Exploring Windows 7’s New Search Feature (Part 2)

by [Published on 27 Oct. 2009 / Last Updated on 27 Oct. 2009]

This article continues the discussion of Windows 7’s search feature by explaining how to customize the way in which files are indexed.

If you would like to read the other parts in this article series please go to:

Introduction

In the first part of this series, I gave you a few demonstrations of just how flexible the Windows 7 search feature really is. When you consider all of the different types of results that were returned in response to my sample search queries, you can imagine how long the search process would take if Windows had to perform the query in real time. Fortunately, searches usually only take a few seconds to complete thanks to the search engine’s indexes.

A search engine index works kind of like an index in a book. Suppose that you needed to look something up in a great big, thick book. Your research would most likely take days, if not weeks to complete if you had to start at the beginning of the book and read every page until you found what you were looking for. Instead though, you can go to the book’s index and look up whatever it is that you are looking for. The index will tell you exactly which pages contain the information that you need. Search engines work similarly. It would take forever to parse each individual document, so the search engine looks up your search terms in its index instead.

While Windows 7’s search engine and the underlying index initially seem to work pretty well, the index is not perfect. The indexing process is resource intensive, and it can really bog down your CPU and hard disk. That being the case, Microsoft had to design the search engine so that it would return a reasonably complete set of search results, but also do so in a way that would not bog your computer down to the point that it becomes useless.

This means that the index is not completely comprehensive. There are items on your computer that are not indexed. It also means that the indexing process is not quite as efficient as it could be, because you are probably indexing some things that you don’t really need to. For example, in Part 1 I showed you that Control Panel applets were returned among some of my search results. Although this is definitely a cool feature, I just can not help but wonder if it is overkill.

Customizing the Search Index

As you have probably already guessed, Windows allows you to tune the indexes so that you only index the content that really matters to you. That way, you can ensure that your search results contain the resources that you are actually looking for, but without bogging down the computer or cluttering the search results with resources that really do not interest you.

To fine tune the search engine, start off by entering the phrase Indexing Options in the search box on the Start menu. When you do, Windows will open the Indexing Options dialog box, shown in Figure A.


Figure A: The Indexing Options dialog box allows you to see what is being indexed

As you can see in the figure, this dialog box allows you to see exactly which locations are being indexed, how many items are in the index, and whether or not the indexing process has completed. As you look at the figure, you will notice that my entire D: drive is indexed, but that only certain parts of my C: drive are indexed. For example, Windows is indexing Outlook and my profile directories (Users), but is not indexing things like the Windows directory or the Program Files directory. You will also notice that my network volumes are not being indexed.

To adjust the index, click on the Modify button. When you do, you will be taken to the screen shown in Figure B. The top portion of the screen allows you to select the items that you want to index, while the bottom half of the screen lists the items that are being indexed.


Figure B: Clicking the Modify button takes you to a screen that allows you to decide what you want to index

Notice in the lower portion of the figure above that some items are being excluded from the Users folder. It is possible to perform exclusions by expanding an item that you want to index, selecting the check box for the item, and then deselecting the check boxes for any subfolders that you do not want to index. For example, if you look at Figure C, you can see that within the Users folder the AppData folder for a given user is not selected. It therefore ends up on the exclusions list.


Figure C: You can exclude individual items from being indexed

Advanced Options

If you go back to the main Indexing Options screen, and click the Advanced Options button, you will be taken to the Advanced Options dialog box, shown in Figure D.


Figure D: The Advanced Options dialog box allows you to control the index’s behavior

As you can see in the figure above, the Advanced Options dialog box allows you to control whether or not you want to index encrypted files (encrypted files are not indexed by default). There is also an option to treat similar words with diacritics as different words. Enabling this option would for example cause Windows to treat the words Search and Searches as two completely different words.

My personal favorite feature on this screen is the Rebuild button. I have never had an index problem in Windows 7, but I have had indexes to be corrupt in some of the earlier versions of Windows. Should the Windows 7 index become corrupt though, you can just click the Rebuild button and Windows will delete the existing index and recreate it from scratch.

The final feature on the Index Settings tab is the Current Location feature. As the figure shows, the index is stored in the C:\ProgramData\Microsoft folder by default, but you have the ability to move the index to a location of your choosing. It is worth noting however, that moving the index requires the underlying indexing service to be restarted.

If you look at the figure above, you will notice that the properties sheet contains an Advanced tab, which is shown in Figure E. This tab allows you to tell Windows which file extensions you want to index.


Figure E: You can enable indexing for specific file types

The most important feature on this tab is the section that lets you control how files should be indexed. The default option is to index the file’s properties only, but you can index the file’s properties and content. What this means is that if you were to index a Microsoft Word document, then by default the document’s file name and its metadata would be indexed. The actual words within the document would not be indexed unless you tell Windows that you want to index properties and file contents.

Conclusion

As you can see, you have several different options for controlling how the indexing process works. In Part 3 I want to conclude the series by showing you a few more ways that you can fine tune indexing.

If you would like to read the other parts in this article series please go to:

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