Did you know that every single word on your computer has been indexed? That is every word, in every file that you’ve saved on your computer – indexed and ready for you to search. This means that you can find a document even if you can’t remember its name or which folder that it is stored in!
All current computers have a built-in search feature that uses this index. With it, you can enter any word or phrase, and it will return a list of all the files that contain a match to what you’ve typed. You can even enter just a few letters, a fraction of a word. This counts for files that you’ve downloaded too. As soon as you save the file, the text content gets indexed.
Where and How to Search
To find files with your computer’s index, look for the search tool.
On Macs, the search tool is called “Spotlight” and the icon on the Menu bar looks like a magnifying glass ( ). Click the icon and the Spotlight search field will open. Type your target word or phrase into the search field. As soon as you start typing, a list of matches will start to show.
On Windows it’s a little simpler. Just click the “Start” menu and begin typing. Windows will instantly start searching your computer for matches.
Search Trick #1
Type a little, find a lot. Try this self-directed demonstration. First, think of a word that you’ve used in a document on your computer. Any word will do.
Now, click on the search tool on your computer, and type only the first letter of your word into it. Don’t press enter or anything else, but just watch. Instantly, a larger window will pop open above the search field (Windows) or below it (Mac), and that window will quickly begin to fill with all sorts of stuff that, in some way or other, includes the letter, that you’ve typed.
This result is, of course, too much information, but notice how quickly your computer is responding to your search query.
Now, one letter at a time, slowly type the rest of your word and watch what happens. Give your computer a second or two to respond to each letter that you type so that you can see how the search results quickly change and get “filtered” to match all of the letters that you have typed so far.
So, search trick #1 is to let the indexer do the work for you. Type only as much as is needed for your computer to find the documents that you’re after. When you use fewer letters, you give the computer a chance to show you matches that vary a little bit in spelling or form.
Search Trick #2
Search from the inside out. Your search tool will also find letters that are inside words. This is handy when there might be different forms like “McDonald” or “Macdonald”. So, for example, if you type just “donald” you’ll find them all. If you want to skip the fellows named Donald in your results, then you might type a search for “cdonald”.
Search Trick #3
Finding dates. Every document on a computer has a “date stamp”. Your indexer knows about these and has special ways to deal with them.
Let’s say that you want to find a file that was made on a certain date. To find it you would enter “date:” and the desired date. For example; “date:2/7/1999” (without the quotes) will result in only files that were created or modified on February 7, 1999.
Or, say if you want to find all of the photos with a date in February of 2015, you type “date:2/2015”.
Search Trick #4
Date ranges: You can also search for a range of dates by using two dots (periods) to indicate a range. For example; “date:2/10/2015..2/20/2015” will find you all of the files stamped between those dates.
Your computer can also use relative terms for dates, like “week”, “next month”, “last week”, “past month”. For example; “date:last year” will find just those files.
You also use the words “before” and “after”. For example; the results for “after:2/20/2010” will only include files made or changed since that date.
Search Trick #5
Find files by kind. Your indexer knows “kinds” of documents; like pictures, or music or contacts from your address book. For example, to find only pictures, you could search for “kind:pictures” (or “pics”). To find music you can search for “kind:music” or “kind:song”.
Search Trick #6
Combine tricks. Let’s say that the search for “cdonald” still found too many matches; so what you do is combine things, as with the contact search for me (Computer Guy). If you wanted to find only that song about the guy with the farm, you could search for “kind:music cdonald”. (Order doesn’t matter, by the way; “cdonald kind:music” would also work.)
Or, if you wanted to find only documents that contain Mc- or MacDonald, and that were created this year, you could search for “cdonald kind:docs date:this year”
There are more tricks for your computer’s index searches, too. Search Google for them, or give me a shout. I’ll be happy to help with searches or anything else on your computer, anytime.
Mike Pepper, The Computer Guy, has been providing software and hardware support in New York and Connecticut for more than 35 years. He can be reached at: www.PawlingComputerGuy.com.