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It can be hard to keep track of all the data on your computer, which is why the built-in Windows search function can come in so handy. But have you ever found it doesn’t always turn up the result you want?
This might be because you’re trying to search inside the contents of a file. By default, Windows won’t look at the internals of every single file when performing your search. However, there is a way to enable this.
Not only can the Windows search be improved, but there are third-party programs that might offer you better search experiences. Be sure to drop into the comments section afterwards to offer your own advice.
Using Windows Search
The search function built into modern versions of Windows is much better than it used to be on older operating systems, offering a powerful search that is usually great at finding the file you need. However, there might be the occasion where the file you seek doesn’t come up. This is because, by default, the search isn’t looking inside the contents of every file type.
It’s time to change that and make the Windows search even better. First, perform a system search for indexing options and select the relevant result. In the new window that opens click Advanced and then switch to the File Types tab. Here you will find a list of most file types on your system, right down to the really obscure ones. If it isn’t listed then you can add it using the text box and hitting Add.
If you click something common from the list, like doc, then you’ll notice that the file is indexed with the Index Properties and File Contents option. This means that Windows search will look inside these types of files when you input your search query. However, click a more obscure file type and it’ll likely just be set to Index Properties Only.
If you know what the file type is that you’re after, find it on the list and switch it so that it’s set to index the properties and file contents. Once done, click OK.
You can also force Windows to always search within the file contents for specific folders on your computer. First, navigate to the folder of your choice (it can be top level like Computer or something lower down like Documents). When there, press Alt and from the menu that appears go to Tools > Folder options…. Switch to the Search tab and select Always search file names and contents and then press OK.
While these methods will make your search more useful, it’s worth noting that they can slow down the speed at which you’ll get your results. The more file types that have their contents indexed and the more folders searched, the longer it’ll take. If you notice significant slowdown then it might be worth cutting back on your indexing and only enabling the more obscure searches when necessary.
We’ve rounded up a list of Windows search alternatives in the past, but these don’t specifically search file contents. If the Windows search isn’t for you then there is a third-party tool called Agent Ransack at your disposal. This isn’t the only program available, but it’s potentially the best due to its system compatibility, list of features and lack of price tag.
Agent Ransack comes from Mythicsoft and is a free alternative to their FileLocator Pro program. You can search your entire system for containing text and you can also specify parameters like file size and date modified. It has an incredibly simple and easy to use interface, which is quite possibly easier to navigate than the actual Windows search.
The tool will tell you exactly which line your search term appears on within a file (along with how many times it’s contained within) and it’ll give you the search results super quickly. Of course, if you’re searching your entire system then it might take a while, but you can narrow down to folder searches if you need to cut out some of the excess.
These methods will get your system searches to be more thorough, allowing you to dig deep through masses of data and scout out that specific file that you need.
Whether you prefer the built-in Windows search or a third-party alternative, both will get the job done well. And with Windows 8 search being the most powerful yet, we’re looking forward to see what Microsoft will come up with for Windows 10. Since Cortana appeared on the Windows 10 desktop, we’re already seeing a glimpse of what is possible.
What methods do you use for searching the contents of your files? Do you have a program that you recommend?