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Does Windows (XP, Vista, and 7) come with a native tool to find files, so that users don't have to install anything to locate files they no longer remember where they saved them?

Apparently, Microsoft has kept changing this (Windows Desktop Search (WDS) > Windows Indexing Service > Windows Search a.k.a. Instant Search).

So I guess the way to search files is different in each version of Windows, and I'll need to show users some screenshots on how to launch the search function and find their files.

Thank you.

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Answer: Yes you will :) – harrymc Sep 8 '10 at 9:58
up vote 1 down vote accepted

This is included into Windows Explorer although the way that you access it is slightly different in different versions of Windows, for Windows 7 which I have in front of me you use the "Search Computer" box in the top right hand corner of any Windows Explorer window.

Personally, I've normally had to resort to using the Command Line to search as the built in search feature is unreliable but I wouldn't suggest this to basic users.

There are other alternatives like Google Desktop Search, if you could find one that you found through your own testing worked well you could perhaps install and use that instead?

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In every fairly recent version of Windows pressing Windows Key + F at the same time will bring up Windows built-in search box.

Depending on your version of Windows, it does work slightly differently and use a different interface with different options. Also depending on your version of Windows and what facilities you've switched off or on, it will either very slowly search through your entire hard drive for whatever you've asked it to search for, or do a quick look at it's saved index of your drive. In XP indexing was switched off by default, so it will always have to search your whole drive every time you do a search. In Vista and 7, by default they automatically index the parts of your drive that you're likely to search so that when you do actually perform a search they can come back with results almost straight away.

To complicate matter, you can also download Windows Desktop Search, Google Desktop Search, or a number of other desktop search apps for various versions of Windows that will index your drive and let you search it, and they all work slightly differently.

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Thanks for the tip. So it looks like launching Windows Explorer is the way to go to search 1) without installing an add-on, and 2) that works in XP/Vista/7. I'll just tell/show them to use the "Run..." textbox to launch Windows Explorer and point at the root of the PC to have it search through all partitions. – OverTheRainbow Sep 8 '10 at 10:12

One thing that is universal is the command prompt search:

Start-Run (or Windows + R)
cd\ - This gets to you to root directory . dir /s <file mask> - The /s recurses subdirectories.

So, to search the hard drive for mp3 files:

dir /s *.mp3

You can add a |more for pagination, and a >FileName.txt to output to a file. So....

dir /s *.mp3 >mp3.txt will make you a text file in the root of C: listing all the MP3 files on your C drive.

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Thanks for the tip, but the command-line is too complicated for those users. I'd rather a GUI solution. – OverTheRainbow Sep 9 '10 at 10:08

Windows has a built-in search function (see answers by GAThrawn and Richard), but if you're looking for a different solution I would recommend Everything (yes I know it's a silly name). It's damn fast: updates your search results from a million files as you type. Sorting on the other hand is very slow. I use it all the time.

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Thanks for the tip. I was rather checking how to search files without installing anything, since users who have a hard time finding files in their own computer usually have a problem installing software. – OverTheRainbow Sep 9 '10 at 10:08

Another option is the command-line find command, described here.


dir c:\ /s /b | find "CPU"

This will list all files in C and its subdirectories, then pipe that to the find command which looks for the string 'cpu' in any of these paths.

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