (no space!), everything after space will be treated as a keyword again.
- horse author:"linus torvalds" - finds everything that contains "horse" and has exactly "linus torvalds" for an author.
- horse author:(linus torvalds) - finds everything that contains "horse" plus has "linus" and "torvalds" somewhere in author field (could be "linus benedict torvalds" or "linus torvalds" or "benedict torvalds, linus")
- horse author:(linus OR bill) - finds everything that contains "horse" and has "linus" or "bill" as an author. Note that OR is a boolean operator and it must be in capital letters, otherwise it will be treated as a keyword.
- horse author:(linus NOT bill) - finds everything that contains "horse" and has "linus" for an author, but not "bill".
- horse author:"satya nadella" -folder:"microsoft" - finds everything that contains "horse" and has "satya nadella" for an author, but is not in a subfolder named "microsoft".
- horse kind:docs NOT folder:(confidential) - finds document files (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, text files, etc) that contain the word "horse" and that are not in a subfolder with a name containing "confidential".
You can always combine several keywords and criteria: horse author:"linus benedict" size:>10MB NOT kind:(video OR picture).
Suppose you want to find all photos with a name containing "horse", but you have some documents and e-mails containing "horse", too. Simply typing in horse is not very useful then. Use kind: to narrow down your search results - "horse kind:pictures" finds only pictures that include "horse" somewhere. "horse kind:photo" does exactly the same.
Here is a list of possible kinds:
- communications (e-mails and appointments)
- contacts (also person)
- docs (also documents)
- im (for Instant Messenger conversations, for example, Windows Live Messenger)
- music (also song)
- pictures (also pics or photo)
- tv (for Windows Media Center Recorded TV shows)
So kind:music finds all your mp3-s, wma-s, wav-s etc. Please note that "email", "journal", "meetings", "notes" and "tasks" work only if you have Microsoft Outlook or Windows Live Mail installed and configured with at least one e-mail account.
You can also type in just pictures to see a list of photos or just video to see a list of videos.
If you have a large music collection and you want to find only mp3-s, not wma-s, use type: instead. For example, mozart type:mp3. If you have many photos and you want to find only files with .jpg extension, use type:jpg. You get it, right?
All files that Windows Search indexes have several properties (aka metadata) that you can use in your searches: Suppose you want to find a tune named "Canon in D" by "Johann Pachelbel" and you know you had it both in mp3 and wma formats with wma sounding better. But the file has some pretty cryptic file name, something like "00jpcid.wma". Use artist:pachelbel title:canon type:wma to find that file.
You can find Word documents created by you by searching for type:doc author:<your name>or all e-mails sent to [email protected] by searching type:eml to:[email protected].
Here's a selection of properties or metadata that you might find useful:
This is not so easy at first sight, but it enables finding exactly the right file. You'll learn it very quickly really.
If you repeatedly use one or more searches often, it is best to save the search with its filters for easy loading. First, create a search filter in the Search box and after the results meet your need, click Save search button in the toolbar (Windows Vista and 7) or on the Search tab of Ribbon.
You can also right-click an empty area of search results and select Save search from the menu.
Sadly, Windows Search in Windows XP does not offer such functionality.
In Save As dialog box specify file name if you want to and click Save button. As you can see, the file will be saved in the Searches folder of your profile.
In Windows 7 and newer, the saved search also appears under Favorites in Navigation Pane.
To load a saved search, just click on its name in Navigation Pane, or open Searches folder and double-click the necessary item.
To rename a saved search, click on its name, press the F2 key on your keyboard, type a new name, and press Enter key to confirm.
To remove a saved search from Favorites in Windows 7, click on its name and press Del (Delete) key on your keyboard. Please note that this action will not be confirmed and that deleting a saved search from Favorites will not delete the saved search file!
You can manage saved searches in your Searches subfolder of your profile folder. To do that in Windows Vista, 7 and 10, open the Start menu by pressing Windows Key and click on your personal folder (your user name). If your personal/profile folder button is not available, type "searches" and click the folder in the results.
In Windows 8 and 8.1, use the keyboard shortcut Windows Key+Q and type "searches" into the Search box.
Open the Searches folder if it is not already open.
Delete the files you no longer need. Please remember that if you delete a saved search that still exists under Favorites, you will still have to delete that saved search from Favorites, too.
Windows displays a somewhat misleading prompt then. Because saved searches are treated as folders, you may safely click Yes here - you are not deleting the whole Searches folder!
If you accidentally removed a wrong search, use the keyboard shortcut Ctrl+Z to undo the last action, or use Recycle Bin instead.
By default, Windows Search indexes all files in users' personal folders and Libraries (Documents, Pictures, Videos, etc) and items in the default e-mail program. If you happen to have some important folder outside your personal folders, you can manually add it to Windows Search for indexing. If you do not use any e-mail programs, you can exclude these from the index, too.
In Windows Vista, 7 and 10, open Start menu by pressing Ctrl+Esc on your keyboard and type indexing into Start menu Search box. Click Indexing Options.
In Windows 8 and 8.1, use the keyboard shortcut Windows Key+W to open Settings search and type "indexing". Then click Indexing Options in the results.
In Windows XP, right-click on Windows Search Deskbar and select Windows Search Options from the menu.
Indexing Options window opens. Click Modify.
In Windows XP, select or deselect the items you want.
In Windows Vista, 7, 8/8.1 and 10, click Show all locations to see all folders.
In Indexed Locations window select or deselect the items you want. Never deselect Documents and Settings (Windows XP) or Users (Windows Vista and newer) folder on Local Disk (C:). Never activate whole hard drives or SSD-s (Local Disks), index only the folders you need.
Click OK to close Indexed Locations. Windows Search will start updating its index right away.
Those who are using EFS for encrypting files and folders in Pro/Business or Ultimate/Enterprise editions of Windows might not see all results - encrypted files are not indexed for security reasons. If you really want to see encrypted files in search results, click the Advanced button in Indexing Options window and enable the Index encrypted files option in the File Settings section.
Windows 8 and 8.1 have some more options available in the PC settings app - read on to find out about these.
If Windows Search becomes extremely slow, does not find items, or its service refuses to start with error 32 (file in use), or the "Indexing is not running" message is constantly displayed in Indexing Options window, it might be time to delete the damaged index and rebuild a new one.
In Indexing Options window, click the Advanced button.
Advanced Options window opens, click Rebuild in the Troubleshooting section.
Windows Search warns that building the new index might take a long time. The message is somewhat different on Windows XP and Vista, and in Windows 7 and newer. Click OK.
After the troublesome index is deleted, the Advanced Options window closes and building the new index begins. Click Close in Indexing Options window.
Windows Search remembers previously used searches and automatically offers these later. To delete just a few items, stop your mouse pointer on a previous search and then press the Delete (Del) key on the keyboard to remove the item from the list.
Emptying Cortana history in Windows 10
To empty all local search history in Windows 10, click the Cortana button on Taskbar or use the keyboard shortcut Windows Key+Q.
In the original Windows 10, click the Notebook button on the left, then click Settings. Scroll down to the Device search history section and click or touch Clear all.
In Windows 10 Anniversary Update, click the Settings button on the bottom left, scroll to the My device history section and click or tap Clear my device history.
There are also additional options in Cortana that you might need from time to time:
- Web search history (in the original Windows 10 only) allows managing your Bing history;
- Search history settings in Windows 10 Anniversary Update controls whether to consolidate and use your search history from all your Windows 10 devices with the same account;
- Bing SafeSearch settings lets you control how much adult content to remove from your search results;
- Other privacy settings takes you to the Settings app to manage privacy options not related to Cortana.
If Cortana has been disabled by you or by your company policy, click the Settings button on the left and use the same buttons in the same sections as described above. Note that there are fewer options available while Cortana is turned off.
Emptying Windows Search history in Windows 8 and 8.1
In Windows 8 and 8.1, open Settings search using keyboard shortcut Windows Key+W and type "search". Then click Delete search history or Clear search history. Actually, most of the results will take you to the same PC settings Modern UI app.
PC settings opens in the Search (Windows 8) or Search & apps (Windows 8.1) tab. Click the Delete history or Clear button to remove all performed searches.
There is no confirmation for this action in Windows 8, just "Done!" is displayed after the action is complete. Windows 8.1 requires clicking or tapping the Clear button one more time in the confirmation prompt.
As you can see, you can adjust some additional options in this tab.
For Windows 8 users:
- Show the apps I search most often at the top - if set to "On", puts the apps you use most often for additional searches at the top of the list, instead of sorting search-capable apps by name.
- Let Windows save my searches as future search suggestions - this option enables or disables Search history.
- Use these apps to search - here you can turn search capability in listed apps on and off. For example, if you never use the Finance app for searches, turn it off and it will not be displayed in the Search pane.
For Windows 8.1 users:
- Use Bing to search online - these options turn search suggestions and web results on or off over normal and metered (pay-per-megabit connections, such as 3G, LTE, some dial-ups, etc).
- Your search experience - allows selecting between personalized results with or without location data, and no personalized search results.
- SafeSearch - here you can choose if you want to filter out adult text, images, and videos (Strict); only adult images and videos (Moderate); or no filtering (Off) from Bing results and suggestions.
Emptying Windows Search history in Windows Vista and 7
In Windows Vista and 7, emptying the whole history is not that easy. The safest way is to install a free program called CCleaner and make sure the Other Explorer MRUs item is selected in the Windows Explorer section before clicking the Run Cleaner button.
Emptying Windows Desktop Search history in Windows XP
If you want to clear the whole search history in Windows XP, activate the Windows Search Deskbar box by pressing WINDOWS KEY+SHIFT+F on your keyboard (or click on the Deskbar). Click the down arrow button of the Windows logo and select Clear Search History from the menu.
If you add many files (videos, for example) to Windows Search at once in Windows XP, Windows Search indexing might slow down older computers temporarily while it indexes the new files. Windows Vista and newer are not affected by such behavior, probably because Windows Search is integrated deep into the kernel.
You can pause indexing by right-clicking on the Windows Search icon (magnifier) in the Taskbar Notification area. Then click Indexing Status.
You can also select Snooze Indexing from the Windows Search icon's right-click menu. This disables indexing until the next computer restart or until you click the command again.
Select time to snooze indexing for, click the Snooze button, and then click Close.