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Use advanced search features in Explorer

We have all lost files at some time and as soon as the Save dialog comes up we click Save or OK and don't bother to look which folder we are actually saving the file to. The next day or the next week we can't find the file and it's not in the place we thought it was. Fortunately, you can search for it. There are basic and advanced search facilities that help you to find misplaced and lost files.

Start by opening an Explorer window. There is a search box in the top right corner of the window and if it is too small, just click and drag the space between the left box (breadcrumb trail) and the right search box.

Start with the right folder
The place you start searching from makes a big difference to the features available and the speed of search. Select Computer in Explorer's left-hand navigation pane and you can search the whole computer. This can be used to find anything anywhere, but it takes a long time if you have a big hard disk drive that is filled with lots of files.

The contents of some folders, such as Documents, are indexed and stored in a database for faster and more thorough searching, including file contents. If you open your Documents folder and use the search box then only the files in Documents and in any sub-folders of Documents will be searched. This is faster than a whole computer search, but it won't find files outside of Documents.

It is sometimes useful to search the obvious place for a file first, such as the Pictures folder if it's an image you are looking for. Then if this fails to find the file, try selecting Computer in the left pane for a full computer search. Windows 7 users have an extra place to search - select Libraries in the left pane or a specific library and search from there. Searching libraries searches each folder in the library. For example, it will include your private folders like My Pictures, but also other folders like Public Pictures.

Not only does the place you start from affect the speed, it determines the filters available too. Filters help you to find the right file. Go to the Pictures folder or library in Explorer and click in the search box. The filters are displayed and there is date taken, tags and type. Date taken obviously refers to when a digital camera photo was taken.

Windows 7 Backup

Now go to the Music library or folder and click in the search box. This time the filters are album, artist, genre and length. There are ways to use filters not shown, but if you want simple point and click searching then start in the right folder.

Windows 7 Backup

Select a search filter
Suppose Explorer is showing your Documents folder or library and you want to find a Word file. Click in the search box in the top right corner and some filters are displayed below it. Click type and it is added to the search box. Now there is a list of file types you can search for. Select .doc or .docx depending on which extension you used to save the file.

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Suppose you aren't sure whether you saved the file as a .doc or a .docx. You could search for .doc and then search again for .docx if it isn't found, but there is an alternative. Click in the search box and select the type filter. Select .doc from the list. Now enter the second filter into the search box like this:

type:=.doc OR type:=.docx

This is how you combine filters. In this case we searched for type file types, but we could have used two different filters. Click in the search box, select type, select .doc from the list and then click the size filter. This is added to the search box. We don't need OR this time because it's not a case or one OR the other. We're looking for a document that is small.

type:=.doc size:small

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Other operators that you can use are AND where you want one thing to be true AND another. So searching for strawberries AND cream would find only those files with both in. You can also use NOT, so you can search for berries NOT red which finds files with berries in, but not if they are red. Simon NOT Garfunkle would find music by Paul Simon, but not Simon and Garfunkle.

More advanced searches
There is more to pointing and clicking on filters and you can access advanced features by typing in the query. For example, if you were looking for a file that was called My Accounts you would type FileName:="My Accounts". The = means the exact same name.

You can use ~< to look for files that start with some word or character sequence. For example, FileName:~<"Monthly" would find files with names like Monthly Budget, Monthly Report, and so on. Anything that starts with Monthly.

Use ~= to find files that contain some sequence of characters, for example, FileName:~="day" would find files called Monday, Tuesday, Daylight Hours and so on. Use ~! as does not contain, so FileName:~!"day" would find files that do not have "day" in their names.

Use <> as NOT. You could look for files called Flower, but not if they are pictures of flowers like this FileName:="Flower" kind:<>picture. Finally, you can use things like size:<1mb or size:>2mb to find files that are smaller than 1Mb or larger than 1Mb, or any size you care to search for.

I have been using examples that relate more to documents than music or photos, but you can do the same sort of searches with album, artists, and genre in music, and date taken, tags and type in pictures.

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