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Speeding Up Windows Vista Search with Wildcards and Boolean Operators

By Woody Leonhard

The Windows Vista search tool is a great tool for locating files and folders. But if you’ve tried running a basic search for your file with no success, there are many tools available to improve Windows Vista’s ability to search for lost files and folders. However, Vista’s support of these tools is limited, and you have to know the right way to ask in order to get the results you want.

Using search wildcards

Using wildcard terms is not a new idea. Vista, like most Internet search engines lets you use the character ? to represent a single character and * to represent a string of characters. So, for example, searching for d?d matches with did, but not with drooled; searching for d*d matches dread and distressed.

If you include a wildcard in your search criteria, Vista searches through your filenames only (no file contents, properties, or other metadata), and it determines matches based only on the beginning of the filename. So a search for d?d will match a file called dodo.doc, but it won’t match hodad.mp3. A search for d*d will draw hits on dooood.doc or disis.rad (note how the filename extension counts), but it won’t match mydad.jpg.

Using Boolean terms

Vista has some Boolean search capabilities, but it’s error-prone and buggy. Even with its problems, using Boolean terms can help if you know what you’re doing. If you type two different words in the Search bar, Vista automatically assumes that you want to find files that match both words.

For example, if you search on the words bake sandwich, Vista finds files that contain both the word bake and the word sandwich, as shown here. You might recognize that this is essentially a Boolean “AND” search: in other words, bake sandwich is the same thing as bake AND sandwich.


For some reason, Vista search MAKES YOU CAPITALIZE weird things, including Boolean terms. So you have to capitalize AND and OR; if you don’t, Vista search assumes that they’re just keywords to search.

Following the same logic, to perform OR searches, you must enter the keywords with a capital OR in the middle, such as bake OR sandwich. Vista retrieves all the index entries that contain references to either bake or sandwich


Predictably, you can combine AND and OR with parentheses and NOT to further guide Vista’s search. For example, you can search for files that contain either the words bake and bread or the words sandwich and bread. In Vista-speak, that’s (bake OR sandwich) AND bread.


When it comes to Office documents, Vista search can look for the key words inside the documents, or they can be part of the filename, the author name, one of the tags, or any other piece of information or metadata.