Windows Search Features

Published: May 4, 2009

Updated: December 4, 2009

Applies To: Windows 7, Windows Server 2008 R2

This topic discusses improvements to Windows Search features for Windows® 7:

Searching from the Start Menu

Features for Users

Users can start their searches directly from the Start menu. The Start menu can return results from programs, the Control Panel, libraries, all indexed file contents, and e-mail. The user interface has been improved for Windows 7:

  • Search results fill the entire horizontal space in the Start menu for easier reading.

  • Results are grouped into categories: programs, the Control Panel, libraries, all indexed file contents, and e-mail.

  • The top three matches from each category are displayed initially, and the total number of matches is shown in parentheses.

    • Programs used more frequently are displayed first.

    • More results per group are displayed as users refine their searches.

  • When users click a group header, Windows Explorer opens to show the full set of results for that group.

  • A See more results link allows easy access to a full set of results in Windows Explorer.

Features for Administrators

Administrators can control which links are added to the Start menu to help users re-execute searches across intranet and internet sites. The Start menu can contain anywhere from zero to four re-scope links. These re-scope links appear in the following order:

  1. See more results/ Search everywhere: This link is the only default, pinned Start menu link. Clicking the link re-executes the Start menu query in Windows Explorer and searches all indexed content. The default text for this link is See more results. Administrators can install a third-party protocol handler for all desktop searches. When you do this, the text becomes Search everywhere, and clicking the link re-executes the Start menu query using the third-party protocol handler.

  2. Search the Internet: By default, the Search the Internet link is not pinned to the Start menu. Administrators can pin it to users’ Start menus using the Add Search Internet link to the Start menu Group Policy. This link re-executes the Start menu query in the default web browser using the default search engine.

  3. Library and/or Search Connector links: While library and search connector links take precedence over Internet search site links, they are pinned after the See more results/ Search everywhere and Search the Internet links if these are enabled. These links re-execute the Start menu query in the chosen library or federated location and return results in Windows Explorer. Administrators can pin such links using the Pin Library and Search Connectors to the “Search again” links and the Start menu Group Policy.

  4. Internet search site links: Custom Internet search site links re-execute the Start menu query in the default web browser using an Internet search engine specified in the Pin Internet search sites to the “Search again” links and the Start menu Group Policy.

Similar re-scoping links are available in Windows Explorer as well.

Start Menu Search Scope and Relevance

The Start menu searches are executed in two phases. First, the Start menu executes a series of quick grep searches on the following set of scopes sequentially:

  1. The Internet, if applicable

    If users enter a query that begins with http:, the Start menu displays the entire query at the top of the results in the Internet group. When the user presses the Enter key, the default browser opens and handles the query.

  2. Start menu scope

    This scope includes the locations where applications install the shortcuts that users see in the Start menu when browsing All Programs:

    • C:\users\<username>\appdata\roaming\microsoft\windows\start menu

    • C:\users\all users\start menu

  3. User-pinned scope

    This scope includes the location where the list of shortcuts that the user pinned to the Taskbar is kept.

    • C:\users\<username>\appdata\roaming\microsoft\internet explorer\quick launch\user pinned

  4. Libraries scope

    This scope includes the location where library display names are kept.

    • C:\users\<username>\appdata\roaming\microsoft\windows\libraries

  5. Known Folders scope, where known folder display names are kept.

  6. Command line input

    This scope identifies executables (*.exe) and commands for those executables. Users can execute command lines from the Start menu search box (just like they would in the Run dialog). Routines like SHEvaluateSystemCommandTemplate look for a match in the locations specified by the PATH environment variable and, if that fails, the user’s folder (c:\users\<username>). This is intended to replace the Start->Run semantics of previous Windows versions so the user can simply type cmd or regedit into the search box to run an executable.

After these results are returned and duplicates removed, the most frequently used (MFU) bias is applied and results are sorted by relevance. The topmost item is given mouse focus, so a user can quickly type a search and press the Enter key to open the top result.

Second, after all the grep searches are completed, the query is sent to the full scope of the index. Results are returned, without duplicates, and sorted by relevance.

Search Builder (Advanced Search)

Features for Users

The Search box within Windows Explorer now has a Search Builder, a drop-down menu that replaces the Advanced Search options from earlier releases. The drop-down menu helps users filter their search results to specific properties, like author or size or file kind. The drop-down displays several property suggestions by default (the number depends on size of the search box and Library type), but many more are available. The suggestions are based on commonly used metadata for searching file types in specific Libraries.

Built on AQS filters The search filters shown in the search drop-down menu are based on Advanced Query Syntax (AQS) filters which enable powerful searches on metadata properties. While AQS was introduced in earlier versions of Windows and Windows Search, many users don’t know what AQS is or how to use it to get better search results. The Search Builder filters make it easy for users to learn and to construct queries with AQS filters.

Ease of use Users take advantage of Search Builder filters by selecting the blue text in the drop-down. For example, the Date Modified search filter pops up a calendar control, allowing users to specify a date range for the Date Modified property. For other property types, the dropdown displays a list of available property values in the Library.

Every time a user selects a filter, that filter is removed from the Search Builder list and other filters are added. There is no limit to how many search filters can be added to a query.

Re-executing a query The drop-down menu in the Windows Explorer search box also provides a list of recent search terms. Selecting one of these re-executes the query.

Features for Administrators

Not applicable.

Viewing Search Results

Features for Users

Windows Explorer Content View Windows 7 displays search results in a new mode called Content view which presents the contents and properties of results more clearly. The layout for each result item is specific to its file type (for example, a music file shows properties that are relevant to music, such as artist, while a document shows properties that are relevant to documents, such as author). The Content view also helps users see the relevancy of results by highlighting the file contents or properties that matches the query.

Search Ranking Windows Explorer and the Start menu search now return results first sorted by a ‘Search Ranking’ property and then by the Date Modified property, whereas previous versions of Windows returned results sorted only by Date Modified. Windows Search evaluates and scores each file in the search scope against the terms typed in the search box based on an improved relevance algorithm. Users can right-click one of the column headers and select ‘Search ranking’ to display this score.

Search rank is on a 0 – 1000 scale, with a score of 1000 indicating an exact match on the entire file name. A search rank of 0 indicates that the file is not indexed. A grep search compares only filenames, while index-backed searches compares:

  • File name: The name of the file (which may or may not include the extension).

  • Properties: Metadata specific to file type, such as the ‘artist’ for music files, ‘author’ for documents, or ‘tags’ for photos and videos.

  • Contents: The body of the file (for textual files).

If the name of the file matches or contains the search string, the file is given a higher ranking than one that matches only on metadata properties. The order in which a user enters terms in a search string also influences relevance: files matching search terms in the order specified in the search string are ranked higher than files matching search terms in a different order. Exact matches are ranked higher than substring matches. Certain properties are weighted more in the relevance algorithm.

Re-scoping Searches From Windows Explorer, users can re-scope their searches using Search again in options. At the bottom of the search results, users can click options to re-execute their search query across libraries and intranet sites, across the internet or across specific internet sites.

Features for Administrators

Not applicable.

Re-scoping Searches with “Search again” Links

Windows 7 provides links that help users re-scope their searches. At the end of the search results, a list of locations is displayed as Search again links. The locations listed depend on what location was originally searched. Clicking one of these links re-executes the search query in the new location.

The Search again links in Windows Explorer can contain anywhere from two to eight links. These are prioritized in the following order:

  1. Computer This link re-scopes the search to “Computer” and is not removable.

  2. Custom… This link re-scopes the search to a set of folders specified by the user and is not removable.

  3. Internet This link re-executes the search in the default web browser using the default Internet search engine. The link is pinned by default but can be removed using the Remove the Search the Internet “Search again” button Group Policy.

Additionally, Group Policy allows pinning of custom library, search connector, and internet search site Search again links. For further details on search connectors and how to set this Group Policy, see Federated Search Features.

  • Library and search connector links: Library or search connector links appear after the Computer , Custom , and Internet links, but before Internet search site links. These links re-execute your query in the library or Intranet location and return results in Windows Explorer.

  • Internet search site links: Custom Internet search site links re-executes the query in the default web browser using a customized Internet search engine.

Complete List of Windows 7 Search Scopes

Windows Search provides results from across a large set of scopes, locations where files, programs, and other data are stored. The following table lists all search scopes for Windows 7 by group.


Group Scopes Description


  1. (http:)

  2. c:\users\<username>\appdata\roaming\microsoft\windows\start menu

  3. c:\users\all users\start menu

  4. c:\users\<username>\appdata\roaming\microsoft\internet explorer\quick launch\user pinned

  5. Library names

  6. Known Folder names

  7. Run

This group returns results from multiple methods, from checking the start of a string to grepping a folder to trying to execute a command. Duplicates are removed and results are sorted by relevance.

Control Panel

Control Panel is queried directly

Results are sorted according to Control Panel’s defined relevance.



Results are sorted by relevance.

<all other libraries>


Other libraries are sorted alphabetically and each has its own group. Individual results are sorted by relevance.

<search connectors>

All searchConnector-ms files in the Saved Searches known folder with the element <includeInStartMenuScope> set to true

Search connectors are sorted alphabetically and each has its own group. Individual results are sorted by relevance.


Whole index excluding the scopes covered by all libraries and search connectors

Individual results are sorted by relevance.

Querying Remotely

Windows can query a remote machine's index for content from shared folders if the querying user has access. Windows 7 has remote querying enabled by default. The remote machine must be shared and indexed.

See the Supported Storage Locations table for details on supported and unsupported locations for querying remotely.  The same restrictions that apply to adding storage locations to libraries in Windows 7 also apply to querying a remote computer’s index.

Group Policies for Search

See Also

Community Additions