Windows Search has gradually improved with each successive version of the operating system. In Windows 7, search is central to how the file system works and you’ll find search boxes in the Start Menu and every folder window.
Although search in Windows 7 is pretty good, it’s geared towards finding documents. So if you’re searching for a program file or a library file (.dll) or some other non-document file, it’s not much help. Windows Search also searches file contents as well as filenames. This is a great feature, but it makes searching considerably slower.
So, what do you do if you want to find a particular file, no matter what its type, really quickly? Try Everything.
Everything is a freeware utility which lets you do lightning fast searches by file or folder name. You can grab a copy from this month’s cover disc or from voidtools.com. It’ll work on all versions of Windows from Windows 2000 and XP onwards, but it only searches volumes formatted with NTFS – the default file system on Windows 7. Everything searches both internal drives and external USB drives.
When you first launch Everything, it will index every file and folder on your hard drive(s), but because it indexes only the names and not the contents, this process is fast. The very first time Everything loads, it may take half a minute to build its index, but from then on, there’s barely any delay for updating the index. You’ll probably find it best to run Everything whenever you start your system, by clicking Tools -> Options -> “Start Everything on system startup”.
Everything has a no-frills look to it. There’s a search box at the top with menus above and then a barebones filelist. What you’ll notice about that file list is that it contains all your files, probably running to a million or so on a typical Windows 7 system.
To find any file in that mammoth list, simply start typing a part of a filename in the search box. The list is instantly winnowed to display only the matching files.
When you type a partial filename in the search box, Everything searches for matching character strings anywhere within a filename. So a search for “stron” will uncover both a file called Strontium properties.htm and a folder called Astronomy Photos. With each character you type, non-matching files are weeded out almost instantaneously, so your search narrows quickly.
Everything performs a Boolean and search by default. This means the more words you type, the narrower the search. For example, a search for budget will find any filename containing that word; a search for budget 2011 will find only those files containing both ‘budget’ and ‘2011’. If you wish to find filenames that contain either ‘budget’ or ‘2011’ (a Boolean or search), use the pipe character – | – to separate the search terms, thus: budget | 2011. To find filenames which include the word ‘budget’ but do not include the word ‘2011’ place an exclamation mark before the latter term: budget !2011
You can also use the wildcard characters * and ? in your searches. The * matches any string of characters of any length; the ? character matches any single character. So *.doc will locate all Microsoft Word documents, while b????.doc will locate all Word documents with a five-character filename starting with ‘b’. Note that the ? character must be matched by a character. So *.doc? finds all files with a four-character file extension, such as Budget 2011.docx, but it will not find Budget 2011.doc. Similarly, b??????.* finds all files with a seven-character filename, even if that filename contains a space, such as Bar Fly.htm . The space is counted as a valid character within a filename. If you want to include a space in your search without using the wildcard ? character, enclose your search term in double quotes: “bar fly”.
Taking Everything further
Everything also lets you search using regular expressions, or regex. Regular expressions provide a lot of flexibility and power. We’ll look at how to use them in a future article, not only because they extend Everything’s power, but also because you can use regular expressions in a number of other programs, including Microsoft Word.
Also coming up: a nifty technique which lets you sidestep the annoying UAC (User Account Control) prompt displayed by Everything.