A Closer Look at Windows Vista Part II: Enhanced Search

Publish Date: May 05, 2012 | 36 Ratings | 2.61 out of 5 |  PDF

Overview

A critical aspect of any scientific and engineering application is saving data to disk. The most well-conceived applications are ineffective if you cannot quickly locate and interpret acquired data later for meaningful information. While databases may be considered the best location to store data, the prohibitive overhead and expert knowledge needed to create and maintain databases often lead engineers and scientists to store data locally in a variety of file types. The new Windows Vista operating system provides vastly improved search tools to help you locate and organize such files; however, engineers and scientists often have additional needs with regard to accessing stored data that Windows Vista search may not be able to satisfy.

Table of Contents

  1. Searching for Files in Windows XP
  2. Instant Search
  3. Start Menu
  4. Search Explorer
  5. File Metadata in Windows Vista
  6. Saving Searches with Search Folders
  7. Searching Engineering Data: Beyond Instant Search
  8. Similarities with Instant Search
  9. Differences from Instant Search
  10. Summary
  11. More Information on VISTA

1. Searching for Files in Windows XP

Users of any operating system often need to find data stored on a computer. In Windows XP, searching for saved information within files is often clunky and slow. By default, Windows XP searches for files based on the file name and text in the file, with options to narrow the search by specifying a drive, adding the file size, and filtering based on case sensitivity (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Windows XP search capabilities are an improvement over previous versions of Windows, but they still have several key limitations such as performance.

However, the Windows XP search utility still places much of the burden for finding files on you because you must remember where a file might be located or the last time you edited it. The search tools are also slow; once you input the search parameters, the Search button initiates the search task. Only then does Windows begin scanning the hard drive to find the file in question, a process that can take considerable time if you do not limit the search scope in terms of the file system. In other words, the search results are not available immediately.

The need for better search tools has prompted the creation of several third-party desktop search engines, including the popular Google Desktop tool. These tools provide more comprehensive results in a fraction of the time through the use of indexing technology. With Windows Vista, Microsoft uses similar technology to dramatically upgrade Windows search capabilities. The end result is Instant Search, a feature that delivers near-instantaneous search results and can be accessed quickly from nearly every location within the operating system.

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2. Instant Search

The ability to search permeates every facet of the Windows Vista operating system, from the start menu to Windows Explorer. The new Instant Search is a nearly omnipresent feature, available in multiple locations, with the exception of the desktop itself. The potential value of Instant Search is you no longer need to think of files in terms of a file system. Related files located in a variety of places on a computer are accessible through a few simple keystrokes.

Instant Search silently indexes every file on the computer using file metadata, file content, and file creation date, thereby creating an inventory for the entire hard drive. As you type search parameters into Instant Search, Windows Vista dynamically displays matching results, whether these are applications, Internet favorites, documents, media, contacts, calendar events, or e-mail messages. As you enter additional search parameters, results are filtered accordingly. If your initial search does not yield the files you are trying to find, Instant Search provides advanced tools for designing more specific searches.

You can find Instant Search featured prominently in the start menu and the upper-right corner of every Explorer (Documents Explorer, Control Panel, and so on). Instant Search is contextual, meaning that it optimizes results based on your current task. For example, if you type “firewall” into the Control Panel Instant Search interface, the Control Panel lists all controls related to changing the firewall settings for your computer.

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3. Start Menu

One of the best ways to access Instant Search is the start menu, where you can use search to locate applications. The Instant Search interface is found in the lower-left corner of the start menu (Figure 2).

Figure 2. The redesigned start menu provides quick access to Instant Search through the lower-left dialog.

For example, typing “ca”   causes several applications to be displayed. If you continue to type “calc,” you will see the list reduced to the only application containing the word “calc,” the Windows Calculator (see Figure 3). The All Programs portion of the start menu still exists but is less necessary because you are not required to remember that the calculator is part of the start menu Accessories folder.

Figure 3. Typing “calc” into the start menu search dialog produces a contextualized result – the Windows Calculator software.

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4. Search Explorer

You can also launch the new Search Explorer from the start menu (see Figure 4). This Explorer serves as a launching pad for searching the entire hard drive through both simple and more advanced searches (Figure 5).

 

Figure 4. To launch Search Explorer, click on Search on the right side of the start menu.

Figure 5. The default Search Explorer window awaits search parameters from the user.

For example, you could search for all files related to licensing by typing “license” into the Instant Search dialog in the upper-right corner of the Explorer (Figure 6).

Instant Search instantly displays the most relevant results – any files that have the word “license” within its content or metadata. You can configure more advanced searches through the Advanced Search button; you can time-band the search or add a few other parameters such as author name.

Figure 6. Typing any text in the Search Explorer gives you instantaneous results.

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5. File Metadata in Windows Vista

You can think of the aforementioned metadata as properties (in the form of keywords) associated with the file itself. These properties can include the date a file was created, the author of a file, names of people who appear in a photo, or the application that was used to create a file. Many applications, such as Microsoft Word, automatically save metadata information with your files without your direct intervention.

To make your searches more efficient and your files easier to find, you can use Windows Vista to edit file properties. The best place to edit and manage metadata is through the Preview pane at the bottom of Windows Explorer. This pane provides information on the current folder (if no files are selected), the currently selected file or folder, or the current multifile selection.

If you select a file in Windows Explorer, the Preview pane shows the title, rating, and tags, as well as metadata specific to the document type, such as genre for a music file. Some of this data is editable; to initiate an edit, click on the Edit link.

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6. Saving Searches with Search Folders

The most innovative aspect of the enhanced Windows search capabilities is that you can save your searches for quick requerying. Windows Vista introduces the concept of Search Folders, a powerful new tool that makes it easy to find and organize files located in disparate locations on your computer (figures 7 and 8). A Search Folder is simply a saved search. Clicking on a Search Folder requeries the saved search and displays the most up-to-date results immediately. As you add new metadata to files within Windows Vista, those files are automatically added to existing saved Search Folders.

Figure 7. Click on Save Search to create a new search folder.

Figure 8. With the Save Search dialog, you can name search folders.

Through metadata, you can use Search Folders to group files virtually without dragging individual files into various folders or mentally tracking where a particular file resides. The physical file locations become less important because you can assemble ad hoc file collections as needed and dissolve those collections just as quickly when you no longer require them. This eliminates the need to temporarily pull together files for a particular task, a highly manual undertaking that often yields multiple copies of the same files.

Windows Vista is shipped with many preconfigured search folders you can explore, such as All Attachments, which shows you all the e-mail attachments located on your computer.

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7. Searching Engineering Data: Beyond Instant Search

While Windows Vista searching capabilities may satisfy general users, they may not be adequate for engineers and scientists. Windows Vista helps you quickly locate saved files based on metadata, but you cannot search file content to identify meaningful information.

For example, you might have thousands of files containing data from experiments or tests. To make educated decisions based on that information stored in those files, you must not only carry out complex searches to find the files but also identify key information or establish trends within the files; neither are tasks that Instant Search can accomplish. To find and interpret data rapidly, you need additional tools, such as the National Instruments DIAdem DataFinder.

NI DIAdem is data analysis and report generation software designed to help streamline offline data processing (Figure 9). Within the DIAdem environment, the DIAdem DataFinder is a data-mining tool that provides engineers and scientists with an Instant Search-like experience when searching across data files, regardless of format. As with Instant Search, the DIAdem DataFinder systematically indexes all files in defined search areas based on file content and metadata.

Figure 9. DIAdem DataFinder supports complex searches based on both file metadata and content.

With the DIAdem DataFinder, you can perform simple or advanced searches based on key descriptive information. For example, you can search the hard drive for all files associated with a specific serial number, status, and test type. These searches are often extremely complex and take advantage of specific attribute conditions associated with the files. For example, you can mine a set of files for all tests where File Name begins with TR_, Test Procedure = Cooling B, and the maximum temperature value is greater than or equal to 40. After narrowing the data set, you can use NI DIAdem to perform further analysis and reporting.

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8. Similarities with Instant Search

As with Instant Search, you can use DIAdem DataFinder to:

  • Interactively construct searches, with no programming or database knowledge required
  • Quickly find data using keyword searches
  • Save search definitions for later requerying

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9. Differences from Instant Search

Unlike Instant Search, you can also use DIAdem DataFinder to:

  • Create extremely complex searches across multiple file formats
  • Easily load search results into engineering analysis and reporting tools like DIAdem

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10. Summary

Overall, Windows Vista Instant Search greatly simplifies the process of finding files stored on a PC. Searching for information within Windows now truly resembles searching for information on the Web, where the physical locations of files are of little importance to the user. Search Folders provide a powerful mechanism for grouping files virtually to help you find related files quickly. However, in the case of engineering and scientific data stored in files, you may need additional search tools to find important information.

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11. More Information on VISTA

Sign-up to be notified when the next whitepaper in the five-part series on Microsoft Vista is available.

LabVIEW, National Instruments, ni, and ni.com are trademarks of National Instruments. Other product and company names listed are trademarks or trade names of their respective companies.

 

 

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