Is It Time To Ditch Windows Search? (Part 1) - Simple filename searches

9/9/2012 7:02:57 PM

Search facilities are built into Windows, but alternative tools offer features Microsoft can't. Is it time to switch? Roland Waddilove explores the alternatives.

Ever since Windows 95 we've had the ability to use long descriptive filenames Instead of the eight-character ones that were enforced prior to this, but for various reasons, filenames are often meaningless. Sometimes it isn't our fault: a digital camera, for example, might give photographs obscure filenames like P83635.JPG and so on. There is probably some obscure reason for the numbers, but their meaning is lost on us.

Description: Is It Time To Ditch Windows Search?

Is It Time To Ditch Windows Search?

Sometimes filenames are poorly chosen through laziness and we simply call something Document1, Letter, Backup27, or give a file the default selected by the application. On other occasions we just run out of ideas and after writing a dozen letters or reports, it can become difficult thinking up a unique and descriptive name. We don't get to choose the names of programs, of course, and some are obvious, such as notepad.exe, but this isn't always the case.

For various reasons, our disk drives are full of files, many of which have obscure filenames that mean very little. Files are scattered across the disk in many folders too. The Documents folder is meant for documents, and Pictures for photos and Images, but who hasn't saved the odd file somewhere else? For various reasons we might save an Image in the Documents folder. One reason might be to keep all related files together, so a document with related images might have its own folder In Documents. Now you have images in the Documents folder, but It wouldn't make sense to split up the files and place them In their own folders.

Windows Vista and 7 have a built-in search facility that can help you to find files. For example, it can help you to track down a particular document when you don't know which folder you put it In or you've forgotten what the filename is. Even if you don't know what the file is called or where it's saved, if you know what words or phrases a document contains, you might still be able to discover where it is using Windows search.

If Windows already has a search facility, why do we need other search programs? Well, that's like saying that Windows comes with Windows Defender and there's always Microsoft Security Essentials, so why are there so many anti-virus and security programs? The reason is because the Microsoft's tools aren't perfect and some alternatives offer either better features or additional ones that aren't available otherwise. Not every search tool is better of course, but there are some great ones available that are well worth considering. You may find one that suits the way you use your computer better than Windows' built-in search, and if you're using Windows XP, anything is better than the built- in search.

Simple filename searches

Sometimes you need to search inside files and look at the contents In order to find whatever you're looking for, such as a particular document or letter. However, this isn't always the case, because you may have a lot of files on your computer that don't have any content. Images like clipart, program files, data files created by software, dlls, and countless other files on the system don't always have content you can search.

Even if files do contain content that can be indexed and searched, if you use descriptive filenames when saving files to disk then a filename search may be all that is required to find a particular file. Using filenames that describe the content of files is a good habit to get into, and half a dozen keywords in the name can be as good as a short name but relying on a search tool that indexes the content.

Description: Locate32 scans the disk for files and stores them in a database to make searching instantaneous.

Locate32 scans the disk for files and stores them in a database to make searching instantaneous.

There are many search tools that ignore the contents of files and just search for filenames. One advantage of them is that they operate extremely quickly. They work by scanning the disk drive starting with the root (C:\), and drill down through each folder and subfolder. This is a fairly trivial task for a program and some utilities claim to be able to scan one million files in around a minute, which is pretty amazing.

Even though scanning large numbers of files doesn't take long, you don't want to sit and wait for a minute or more, twiddling your thumbs every time you want to find a file. In order to boost the speed even more, most simple search utilities scan the disk and then store their results in a database. It's possible to find an item in a database almost instantaneously and search results are displayed almost as soon as you press Enter after typing in the name of a file to find.

This does raise a problem, though, whereby the contents of the disk drive may change after the database is created, such as if you add or delete files. This means that the search either won't find the file, because it was added after the index was created or the item is found but it no longer exists on the disk drive. Search tools that create databases must in some way keep them updated or they lose their effectiveness.

Description:  Search-GT is a simple search utility for Windows XP that finds files based on the filename.

Search-GT is a simple search utility for Windows XP that finds files based on the filename.

Locate32 is a free file search tool that runs on versions of Windows as far back as 98, which is useful to know if you're running an older OS. You can enter a whole or partial filename and use wildcards like * for any number of characters or ? for a single character. In order to reduce the number of results, a minimum or maximum file size can be set and the search limited to files older or newer than a specific date. So you could search for a file created or updated in the last week that is bigger than 100KB but less than 1 MB. A nice feature Is that if you search for an image, the File menu is filled with image commands such as rotate clockwise/anticlockwise, preview, set as desktop background and so on. Search for an audio file and there's a play command on the menu, as well as options to open it in Media Player and so on.

The software consists of two components: the search tool just queries a database of files, while there's a separate utility to create and update the database. Locate32 can schedule updates for the database, which can be every minute, hour, day, or when Windows starts. The updater runs in the background and it's possible to set the priority to low or idle, which will use the minimum processing power so it doesn't affect the running of other software. You can carry on using the PC while it indexes the disk contents in the background. It scans the disk very quickly and updates are fast too. An Interesting feature is the ability to create multiple databases, so internal disks and USB drives could have separate databases, or the Documents, Music and Photos folders could have separate databases.

Search-GT is a simple file search tool that doesn't create indexes or scan and store results; it searches on demand. It bypasses the normal Windows file system commands and accesses the disk directly so that It can search faster, though. The only problem is that it's for Windows XP only and it doesn't run on Vista or 7. If you are still running XP, it Is worth a look, but it's not free, which is another downside to this search tool.

  •  In Search Of The Perfect Mid-Tower (Part 4) - Thermaltake Level 10 GTS
  •  In Search Of The Perfect Mid-Tower (Part 3) - Corsair Obsidian 550D, NZXT Phantom 410 Gunmetal Edition
  •  In Search Of The Perfect Mid-Tower (Part 2) - Corsair Vengeance C70, MSI Ravager
  •  In Search Of The Perfect Mid-Tower (Part 1) - Antec Eleven Hundred, Silverstone Temjin Tj04-E
  •  Rebuilding The Dream (Machine) (Part 3)
  •  Rebuilding The Dream (Machine) (Part 2)
  •  Rebuilding The Dream (Machine) (Part 1)
  •  Toshiba Satellite C840 Review (Part 2)
  •  Toshiba Satellite C840 Review (Part 1)
  •  Maintaining Your Windows XP System : Checking Your Hard Disk for Errors (part 2) - Checking Free Disk Space, Deleting Unnecessary Files
  •  Maintaining Your Windows XP System : Checking Your Hard Disk for Errors (part 1)
  •  BenQ XL2420T : Best 3D monitor
  •  Falcon Northwest Tiki: Size really doesn't matter
  •  Thermalright Silver Arrow Sb-E
  •  Origin Eon11-S : The little gaming notebook that could
  •  Windows 7 : Migrating User State Data - Understanding USMT Components
  •  Windows 7 : Migrating User State Data - Planning User State Migration Using USMT
  •  Windows Server 2003 : Backing Up Data
  •  Windows Server 2003 : Selecting a Backup Medium, Developing a Backup Strategy
  •  Ivy Bridge Laptop Attacks The Market
    Top 10
    The Hot Five – Q1 2013 (Part 2) - HTC 8X, Asus Padfone , Sony Xperia T
    The Hot Five - Q1 2013 (Part 1) : Apple iPhone 5, Nokia Lumia 920
    DDMF DirectionalEQ Effect Plugin
    Four Of The Best Stereo Systems (Part 4)
    Four Of The Best Stereo Systems (Part 3)
    Four Of The Best Stereo Systems (Part 2)
    Four Of The Best Stereo Systems (Part 1)
    Steinberg Cubase 7 – The Fantastic Success (Part 1)
    Canon EOS C500 and EOS-1DC: 4K Cameras Now!
    Tips And Tricks To Set You Apart From The Tech Crowd (Part 7)
    Most View
    Windows 7 : Command-Line and Automation Tools - The MS-DOS Environment
    XAML in WPF
    Social Networking Tips & Tricks (May 2012)
    Configuring A Child - Friendly iPad
    Windows Server 2008 : Installing and Configuring FTP Services (part 2) - Configuring the FTP 7.5 Features and Properties
    Parallels Desktop 8 for Mac - Making Running Windows A Pleasure
    Dell Introduced Two Mobile Workstations Using Ivy Bridge Chip
    Building Out Of Browser Silverlight Applications - Using COM Interoperability and File System Access
    The Personalised Internet (Part 1)
    Sharepoint 2007: Upload a File Using the Explorer View
    20 Essential Window 8 Apps (Part 2)
    How To Build The Ultimate AMD Gaming Rig
    HP Pavilion M6-1045dx
    What Might Have Been
    How To Buy…A NOTEBOOK PC (Part 1)
    Synology DiskStation DS212j
    Windows 7 : Creating Backups and Preparing for Problems (part 2) - Scheduling and Managing Automated Backups
    Choosing The Right Components (Part 2)
    PhotoDirector 3 - Gets snap happy
    Separating BPM and SOA Processes : BPM-Oriented Disputes with TIBCO (part 2) - BusinessWorks Orchestration Processes & ActiveMatrix ESB Processes