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Windows Desktop Search

Windows Search Frequently Asked Questions

Review the following information for answers to commonly asked technical questions about Windows Search.

Windows Search Frequently Asked QuestionsExpand All
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Windows Search provides an easy and comprehensive solution for finding and organizing your information—whether it's stored on your hard drive, connected file shares, or mail servers. The flagship experience is found in Windows Vista which provides a rich set of search and organization features coupled with a great Windows user experience, all resulting in dramatic improvement in end user productivity. For Windows XP clients, Windows Search is available as a freely available download that provides a subset of the basic desktop search features found in Windows Vista, helping you to locate that hard-to-find document, e-mail, or media file in seconds. Windows Search 4.0 is the latest update to the search functionality of Windows Vista SP1, Windows Server 2008, Windows XP, and Windows Server 2003, adding performance improvements for a quick and easy search experience, simplified deployment and management, and robust development.

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The minimum system requirements to run Windows Search are:

  • A Pentium 500 megahertz (MHz) processor or better (A Pentium 1 gigahertz (GHz) processor is recommended)

  • A Minimum of 256 megabytes (MB) of RAM (512 MB of RAM is recommended)

  • Windows Search 4.0 requires Windows Vista SP1, Windows XP SP2, Windows Server 2003 SP2, Windows Server 2008, or Windows Home Server.

  • Microsoft Office XP or later versions are required for full preview of Microsoft Office documents in Windows Search results

  • Microsoft Outlook XP is the earliest versions of mail clients supported for indexing and searching mail with Windows Search.

Note: Outlook XP must be in Corporate or Workgroup mode. Outlook 2003 and Outlook 2007 are recommended to be in cached mode.

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Windows Search is part of the operating system. There is no extra cost for using Windows Search in Windows Vista or for downloading and using Windows Search on previous versions of the operating system, provided you have a valid Windows license.

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Windows Search 4.0 provides fast and convenient desktop search features along with rich, intuitive file organization, and advanced performance enhancements over previous versions, including the following:

  • Improvements in performance and stability of the indexer

  • Fuller complement of Group Policy settings, available on all supported operating systems

  • Fast sorting and grouping of results in Windows Explorer

  • Indexing improvements in online e-mail

  • Ability to index delegate mailboxes for online e-mail

  • Support for indexing (local file system) encrypted documents

  • Expanded ability to perform fast remote queries of file shares, including those on Windows XP and Windows Server 2003. This includes automatic indexing of shared folders.

  • Item previews in Windows Explorer for Windows XP

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Windows Search 4.0 (KB940157) for Windows Vista SP1, Windows XP SP2+, Windows Server 2003 R2, Windows Server 2008, or Windows Home Server are available on the Microsoft Download Center. Find available versions.

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Most common file types, including text files, Office Word documents, Office Excel spreadsheets, photos, videos, and music, are recognized by Windows Search. It will search across the metadata information in the titles of music, image, and video files, as well as program executable files, and the content of all Microsoft Office Outlook, Windows Mail, and Microsoft Outlook Express items. In addition, the platform is extensible, so IT Administrators can choose to install or deploy various add-ins to support additional file types. IFilters are documented at MSDN and any developer can write an IFilter for a proprietary type of file or document.

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Yes, Windows Search is designed to be a good citizen and will function well in the presence of other indexers as will the operating system itself.

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Yes, both Windows Vista and Windows Search support remote management by Group Policy. IT administrators can use Group Policy to deliver and apply one or more desired configurations or policy settings to a set of targeted users and computers within an Active Directory service environment. Through Group Policy, IT administrators can customize the setup, indexing, and search settings to meet the needs of the enterprise and ensure that users are able to index and search only items and locations they have access to.

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In an enterprise environment, Windows Search can be deployed to multiple desktops across an organization using one of the following deployment tools:

  • System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM)

  • Group Policy Software Installation

  • Non-Microsoft third-party deployment software

Some Windows Search features, such as the Deskbar in Windows XP, are automatically placed in the Windows Taskbar upon installation unless turned off through Group Policy.

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Outlook 2007 features a new search capability called Instant Search. From a simple toolbar, built right into Outlook, a user can quickly find e-mail, attachments, calendar events, tasks, offline SharePoint documents, and more. In order for this feature to work, Outlook 2007 requires Windows Vista, Windows Search 4.0, or WDS 3.01. Users of earlier versions of Microsoft Office Outlook should consider moving to Outlook 2007 to enjoy the seamless integration of this product with Windows Search.

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Windows Search features a toolbar built into the Windows task bar, but not a toolbar for Outlook 2003 or Outlook XP. Users that would also like a built-in toolbar within Outlook should install the Windows Live Toolbar, which will provide this functionality. Note that the Windows Live Toolbar currently does not support Group Policy.

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Windows Search creates and maintains a system index of the contents of a computer. Just like a book index allows readers to quickly find references to specific words, a desktop index allows users to find specific words or phrases in e-mail messages, calendar appointments, documents, photos, and other files, along with the keywords and tags the files are marked with. The index also contains information such as the time a file was created and its file type. Following the completion of the initial index, the system index then keeps track of new or modified files and e-mail messages and updates the index when the PC is idle.

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The time required to create the index depends on how much data is on the computer and the speed of the computer's hard drive. If there are many files on the computer, indexing could take a few hours. Users can start searching as soon as they start using Windows Vista or have installed Windows Search, but may not be able to find or search some files until the initial index is complete.

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It depends on how your mail system is configured. Typically we recommend running Microsoft Office Outlook in cached mode. If this is your setup then there is no effect on mail servers because Windows Search is indexing local content and not affecting the mail server.

If you are running Microsoft Office Outlook in online mode, then you should move to Windows Search 4.0 which has many improvements in local indexing of online e-mail to significantly lessen the impact to the Exchange Server. To set up local indexing of online mail, you must specifically enable indexing of e-mail via Group Policy. We recommend testing this environment before you deploy this configuration. In general, the most impact on the Exchange Server will be during an initial index of content and the load will be lower after that, especially with Exchange Server 2007, but this depends on many variables such as the hardware configuration of the Exchange Server and how many people have mail boxes on it.

Learn more about Windows Search 4.0 and the performance enhancements to reduce impact to the Exchange Server.

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For Windows Search on Windows Vista, Windows XP, and Windows Server 2003, the indexing process has built-in logic that enables it to be "smart" about what users are doing on the PC. When Windows Search sees that the user or another application is actively using the PC, the indexing process backs off to enable the user or application to take full advantage of CPU power. Once the PC enters an idle state, Windows Search updates the index. However, it is highly recommended that you allow your initial index to build in order to capture all your information.

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The average size of an index is about 10% of the size of all the content that is being indexed.

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Windows Search listens for system-wide notifications in the PC (whether for e-mail or other document types), thus keeping the index content fully up-to-date as users are making changes on the PC. If the smart back off mechanism is engaged, Windows Search will wait to update the index contents with the latest change notifications until the next time CPU activity decreases.

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Access to the index is controlled by the same access control list (ACL) that controls access to the data being indexed, so unauthorized users are unable to access the corresponding parts of the index. The index file is obfuscated so that if anyone comes across the index file on your PC, they will not be able to read the contents of this file in clear text. This is done to help protect the index file contents and make it more difficult for malicious actions to be taken with an index file.

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The Windows Search experience is also very secure. A user can only search over and get results for content they have permission to open. A user cannot search for content they don't have permission to see.

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Windows Search does not at any time send information back to Microsoft or other services. Windows Search also maintains the integrity and security of your system by understanding the NTFS ACL permissions on your files. A user only gets results for things they can open. Windows Search also listens for permission changes, so if you do restrict file permissions, Windows Search is instantly aware of it and reindexes the content to make sure only the correct people can search for it.

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Windows Search looks for files in all indexed locations. By default, this includes e-mail files and commonly accessed folders, like My Documents, but other locations can be indexed as well, including e-mail attachments, Microsoft Office Outlook public folders, and mapped network drives.

In Windows Vista, the index can be accessed by clicking Start, Control Panel, and selecting System and Maintenance, then Indexing Options. Or from the Search Explorer, click on Search Tools, then on Modify Index Locations to open Indexing Options. In Windows XP, you can access Indexing Options via the Control Panel, or by right-clicking the indexing icon and selecting Windows Search Options.

From the Indexing Options dialog, click Modify to modify both locations to be searched and additional file types to be indexed.

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Yes. Windows Vista and Windows Search support PDF indexing when a PDF IFilter, such as the Adobe Acrobat Reader or Foxit PDF IFilter, is installed. Find available add-ins.

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Yes, Windows Search provides a number of extensible and programmable interfaces to help enable these additional scenarios for enterprise customers:

  • Deploy IFilters to provide users the ability to search file types specific to the company or industry, such as CAD files.

  • Write and deploy protocol handlers to enable users to search additional content repositories from proprietary applications.

  • Surface desktop search results within business applications by using the desktop search query API. For example, this can be used provide sales representatives with a complete profile of their client in the CRM system by combining CRM data with information about the client stored on the representative's personal computer.

For more information, view a list of available IFilters and protocol handlers that extend Windows Search, and see the MSDN documentation for Adding Data to the Index.

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An IFilter is an add-in that enables the Windows Search indexer to open, read, and index the contents of new file types that it might not otherwise be able to index. The original Windows Search indexing service that comes with Windows also supports this flexible technology, as do Microsoft SQL Server and Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007.

Many software programs on the PC have IFilters that are installed with their applications. For example, Microsoft Office Visio automatically installs the Visio IFilter add-ins on the PC. Windows Search recognizes these IFilter add-ins and includes the contents of these file types when the index is built on the PC.

The Windows Search architecture is flexible so users can easily extend the breadth of the types of files that can be indexed on their PC. Once this process completes, the new file types will begin to appear in the desktop search results window as appropriate. For more information on IFilters, please refer to the MSDN documentation for Adding Data to the Index.

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The platform for Windows Search 4.0 is unchanged from previous versions of Windows Search. The samples for Windows Search are included in the Windows Vista SP1 SDK. Documentation for developing applications that work with Windows Search can be found on MSDN.

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Yes, by default, the Windows Search index is obfuscated so that it is not easily readable if someone tries to open the index file. To further encrypt the Windows Search index, we recommend that you encrypt the entire volume containing the index with BitLocker Drive Encryption or another third-party full-volume encryption option. This provides strong protection against any offline attaches. For more information about implementing BitLocker, refer to Microsoft TechCenter's Windows BitLocker Drive Encryption Step-by-Step Guide.

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Yes, the Windows Search index can be moved to another location on a computer's hard disk. The index cannot be moved onto a remote share. To move the index, bring up the Indexing Options dialog from the Control Panel and click the Advanced button. There you will see an option to move the index. Alternatively, your IT administrator can move the index via Group Policy.

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Answers to common questions and known issues with Windows Search can be found on the Microsoft support Web site. Additional support options are available for Windows Search—see Support Options for more information.

Review the following information for answers to commonly asked technical questions about desktop search in Windows 7.

Windows 7 Frequently Asked QuestionsExpand All
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If desired, people can use Libraries in similar ways as user known folders are used in Windows Vista: files can be saved, opened, and dragged and dropped into a library. However, Libraries in Windows 7 extend the concept of the user profile namespace folders. While a user’s known folders are specific locations where data is stored, a library can span multiple locations, allowing users to add locations where data of a specific type is stored to a library that is designated for this type of data. Every default library in Windows 7 contains a location corresponding to the profile namespace of Windows Vista. For example, the Documents library contains the user’s Documents folder, along with the Public Documents folder.

Also, Libraries of Windows 7 allow for greater flexibility organizing your data. With Windows 7, users can create new libraries when they need them.

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In a Windows Explorer window, right click the library and choose “properties” from the menu. In the properties window there will be a section labeled “Optimize this library for:” with a drop down list. You can choose Documents, Music, Pictures, or Videos from this list to optimize the library.

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No, the indexer does not stop if the machine is busy. It will slow down to a minimum level when it detects high levels of CPU and I/O load.

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Windows Search has a Search Builder, which allows you to quickly define and narrow your search results for an even more targeted outcome. You can use a variety of dynamic filters to restrict queries to specific locations, file types, or file properties. To use the Search Builder, click the search box in Windows Explorer. You’ll see a drop down list of filters that you can use in your search. To add a filter, click it and then choose a dynamic value. For example, open your Documents library in Windows Explorer. Then, click the search box, click Type: and click one of the file types that the search box displays. Windows Explorer generates this list dynamically based on the contents of the library.

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Yes. Windows 7 includes an IFilter that enables you to search for TIFF documents based on text content. When loaded, the Windows TIFF IFilter performs optical character recognition (OCR) processing of TIFF images, and provides the recognized text to the caller to build the search index.

For more information on the TIFF IFilter read the Windows TIFF IFilter Installation and Operations Guide .

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Documentation on how to create an OpenSearch description file can be found in the Windows 7 Federated Search Provider Implementer's Guide or at the OpenSeach.org specifications page.

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Libraries are optimized to be used with locations that can be index by Windows Search. In usability testing it was found that finding data is difficult when libraries include locations where data was presented instantly when the location is accessed along with remote locations which return data only upon search.

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Federated Search in Windows 7 enables users to query a remote search server for information which is not indexed by Windows Search, and see the results within the context of Windows Explorer. Enterprise Search Scopes, which are added as links in the “Search again in:” area at the bottom of the Windows Explorer search results window or the search results user interface in the Start menu, are a mechanism which allows users to change the scope of their search to a more appropriate location. Enterprise Search Scopes can use the Federated Search feature to rescope a query to a remote search server.

Enterprise Search Scopes are only available in the Windows 7 Enterprise and Ultimate SKU’s. Federated Search is available in all versions of Windows 7.

Review the following information for answers to commonly asked technical questions about desktop search in Windows Vista.

Windows Vista Frequently Asked QuestionsExpand All
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Windows Vista shipped with Windows Desktop Search 3.0 and features fast desktop search, but goes beyond search to provide rich, intuitive file organization capabilities. With support for Live Icons, file tagging, Search Folders, and advanced navigation, Windows Vista enables users to flexibly organize and view their files in virtually any way they wish. Windows Search 4.0 is the latest update to Windows Search for Windows Vista SP1, adding performance improvements for a quick and easy search experience, simplified deployment and management, and robust development.

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Outlook 2007 features a new search capability called Instant Search. From a simple toolbar built right into Outlook, a user can quickly find e-mail, attachments, calendar events, tasks, offline SharePoint documents, and more. In order for this feature to work, Outlook 2007 requires Windows Vista or Windows Search 4.0.

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Windows Vista features a desktop search toolbar built into the Windows task bar, but not a toolbar for Outlook 2003 or Outlook XP. Users that would also like a built-in toolbar within Outlook should install the Windows Live Toolbar, which will provide this functionality. Note that the Windows Live Toolbar currently does not support Group Policy.

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Yes. Windows Vista supports PDF indexing when a PDF IFilter is installed, such as Adobe Acrobat Reader of Foxit PDF IFilter. Find available add-ins.

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There are two ways to index UNC content on Windows Vista. First, if you make the content available offline, it will automatically get indexed. This is ideal for scenarios like redirected My Documents and other stores that are smaller in size.

If you want to index a share you can download and install the Windows Desktop Search add-in for Files on Microsoft Networks, a protocol handler that indexes shared network directories and shared FAT drives. Microsoft recommends only indexing shares that are either archive shares or have less than ten users working on the indexed content. This solution should not be used to index large shares with large amounts of users changing content on it daily. Note: the UNC add-in is not supported on x64-bit operating systems.

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Yes. Windows Vista supports Lotus Notes indexing when the Add-in for Lotus Notes is installed. Download the latest version of the Lotus Notes add-in to enable this functionality.

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