All mainstream desktop operating systems include powerful search features. They all offer the ability to create a “saved search,” which functions as a virtual folder. The saved search folder appears to contain the files that match your search.

You could use this to display all documents, images, music, or video files on your hard drive in a single folder, sorted by how new they are. The possibilities are endless.


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To create a saved search on Windows 7 or 8, open a Windows Explorer window or File Explorer window, navigate to the folder you want to search, and perform a search. For example, if you want to use a saved search folder that looks at all files in your user directory, navigate to C:\Users\YourName, and type a search into the search box.

Keep modifying your search until you get the search results you want to see. Use Windows’ advanced search operators to narrow down your search, if necessary. For example, you can add type: image to search for all images, whether they have the JPG, JPEG, PNG, GIF, BMP, or other file extension.

Click the Search Tools button on the ribbon and click Save search on Windows 8, or click the Save search button on Windows Explorer’s toolbar on Windows 7 when you’re done. Windows saves the search to the file system as a file with the .search-ms file extension.

Click the saved search in your favorites or double-click the .search-ms file and Windows will instantly perform the search, presenting the results as the contents of a virtual folder. You can browse and open files from here. Sort the list of files, and Windows will remember how you sorted it — you could set the search to show the newest matching files first, for example.


RELATED: 7 Ubuntu File Manager Features You May Not Have Noticed

Different Linux desktop environments work in different ways, and some — especially more lightweight, minimal ones — won’t have the ability to create a saved search. For this example, we used Ubuntu 14.04 which includes the Nautilus file manager. Any Linux distribution with GNOME’s standard Nautilus file manager will work in the same way, and other Linux desktop environments should work similarly.

Open the Nautilus file manager, browse to the folder you want to search inside of, click the search icon on the toolbar, and perform your search. Use the + button to tweak your search, adding additional search criteria like file type and location.

To save the search, click the File menu and select Save Search As. Provide a name for your search and save it somewhere, such as in your home folder.

The saved search will appear as a virtual folder with the .savedSearch file extension. Double-click it to quickly perform the search again and see a virtual folder containing the files that match your search. You can also click the Bookmarks menu and select “Bookmark This Location” to bookmark it for quick access in the future. It will appear in the Nautilus file manager’s sidebar.

Mac OS X

Mac OS X offers saved searches, which it names “Smart Folders.” Open a Finder window and browse to a folder you want to search. Perform a search and tweak it afterward or click File > New Smart Folder.

Use the + button in the search window to add filters to your search and tweak the results.

Click the Save button to save the search when you’re done.

Mac OS X will save your search to the Saved Searches folder by default. It will also add the saved search to your sidebar under Favorites, so you can access it with a single click.

Depending on your operating system, you can edit the saved search and save your changes or delete it and start over again. To delete a saved search, delete the saved search file and remove any shortcuts to it.

This feature won’t use additional resources, as it relies on the search and indexing features your operating system already includes. If a saved search is slow, you may need to enable search indexing or add additional locations to your operating system’s search indexer.

Profile Photo for Chris Hoffman Chris Hoffman
Chris Hoffman is Editor-in-Chief of How-To Geek. He's written about technology for over a decade and was a PCWorld columnist for two years. Chris has written for The New York Times and Reader's Digest, been interviewed as a technology expert on TV stations like Miami's NBC 6, and had his work covered by news outlets like the BBC. Since 2011, Chris has written over 2,000 articles that have been read more than one billion times---and that's just here at How-To Geek.
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