What is Windows Search 4.0? Better Searching But Uses More Memory and More Disk Space

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Windows Search 4.0 Microsoft’s Desktop Search Solution

Microsoft Windows has long provided a find or search utility with its operating systems. Originally the utility simply searched for matching file names, allowing a user to find all Word documents by searching for .doc, for example. A user trying to find the March budget file might have searched for budget, or even “march”.

However, the utility was severely limited in its abilities. If the March budget file were named 0305Budgt for example, the user might never find it via the search or find utilities. On the other hand, a hard drive filled with marching band music as well as the March budget file might return hundreds of results when searching for “march.”

Additionally, searching on just a file name wasn’t always helpful. Someone looking for what the budget item was for landscaping last year might not know whether it was in March, April, May, or June’s budget, or if it was even part of the budget instead of an external contract or one-time expense. In cases like these, the find utility was useless.

Third-Party Search Utilities

Microsoft updated the capabilities of the find and search utilities with subsequent releases of their operating systems, but it remained limited. As hard drives grew in size and the number of files stored on them grew from hundreds to several thousands, the default searching capability became unbearably slow. As is often the case in situations like this, independent software developers took it upon themselves to create better search utilities to meet the needs of users. However, these utilities were often pricey for what they offered and only useful to certain users for whom file searching was a critical need. That all changed when Google began offering a desktop search utility in 2004. With the release of Google Desktop Search in 2004 and the subsequent release of version 2.0 in 2005, Google upped the ante by providing a better search tool than the one natively integrated into Windows for free. Google Desktop could even search the text INSIDE of emails, something way beyond the capability of the built-in find function. And the desktop search race was on.

Windows Vista and Search 4.0

Microsoft’s efforts culminated in Search 4.0 which was built-in by default to Windows Vista. One imagines that Microsoft considered the better search to be part of the benefit of upgrading to the newest operating system, but the problems plaguing Vista slowed and eventually stopped its widespread adoption meaning that the far larger legions of users still running Windows XP were turning to Google Desktop for their local search needs. So, in 2008, Microsoft released Search 4.0 as a standalone, optional download for Windows XP users.

Today, Search 4.0 can handle most of the same file types as Google Desktop and the two clients go head to head for local search. Google’s superiority in the online web-based search arena remains uncontested however. Microsoft’s only hope then, is the bastions of users (usually corporate) who don’t want to stick any extra non-Microsoft utilities into the systems they have to support if they can help it, and those who simply stick with whatever comes on their hard drive when they buy their PC. To this end, Search 4.0 technology is headed full steam into Windows 7.0.

The improved search capability doesn’t come for free however. Microsoft’s notoriously laughable official hardware requirements suggest 256 MB RAM (laughable) with 512 MB RAM recommended (actual minimum requirement for useful functionality). Search 4.0 also requires at least 500 MB of free disk space to store the index. However, Microsoft notes that the average search index requires approximately 10% of the amount of disk space used by files, so a now common 100 GB hard disk filled with 80 GB of files will require 800 MB of drive space for the search index.

Microsoft’s Search 4.0 eliminates many of the limitations of previous search utilities, but at the cost of significant overhead. Users who are able to maintain a useful organization of file names and folders will find their machines taxed by a service they don’t need, but for users who can never seem to find the right file, Search 4.0 may be just what the doctor ordered.