Nov 29 2007

Easier Access

Educating users about Vista's Instant Search can boost productivity.

For knowledge workers suffering from information overload, finding data on corporate networks is increasingly time-consuming. As the price of storage continues to fall and the quantity of information grows, the ability to perform fast and accurate searches is becoming crucial. The physical location of files and e-mail becomes less important as search functionality changes the way we access information.

Picture this: You’re on an urgent conference call and must provide facts about a recently completed project. Scrambling to find information that’s buried in an archived e-mail thread or document somewhere on the department’s network can leave you in an embarrassing situation. In today’s workplace, having the right information at your fingertips is essential.

The Search feature is not new to Microsoft Windows. Before the release of Vista, Windows Desktop Search was available as a free download for Windows XP. Microsoft has integrated the search functions into its new operating system. Do your users know how to tap the power of Vista Instant Search?

Integrated Searches

Start by looking at the most simple search operations in Vista. The Run box is now gone and has been replaced by the Search box on the Start menu. This will be the starting place for most users. Don’t be alarmed by the absence of the Run box; you can also use Search to launch a program. (Figure 1 shows an example of a search for an application.) Microsoft Outlook 2007 can also make use of the search engine and provide search capability from within the application. (See Figure 2.)

To narrow your results, you can click the Search option from the Start menu and select Advanced Search. A dialog box will appear to let you filter the search results using basic parameters associated with the document type. (See Figure 3.)

A faster way to perform a precise search is to use advanced search query syntax. Here are some examples of advanced e-mail searches:

Advanced Search Query



All e-mail from bob@hotmail.com

from:bob@hotmail.com has:attachment

All e-mail from bob@hotmail.com that have an attachment

to:bob@hotmail.com before:6/2007

All e-mail to bob@hotmail.com sent before June 2007

to:bob@hotmail.com subject:document

All e-mail sent to bob@hotmail.com containing the word “document” in the subject field

Although these searches are referred to as advanced, they are relatively basic. Here are some examples of more-complex queries:

  • (microsoft windows) kind:docs author:“russell smith” date:today — The results will show documents, authored by Russell Smith, with a primary date of today and in which the words “Microsoft” and “Windows appear in any order.
  • microsoft NOT windows kind:docs author:(russell OR jane) date: >11/05/07 — The results will show documents authored by either Russell or Jane, with a primary date of May 11, 2007, or later, and containing the word “Microsoft” but not “Windows.”
  • “microsoft windows” date:>=11/05/2007<=30/10/2007 kind:email from:“russell smith” has attachment:true — The results will show e-mail from Russell Smith, with an attachment that includes the exact phrase “Microsoft Windows,” sent between May 11 and Oct. 30, 2007.

Advanced queries can appear complex, but once you’ve learned the basics, it’s fairly easy to create a precise search. Giving users a primer on advanced query syntax alone will save them time when they’re looking for hard-to-find documents.

Search Folders

Once you have mastered the art of creating searches, you can save even more time by saving each routine search as a Search Folder. Vista already contains a series of default Search Folders for each user. Select a user’s name from the Start menu, then open the folder. Here you’ll see pre-defined searches, such as Recent Documents and Recent E-mail. (See Figure 4.) To add your own Search Folder, select Search from the Start menu, configure an advanced search, then select Save Search.

The Add-in for Files on Microsoft Networks enables Instant Search to index shares on file servers. Before deploying the add-in, consider how multiple clients indexing network drives over the wire will affect the performance of both your network and file servers, especially during the initial creation of an index. Furthermore, multiple indexes for a shared drive are not the most efficient way to implement network-based searches.

Download the installer from support.microsoft.com/kb/918996, run the Microsoft Installer package accepting all default settings and reboot. From the control panel, select Indexing Options and click Advanced. A third tab, Add UNC Location, will now be available. Network shares added from this tab will then appear under Included Locations in the Indexing Options control panel. (See Figure 5.) Default UNC paths for Instant Search can be added using Group Policy for XP and Server 2003 only.

New Ways to Organize and View Information

Even if you decide to narrow your search by filtering with an advanced query, you may still be presented with many results. Vista includes a new way to view files and folders, called Stack View, which lets you create virtual folders that are sorted by criteria (for instance, file name) specified in column headers. This can include all files within a given folder or only a selected range.

To see files in Stack View, click on the right side of any column header and select Stack by Name from the menu. (See Figure 6.)The files will then be presented in stacks. (See Figure 7.) You can limit the range of files shown in Stack View by clicking on the right side of a column header and selecting or deselecting the ranges to display.

Stack View is also useful if you decide not to run a search or can’t find the desired information from a search query, in which case you’ll have a lot of files to look through manually. In addition, Vista Explorer supports two features that can help you find information: Live Icons and the Preview pane. The latter is similar to the Preview pane in Outlook, which lets you preview a document’s content without opening the file. The Preview can be switched on or off in Explorer from Organize/Layout. A Live Icon shows a miniature version of the file or folder’s contents when a medium or large icon is selected from the View menu. (Figure 8 shows a Live Icon and preview of a PDF document in Explorer.)

Users who organize large collections of photos or other media at home might be familiar with Tags, which let you add metadata to files. Metadata is additional information by which the file might be found using a search query. Tags are especially useful for files that don’t contain text, providing additional search criteria in addition to the file name. Vista makes it easy to tag files by providing a “click and go” editing option in Explorer’s Details Pane. (Figure 9 shows two tags, Summer and Landscape, that have been added to the file Autumn Leaves.) This file will now appear in searches containing the text “summer” and/or “landscape.”

Instant Search is integrated not only into Vista but also into other programs, such as Windows Media Player and Office 2007, so a search is available without having to leave the program.

Microsoft Search Server 2008

For large networks, Instant Search isn’t a scalable solution. Running searches against file servers or SharePoint can be a resource-intensive business. For large networks, enterprise search solutions might be more suitable than Vista’s Instant Search. Microsoft’s Search Server 2008 (Express Edition) is a free product that lets users search not only file servers and SharePoint but also other applications using federated searching links. Search Server 2008 is available as a beta release. For more information, go to www.microsoft.com/enterprisesearch/serverproducts/searchserverexpress/default.aspx.


CEO Takeaway

Vista’s Instant Search and new Explorer features can help users find information they need quickly. Enterprise search tools, such as Microsoft Search Server 2008, are suitable if hundreds of clients must search multiple file servers or applications. Before implementing a search approach:

• Train users in the fundamentals of advanced query syntax so they can exploit the full power of Instant Search.
• Review the information that needs to be indexed, how often it changes and the frequency of searches.
• Try Windows Desktop Search, which can be downloaded for Windows XP and provides the same facilities as Instant Search but is not integrated into the operating system.
• Learn how to manage Windows Desktop Search for XP and Instant Search using Group Policy.



Russell Smith is an independent consultant based in the United Kingdom who specializes in Microsoft systems management.