Windows 7 provides search functionality via the Start menu Search box and the Explorer Search menu. They make it very easy to search for filenames or contents just by typing in a query and results start to appear almost instantly.
For casual users and simple searches in common folders that may be sufficient. However, advanced users (and those who used to XP Classic search) are left wishing for a much sharper alternative to the icon-driven ‘simplicity’ of Windows 7 Search.
The locations searched are defined in Indexing Options – which can make it difficult to search for items outside of ‘common’ folders i.e. the search result may not include all the files it should, even when you know they are there! For example, searching for all mp3 files on the hard drive should be a simple job but it is difficult to force W7 Search to trawl the entire drive for mp3 files rather than just predefined Music libraries.
More advanced searches e.g. by date created, in hidden folders or restricted to contents only are also a lot harder than they were in XP – the user-friendly and icon-driven simplicity of Windows 7 Search actually makes it more difficult to do advanced searches.
An interface similar to XP classic search (but better) would be a really helpful addition to Windows 7 – a shame that Microsoft haven’t included one. To add such advanced functionality in a simple interface you will need to install a program designed to do just that – step forward Agent Ransack…
Agent Ransack is a free file searching utility program which is small, quick and easy to use – especially if you remember back to XP Search, although it is far more comprehensive than that and has a modern look. It works on all Windows versions from 2000 up to and including Windows 7 – 32bit and 64bit versions are available.
It includes searching for popular Office formats e.g. MS Office and OpenOffice, uses fast multi threaded searching and has minimal impact on system performance – unlike the integrated Windows 7 Search which relies on file indexing. Using Agent Ransack you can quickly browse file search contents without having to open up each file and it offers easy to use Boolean searches.
Download – Agent Ransack can be downloaded from the developer here – choose the 32bit or 64bit version to match your version of Windows (see is my Windows 32bit or 64bit) if unsure. For best results when searching Microsoft Office files, make sure you have installed the latest filter pack from Microsoft here.
Agent Ransack In Use
Former XP users and more advanced users will find Agent Ransack very intuitive to use – there is also an excellent online help tutorial available here if required – you can use all the standard operators like * for wildcards etc.
Note that Agent Ransack starts up in Expert User mode which includes all available options – if you want to strip it down to a more simple view, untick the ‘Expert User’ box at the top right.
In my own tests on a lightly used W7 laptop, Agent Ransack quickly found over 100 mp3 files spread all across the hard drive whereas the integrated W7 Search took less time but only found 3 mp3 files (stored in the Music library) and missed all the others completely…
Whilst it would be possible to use a combination of Indexing Options and Windows 7 Advanced Query Syntax (complex and hard to remember) to change the integrated Search to get it right (eventually), why bother? Far easier to use Windows 7 Search for simple queries and, when you need more advanced search in Windows 7, use Agent Ransack for an easy and more thorough job.