Fix Search in Win7 Windows Explorer

It was so frustrating. I would type in a search term in Windows 7 Windows Explorer that I knew, for a fact, to be contained in many of the text files in the folder, but the Search result consistently said “nothing found”.  That was just stupid.

Of course, there were several mitigating factors. 

For one, all the files I am searching have an extension of .log.  On previous versions of Windows, especially XP (I can’t speak to Vista because I managed to skip that one), there was a problem with searching that had to do with the file extension not being one of the favored extensions, e.g. .doc.  So if the text files happen to have an extension of .log, as so many of mine do, they were not searched. The fix for that was a Registry hack.  However, that is not the case here, with Windows 7.

The second issue has to do with indexing.  I have disabled indexing on most of my drives and folders.  The folks at Microsoft must think we spend our entire day doing nothing but searching, and so are willing to sacrifice all of our computing power, at the most inopportune times, to index the drive.  Not I, and I bet not a lot of other folks either.  I would much rather have my occasional search take 5 seconds rather than 1, or even one half second (which is an order of magnitude of slowness, I might add), than to have my machine periodically and randomly appear to freeze for tens of seconds at a time while it decides to do indexing.  If computers were so damn smart, you’d think they would at least be capable of figuring out a true idle time to do the indexing, but no. That would be asking too much.  So I turn off indexing.

But wait! They got you by the short hairs.  In the infinite wisdom of some idiot, or idiots, in Redmond, the default search configuration only searches the content of files if the location is indexed.  If it is not indexed, it searches the file names, but not the content. Well, duh.  Why in the world would I ever not want to search the content?  If they are so afraid of lengthy searches, give a warning the first time, but make the default to search through everything.

I will say that I have worked with many Microsofties over the years, including some in Redmond, and I found most of them to be wonderful, smart and thoughtful people, just trying to do a good job and produce good software, so I don’t mean to demean all the developers at Microsoft.  But they shoot themselves in the foot with some of their design decisions.  Frankly, this smells like a marketeer’s idea.

There is an easy fix however, and it does not even involve the Registry.

Open Windows Explorer.  Click the Tools menu item, then Folder Options, then select the Search tab, as shown here:


In the “What to search” box, the default is the first radio button.  Select the 2nd radio button – “Always search file names and contents (this might take several minutes)”.  Note the ominous warning. 

Click OK.

There!  All done.  (Doesn’t that feel like you are really sticking it to The Man?)  Your searches will now work as expected.


About Dan Hurwitz

A consultant specializing in .NET.
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