Why the desktop search of Windows Vista sucks

A week ago, I’ve upgraded from Windows XP SP3 to Vista x64 SP1. I already had been using Vista in early 2007 for ~2 months, but downgraded again due to its poor performance, bad driver support and many small annoyances. One thing that drove me nuts in 2007 already, is the new desktop search. While performance, driver support and so on have become much better since then, I still don’t like the new desktop search. Let me show you why.

Yesterday I wanted to search all files within C:\Program Files (x86)\Microsoft Visual Studio 9.0\VC\atlmfc\src\mfc for the string IOleInPlaceActiveObject. This folder and its sub-directories contain a total of 476 files. I browsed to this folder and the first problem arose: How do I search for file contents? There’s just this search box in the top-right corner. What do I enter there? The filename patterns I want to search for? The content I want to search for? Both? If both: in which syntax do I enter it? I decided to just enter IOleInPlaceActiveObject into this box and hit Enter.

The search was finished immediately, but didn’t find anything which I knew was wrong. But now Explorer displayed a link Search File Contents which I clicked. The search started again. I waited one minute. Still no file was found and the search was still running. I waited two minutes – no found file, search still running. Finally, after four minutes, the search was complete and now six hits were displayed. I couldn’t believe that searching 476 files for a specific string would take 4 minutes, so I started xplorer² and told it to search the directory again for the same string. It took less than 1 second and 19 files were found. This started to become interesting…

The first question that came to my mind was why Explorer finds 6 files and xplorer² 19 files. The answer is that xplorer² really searches all files while Explorer skips binary files. Okay, so Explorer tries to be smart and for most users skipping binary files indeed is a good idea. But not for me. Sometimes I want to search binaries for a specific content. How do I tell Explorer to not skip them then?

The second question was why does Explorer need about 240x the time that xplorer² needs although it doesn’t even search within binary files?? Yes, the directory is not part of my search index. But xplorer² doesn’t use any index either! What the hell is Explorer doing that it is so much slower???

So if you don’t want to miss any file no matter which directory on your hard disk you search, you’ll have to tweak the indexing service to include all directories and any file type or you’ll have died before the end of the search. But can the indexing service be tweaked to include binary files? I’m not sure and I won’t try it because indexing my whole hard disk would probably take a day or two and keeping this index current would probably put some nice extra load to my hard disk.

I also don’t understand why found files are not displayed before the end of the search. Imagine a search that will result in hundreds of hits, but take half an hour to complete. You have to wait 30 minutes, in which you already could work with the first hits, and then you get hundreds of hits at once. Yeah! Great!

For me the Vista desktop search is just crap. Its usability is poor, it is extremely slow as soon as the index can’t be used and it swallows hits. The search of Windows XP wasn’t that much better, but on XP you could activate the legacy search that was the default up to Windows 2000 and I always used this one.

So whenever I have to search something on my hard disk, I’ll start xplorer² and search it there. Let’s see what annoying things Windows 7 will introduce…

10 thoughts on “Why the desktop search of Windows Vista sucks”

  1. Microsoft doesn’t understand simplicity. Who the f**K cares about indexing? Couldn’t M$ just MAKE IT WORK and let advanced users tweak indexing? Imagine if your car told you “Car will not drive because engine is not ready (learn laods more about getting your engine ready>>)”

  2. I liked Vista until I was trying to do some content search today. It’s pathetic how Microsoft has been becoming.

  3. Desktop search is the biggest piece of crap I have seen, and when it comes to Micrososft crap is not unusual…

  4. I guess we should welcome the fact that Microsoft leaves openings fro 3rd party tools to fill the void.

  5. Microsoft search / Live search or whatever name is extremely annoying. I do not understand how anybody at Redmond thought it was a good idea. Sure, no problem to ADD functionality to and OS, but REMOVING functionality??? You must work at Microsoft for such intelligent ideas.

    We are skipping the Live Search 4.0 crap update everywhere since it renders machines useless for search. “no stupid user, you cannot look for files, you need to run indexing first, start it and come back next week”. Microsoft, this is STUPID. Do you understand this? Do you people even use Windows?

    Vista search is the same old Mickey Mouse crap. Microsoft I DO NOT WANT wizards and click click click click click click interfaces and waiting for minutes in order to do something that took less than a few seconds in Windows95 for gods sake!

    And give the up arrow back. The new interface is not convenient and misses functionality like going the whole way upwards to the desktop.

  6. I really really really do not understand what kind of people are hired by Microsoft. Upgrading is downgrading.

    First we were annoyed by an oh so pleasant animated character. Yes, Microsoft, we corporate users like cartoons. Then Windows Search came along. You stupid user, you wanna search? Build a f*n index first!!! Stupid user!!! Microsoft issued Windows Search that fast that the consistency of the looks of Explorer is broken, as long as you do not have an XP with Mickey Mouse Theme. MS loves cartoons and jokes.

    Search in Vista: do not even try it. It was way too easy to click with the right mouse button and selecting search to get a search box where -sigh- you had to include hidden/protected/system files. MS thinks the ordinary user does nothing else than browse to the Windows folder, delete everything he doesn’t recognize and then start ranting against MS about how bad Windows is. That’s why files and extensions are multi-hidden by default. And that’s why an evil user without any knowledge whatsoever can cripple his machine in no time. Yes, Windows Search 4.0 (???) had to be released since Google released Google Desktop. A search engine that runs excellent, but is not that handy searching in particular folder.

    What kind of people are in charge at MS? Some old school friends of Bill Gates who don’t know about computers? Here is another fine example. Lately IE8 was released as an important update. Nice. Yet another click-click-click-agree?-yes?-certain?-click-click-click eternal runonce ruining productivity and settings, throwing around tab pages for the thousandth time, making end users call support desks because they encounter a lot of text instead of the familiar web page. Great, MS, we love to clickclickclickclickclick on every computer we encounter, due to some ‘important’ releases! More! We love to click and agree with endless texts, we love to change our search engine, we love it, we were waiting for it! Over and over. The best shot MS performed in my opinion is to make IE8 to adapt secure server settings. This gives amazing results. Especially on a terminal server in a 24/7 corporation where users need to visit websites and enter stuff in web applications. The internet is Blocked with a B and there is no way in MS Hell to turn it off. Nothing. The brave souls at MS suggest reinstalling the server from scratch, without enhanced security. Something end customers just love, another expensive ICT project lasting for days while users cannot access web applications! What on earth, Microsoft?!! PS, you forgot to mention that installing Firefox does the trick too. However, MS should issue this advisory: Do not install IE8 on a terminal server. Ever.

    MS needs to reconsider some people higher up on the payrolls. MS makes some fine products, but the typical MS attitude regarding updating is unacceptable. As an ICT professional with about two decades of experience I dare to say that the majority of money spent on ICT is spent on cleaning up MS Mess. Making things work again as they did and should. This is apart from the figures invoked by improductivity because of MS Cleverness.

  7. I am currently running Win 7RC and I really liked it a lot until I needed to search for simple txt files in my documents. What a garbage! This thing is hideous! Cannot find two stupid text files no matter what I have tried.
    Now, to be completely fair, I have my SearchIndexing service disabled, since I use search infrequently and don’t want to pay performance penalty for useless indexing all the time. But c’mon this pathetic search can’t find a regular text file under the folder I point it to?
    I am really, NO REALLY! questioning the business strategy of Microsoft with its recent terrible setbacks with the basic day-to-day functionality like inability to see the total size of the deleted files in the Recycle Bin etc.
    That’s just pitiful…
    Thanks for Xplorer2 tip – I will now check it out

  8. so, i think WDS is not so bad, but it´s to slow and need too much ressources. better is to take an external search tool, I found one from a german company, it´s called Lookeen.
    This tool works only with Outlook and is specialized on Outlook Search but it also can search for files which are stored on your computer. This tool also works with an index (there is no other solution than index-search, every other method is slow and bad in finding).

    In comparison to WDS, Lookeen indexes much faster (a 100.000 item .pst file needed about 1,5 hours). And if you do a search, the results are displayed under 1 second!!
    Another big advantage is, that Lookeen even searchs within attachments (or documents). I was so amazed when I used that feature the first time!!

    I somebody is interested in Lookeen, you can load a 14-Day-Trial Version of it under http://www.lookeen.net

  9. I’ll tell you wht the desktop search of vista sucks, that is because Vista sucks. It is one of the greatest failures of microsoft. On the other hand, Windows 7 is something worth using. Great OS.

  10. I started to avoid Windows search with XP when it started to miss things. Have been using http://www.mythicsoft.com/agentransack/ ever since – especially when I actually need to find a file.
    I often use Win7 search and when it doesn’t find what I need (btw – awful search result display and interaction) I start Agent Ransack.
    I guess nobody working at the Microsoft Desktop search minds not finding what they want at all times – hm – wonder if Microsoft’s Bing search engine also hides things it thinks you don’t want to see…

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