How to Use Advanced Search to Find Files in Windows Vista - dummies

How to Use Advanced Search to Find Files in Windows Vista

By Woody Leonhard

In most cases, performing simple searches in Windows Vista can find the files you need. However, if you know how to use Advanced Search to find files and folders in Windows Vista, you can often save yourself some time digging up those pesky hard-to-find files.

For example, you can use these tools to search for the word bake in the Documents folder. You can then modify the search more so that Vista limits the results to just the files for which Woody appears in the Author field. To put together a multi-variable advanced search:

  1. Start by performing a simple search, such as bake. Click the Advanced Search link.


    Whenever you perform a simple search in Windows Vista, you’ll see a link (Did You Find What You Were Searching For? Advanced Search) at the bottom of the results. Clicking the link opens the Advanced Search pane, housing a variety of tools for building specific search criteria. As you add search criteria, you’ll see a search string developing in the Search box, in the upper-right corner.

  2. Click in the Authors box and type the name of the author or a part of the name of the author.

    In this case, we typed Woody.

  3. Directly below the Authors box, click the Search button.


    Two things happen very quickly. First, Vista amends the Search bar in the upper-right corner so it says bake author:(Woody). Then, Vista performs this modified search and shows you the results.

  4. Make any additional modifications to narrow the search results.

    You can refine the search using the Location drop-down box and the Date, Size, Name, and Tags boxes. Or you can click in the Search box and delete some or all of the search criteria and try again.

  5. When you find your file, just double click the file to open it.

The Advanced Search pane covers a weird combination of settings that control how the search is performed. You can combine the Show Only bar, Location, and the Include Non-Indexed check box with tools that help you build search strings in the Search box. The following table explains each option in more detail.

Advanced Search Arguments
Entry What It Means Timesaving Tip
Show Only (All, E-Mail, and so on) Limits the results to specific kinds of files, based on
filename extensions.
Don’t confuse this setting with the Location of the file
Location Lets you choose a specific drive or folder as the
“base” for the search.
To get the best search results, always drill down to as
specific a location as possible.
Date Restricts the search to files last modified on the date
You can manually type a pair of date restrictions in the Search
bar. For example, date:>2/1/2009 date:<3/31/2009,
will return files modified between February 1 and March 31,
Size (in kilobytes) Creates a size:>xx,xxxxKB entry in
the Search bar. Restricts the search to files of the indicated
Almost never useful in real-world situations.
Name Search restricted to filenames that match the string. You can use wildcards and Boolean terms here.
Tags Search restricted to files with tags that match the
Tags are notoriously unreliable.
Authors Restricts the search to files with an “Author” tag
that matches the string. Not case-sensitive.
Author tags aren’t as unreliable as other tags because
they are managed by Microsoft Office.
Include non- indexed, hidden, and system files (might be
Overrides the settings in the Search Options dialog box. You get all the files in one slow fell swoop.

You can play with the settings in the Advanced Search pane to see how search strings are put together. After you know what the search string is supposed to look like, you can build search strings directly in the Search box and skip the Advanced Search pane altogether.