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How-To Geek

Lesson 7: Search, Apps, and Search Some More

Windows 8.1

We now turn our sights toward all things Search, which can actually make your Windows 8.1 experience infinitesimally easier if you know how to use it well. Search is now a large part of Windows and Bing has even been integrated so you can get actual web results within local search results.

So while search in Windows has become more useful, it’s also become a little more complicated. Search now does more and, unlike the infamous “dog search” in Windows XP, there’s now more going on even though it may just look like a simple magnifying glass with a text box next to it. Search is now in everything and you’re never more than a key combination away.

In this lesson we’re going to show you all the ins and outs of search, not just from the Start screen’s interface but throughout the system. We’ll cover the Search and Apps PC Settings first and then from there we’ll get into how to use search more effectively, how to modify the search indexer, and we’ll talk about that whole Bing thing and what that means to our search results.

We aim by the end to give you more tools in your arsenal, i.e. Advanced Query Syntax (AQS), for conquering Windows 8.1 search so that as time goes on, and you acquire more and more data, you will be better equipped to find it with just a few keystrokes.

Search and Apps PC Settings

We continue our journey then through the PC Settings by now stopping off to examine the Search and Apps section.

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This doesn’t simply cover search settings, but sharing, notifications, app sizes, and app defaults. It’s kind of a diverse mixture of different settings but they all have distinct purposes and you will definitely need to dig into them from time to time.

Search

The top settings in the Search and Apps group is Search. Here you can erase your “search history” and turn off Bing integration, meaning all your searches will remain local. We’ll show what this means in the next section.

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If you want your searches to be personalized, then you can adjust how much personalization you get. This is solely a privacy setting, meaning you can dial back how much location and account info Bing uses to return results. You can completely disable this as well, if you prefer.

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“SafeSearch” allows you to filter out adult content like images and videos from your web results. If you set it to “Strict” it means you will not see anything whereas if you set it to “Moderate” then you will not see images and videos but you will receive text results.

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Finally, if you are operating on a metered connection, then you can disable Bing results completely or only when you’re roaming.

Share

The Share charm and by extension, the Sharing Options are a new feature that appeared in Windows 8. For anyone who’s used a mobile operating system like iOS or Android, this is really no different. How you share, though, will depend on the apps you have installed.

The Sharing Options are pretty simple. At the top you can decide if you want Windows to show the apps you use most often at the top of the share list, as well as how you share, e.g. if you share web pages via e-mail, that option will be at the top next time you share another web page.

You can also choose how many items are shown in the list, clear the list, and decide which apps can share on an app-by-app basis.

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The idea is that you’ll do more and more sharing from the Windows Start environment but for established Windows users, this might feel a little foreign and strange. But, if you’re stuck in an airport without a mouse and keyboard, it will have some usefulness if you have good apps to share with.

Sadly, while it’s good that this feature now exists on Windows, it’s still got a lot of growing up to do. We hope that Microsoft will be able to extend and embrace sharing on the desktop. For example, it would be nice to be able to actually share stuff from the Internet to Mail, Facebook, and other apps from a web browser. Additionally, such added functionality would help a great deal in making the Start/desktop experience feel a little more combined and cohesive.

Notifications

Notifications on Windows 8.1 aren’t like they are on other systems. In Windows 8.1, events pop out from the upper-right corner as toast notifications.

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You can adjust your notification preferences in the PC Settings. As you can see in the following screenshot, you can turn them off altogether, which will disable all the other settings.

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If you do decide to leave notifications disabled, you can set them to only appear during certain hours. “Quiet hours” meaning that you won’t be disturbed if you have them turned on.

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You can choose whether you want to receive calls during quiet hours or turn that option off. Finally, if you have an app capable of displaying notifications, you can turn it off if you find it bothersome.

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For example, if your Facebook feed is blowing up and you don’t want to be alerted every time something happens, you can simply turn off the Facebook notifications instead of all app notifications.

App Sizes

You can reclaim disk space in several ways on Windows 8.1 and through the App Sizes settings.

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If you see that an app has gobbled up too much disk space or you simply don’t use it, you can click on it in App Sizes and uninstall it.

Defaults

Finally, Defaults PC Settings may remind you of the control panel of the same name (pictured below) because it does essentially the same thing.

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When you “Choose default apps” you can assign several primary app functions such as your default web browser, e-mail program, music player, and more.

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If you scroll to the bottom of the defaults settings, you can also choose to associate file types with apps.

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Or, you can do the same with protocols.

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All of this is very similar to what you’ll encounter in the desktop equivalent, which can be helpful if you want something to open in a Windows Store app versus the desktop.

Mastering Windows 8.1 Search

Let’s return again now to the specifics of Windows search and its applicable settings, let’s actually delve into the mechanics and inner workings of Search. In this section we want to cover what Windows Search does, how to use it more effectively, and how to tune the Search Indexer for better results.

It’s Got Bing in It

As we explained earlier, Bing is now completely integrated into search results, if you want them to be. The two easiest ways to begin searching is to hit the WIN key and begin typing from the Start screen, or you can use the WIN+Q combo to open the search pane from the desktop.

Looking at the following screenshot, we type “st” and Search automatically auto-fills in the closest results. In this case, the first app Store followed by the troubleshooting tool Steps Recorder, and then followed by other relevant results.

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If you initiate a search in Windows 8.1 and then hit “ENTER,” it will return what are known as a “search hero,” which is basically deep Bing results. This means that in our search results below, you get not just local results, we also see whatever Bing finds, provided you leave Bing integration enabled (covered earlier in this lesson).

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Search Heroes are useful beyond the obvious search results. For example, if you search for images of New York, you can filter them right within the operating system.

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We recommend that, even if you don’t like the idea of Bing in your search results, at least give it a try for a few days and keep in mind, you can always filter your results right from the search pane. So, if you do not want to see web results, you can narrow it down immediately.

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Even better, utilizing the power of Advanced Query Syntax, you can refine your results even further.

Searching from File Explorer

As we mentioned, search in Windows is multifaceted and you can perform searches from many places, and you can still search from the File Explorer just as always. Wherever you are in the system, you can search it. You will note that the Ribbon at the top of the File Explorer window changes to “Search Tools” and gives you a bunch of options to help you narrow your results.

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Of note here is the ability to search the current folder and/or its subfolders, search by date, file kind, size, use recent searches, save a search, and access advanced options.

You can also search in other locations. For example, the Control Panel has a search box so you can find different settings and options rather than hunting through the Control Panel for something in particular.

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As we said, search is everywhere in Windows and it is very easy to use but you can take it even further with Advanced Query Syntax.

How to Use Advanced Query Syntax to Find Stuff

We want to spend some time talking about Advanced Query Syntax (AQS) because even if you have no idea what that is, learning even just a little bit about AQS can help you find anything on your computer, quickly.

The point of AQS is to make your life easier but the learning curve can be a bit steep. Search can be found all over Windows. There are literally search features all over the interface: you can search from the Start menu, control panels, File Explorer windows, PC Settings; if you key in WIN+F, the Search pane slides out so you can search your files; if you use WIN+Q, you can search everything, etc.

The point is, search is ubiquitous so there’s no practical reason why you can’t use it more, and more effectively.

What is AQS?

Think of Advanced Query Syntax as your key to better search results. AQS is a group of queries that allow you to not only refine searches to make them more effective, but produce results based upon a file’s contents and properties. You might think that you’ll never be able to find that one picture you took or video you shot, but just knowing a little bit about that file and then understanding which syntax to use in your search, can often make short work of your efforts.

We could dedicate an entire lesson to AQS (we are in fact, planning an upcoming series on it), which should be an indication to everyone as to just how much there is to it. That said, we mean to merely introduce you and point out a few ways you can make AQS work for you.

How Does AQS Work?

You already know how to search for something, AQS just makes it easier to refine your searches and make them more accurate. You can search using one or more keywords including Boolean operators, and other criteria from one or more parameters:

File properties

Files have a lot of information contained within them other than the bits and bytes that make them up. File properties are comprised of things such as the size of a file, the date it was created/modified, tags that have been attributed to it, and other things that tell us what a file is all about.

File Contents

As Windows has evolved, search has too so that now it can peer even further into your files so you can actually look for keywords contained within a file. Simply put, if you search for an image, you can phrase your search as such so that you only find images, which match a particular description or document that contains a certain phrase or wording.

Kinds of Files

There are many kinds of items on your system. What kinds? Well, there are sound files (mp3, ogg, wav), documents (doc, txt, rtf), videos (avi, wmv, mkv), folders, e-mails, and more. If you know what kind of item you’re searching for, you can narrow down your search results fairly quickly.

Data Stores

Finally, you can search various data stores where items have been indexed (we’ll cover the search indexer in the next section). These data stores might include databases, external hard drives, and anywhere else you’ve specified Windows 8.1 to index.

Don’t Forget Your Boolean Operators!

Throughout all these searches, you can use Boolean operators to further refine your searches. You may already be acquainted with Boolean if you’ve ever searched for stuff on the Internet. Basically Boolean are operators that let you string search terms and parameters together. Here are some examples:

NOT peanut butter NOT jelly Searches for items that contain peanut butter but not jelly.
OR peanut butter OR jelly Searches for items that contain peanut butter or jelly.
Quotation marks “peanut butter and jelly” Searches for the exact phrase “peanut butter and jelly.”

“OR” and “NOT” must be capitalized, and cannot be in the same search string. Effectively incorporating Boolean into your searches will allow you to combine, exclude, or even constrain search terms. This is great if you have several different criteria and want to produce logical search results.

We recommend you read Microsoft’s MSDN page on Advanced Query Syntax for an extensive list of Boolean operators and Boolean properties.

A Final Word on Wildcards

Wildcards allow you to fudge the details a bit so you can return results if you don’t know exactly what you’re looking for. Think of AQS as a search scalpel and wildcards as a search axe.

Windows Search has two wildcards, “*”, which matches anything and “?”, which matches any character. In other words, an “anything” search will let you insert a “*” to represent a whole string of text while an “any character” search will let you insert a “?” when you want it to fill in for single characters you don’t know.

There’s so much to Advanced Query Syntax, we can only introduce you to concepts, but there’s a wealth of information readily available on the Internet. We recommend Microsoft’s own documentation as the ultimate source. How-To Geek also has also published a recent article that details some of AQS’s finer points.

Coming up in a few weeks, we’ll be publishing an entire series devoted to Windows Search and AQS, so you should make sure to keep checking back!

Search and Indexing Options

There are two control panels that you should be immediately familiar with to get the best search results. The first one is “Folder Options.”

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Let’s first check out the “Search” tab. It’s probably fair to ask why these options aren’t in the “Indexing Options” but here they are in a dialog dedicated to folder options. Nevertheless, there’s some very important things to note here.

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First, you can disable the search indexer from cataloging system files. This will result in a smaller index and it also means that system files won’t appear in basic searches unless you search for them specifically in file folders. However, as it states, if you do this, searches might take longer to perform.

Speaking of slower searches, if you search in non-indexed locations (we’ll cover that in a second), you can have search include system directories and compressed files. You can also for search to look through files names and file contents, which will definitely slow things down considerably.

We keep mentioning the indexer and you’re probably wondering what we’re going on about. If you note the previous screenshot of the Control Panel, you’ll probably see that we also included the “Indexing Options” in that red square.

Put simply, the indexing options allow you to specify where the indexer searches and how, meaning that you can exclude folders, partitions, and drives that contain stuff you don’t need to search for (archived data for example).

You can just as easily include areas that you do want to index. Let’s say, for instance, you have a partition devoted to images that you painstakingly tag with relevant information about their subject and content. You’d most definitely want include that partition in your image searches.

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Clicking the “Modify” button will open a new dialog that allows you to do just that. You’ll see your drives and partitions, and you can open them to access sub-directories if you do not want the entire location indexed.

Below, you see a summary of what is or scheduled to be indexed. This gives you a quick glance at all your indexed locations, from which you can decide if you’re good to go or if you still need to add/remove stuff.

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If you click the “Advanced” button on the previous screen, you’re given options. The “Index Settings” tab lets you decide if you want your encrypted files indexed and whether you want words with diacritics treated as different words, for example, “naïve” would be treated separately from “naive.”

If you’re having problems, say the indexer doesn’t seem to be performing as advertised, or you decide to change what is indexed and want a clean start, you can “Rebuild” it. It’s important to note that indexing your entire system can sometime take considerable time so each time you rebuild, you won’t get complete search results until it is finished.

Finally, you can move the index to another location. We don’t really recommend doing this unless the index has a reason to be in another location, such as if you’re trying to save a little disk space or you can claim more performance. Usually the index is good just where it is.

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The “File Types” tab is pretty obvious. You have three ways of configuring file types, you can uncheck all the ones you simply don’t want to index, if you do index a file type, you can choose between whether to index its properties, or its properties and contents.

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Additionally, you can add new extensions to the list. You might do this for instance if you add files to your computer that have an extension that isn’t registered on your computer.

For example, when you install Microsoft Office, it registers its file types (docx, xlsx, pptx, and so on) so that Office always opens files of that type. Then, the search indexer crawls your hard drive and indexes files of that type, unless you say otherwise in the above dialog. Thus, if you have files that aren’t a registered file type, you will need to add it here.

Conclusion

Search is, and should be a more prominent part of the Windows experience. In truth, using search effectively can greatly shorten the time you spend looking for files and settings, doing research, and even launching applications. Add in AQS, and you have some very powerful tools that can quickly turn you into a Search Guru!

For your homework, search! Try out the Bing integration, Search Heroes, and maybe do a little AQS research. See what you can do with it and let us know if you have any questions by sounding off in our forums.

Tomorrow, we’re going to wind up our discussions of the PC Settings by focusing on the “Privacy,” “Network,” and “Time and Language” settings groups, and a long overdue examination of Windows 8.1’s “Update and recovery” options.

Born and brainwashed an Ohio State Buckeye, Matt now lives a warm, snow-free life just north of the Texas/Mexico border. He fancies himself a modern-day jack-of-all-trades; favorite conversation starters include operating systems, Android, BBQ, quantum physics, and roller skating.

  • Published 07/8/14