Vista Search: A 'Star Feature' Of The New OS

By letting you find files while you type, Vista Search may make folder hierarchies obsolete.

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Technically, this sort of secondary information is called metadata. It's usually invisible, although a lot of it shows up in the Details pane described in Chapter 2.

You might think that typing something into the Search box triggers a search. But to be technically correct, Vista has already done its searching. In the first 15 to 30 minutes after you install Vista — or in the minutes after you attach a new hard drive — Vista invisibly collects information about everything on your hard drive. Like a kid cramming for an exam, it reads, takes notes on, and memorizes the contents of all of your files.

It stores all of this information in an invisible, multi-megabyte file called, creatively enough, the index. (If your primary hard drive is creaking full, you can specify that you want the index stored on some other drive ...)

Once it has indexed your hard drive in this way, Vista can produce search results in seconds. It doesn't have to search your entire hard drive — only that single card-catalog index file.

After the initial indexing process, Vista continues to monitor what's on your hard drive, indexing new and changed files in the background, in the microseconds between your keystrokes and clicks.

Where Vista Looks

Start-menu searches don't actually scrounge through every last file on your computer. Searching inside a lot of stuff, like Windows's own operating-system files and the guts of your software applications would be sort of pointless to anyone but programmers, so Vista doesn't bother.

What it does index is everything in your Personal folder: email, pictures and music, videos, Start-menu items, program names, entries in your address book and calendar, Office documents, offline files and so on. You can, if you wish, add other folders to the list of indexed locations.

In an effort to keep searches fast (and hold down the size of the invisible index file), Vista doesn't index Windows system files and application support files. It indexes all the drives connected to your PC, but not other hard drives on the network.

It does index the Personal folders of everyone else with an account on your machine, but you're not allowed to search them from the Start menu. So if you were hoping to search your spouse's email for phrases like "meet you at midnight,"forget it.

If you try to search anywhere that Windows hasn't incorporated into its index — in a Windows system folder, for example, or a hard drive elsewhere on the network — a message appears. It lets you know that because you're working beyond the index's wisdom, the search is going to be slow, and the search will include file names only — not file contents or metadata.

Furthermore, this kind of outside-the-index searching does not find things as you type. This time, you really do have to press Enter after typing the name (or partial name) of what you want to find.

Podcast: David Pogue's ideas about Vista in corporate environments.

Windows Vista: The Missing Manual

By David Pogue

ISBN 0-596-52827-2

Copyright © 2007 David Pogue. O'Reilly Media, Inc. All rights reserved.

Used with permission from O'Reilly Media, Inc. Available from booksellers or direct from O'Reilly Media (

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Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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