How Has Windows Search Improved Since Win2k? Hint: It Hasn’t

Editorial Last weekend I was feeling a little nostalgic and I fired up Windows 2000 on my home computer. Win2k has a special place in my heart. Sadly, due to planned obsolescence it is not possible to use this great operating system with the latest available software (without manual modifications).

During the day I work in a very large industrial company. We have many different systems and machines worth millions of dollars, so it goes without saying that if such machinery works and works well, we don’t throw it away just because it runs NT4 or Windows 2000 . In fact, some of them still do. The fleet is constantly being upgraded though, and I’m glad to see that the oldest NT4 systems will soon leave us for good.

When it comes to the actual work I do, you can call me a company fact. I operate the machines, create cutting programs in our various CAD/CAM software, and when a Siemens NT4/Win2K/XP system cannot be easily updated, one of the machines has to be cleaned of viruses. is required. (Okay, so it was added for effect, they don’t get viruses constantly 🙂 ).

My office workstation runs Windows 7 x64, it works great with the CAD/CAM software I use: AutoCAD, SolidWorks, and other machine-specific software such as Mazak FG-CadCam and Ediz Artube.

But back to my recent adventures with Windows 2000. I wanted to point out how responsive it is: You type a network name, hit enter, and voila, there’s no delay. As soon as you send your request, you are prompted for a password. Not so for later versions of Windows. It may take a few seconds to minutes for the password prompt to appear. Maybe my small home network is not the best example, but the same behavior is seen in my company where there are hundreds of networked computers.

If I try to access the network from a Windows 2000 workstation or server it happens immediately. Try it on XP or Win7 system and you will have to wait patiently. It’s almost impossible to understand, especially when you consider that I can type into my browser, get a DNS lookup and be brought to this site in less than a second. But to reach a machine in our own company that is at most 500 meters away, going through one or two switches and gateways can take several orders of magnitude longer!

Whatever it may be, what bothers me even more is the “improvements” made to Windows Search over the years. The search box in Windows 2000 is very powerful, with no cute animations and no exclusions. It’s just rubbish discovery, as you’d expect it to be.

Enter Windows XP and the search has been “corrected”. Now you need to click several buttons to choose how to search, which is slower and more cumbersome. Oh, and you see a dog going to “fetch”. On the upside, XP’s search engine looks like 2k, decorated exactly like the OS was, blue ribbons and all.

Next was Windows Vista, which we’ll skip, lest I end up suffering a cardiac arrest!

Enter Windows 7 and the search has been “improved” again. Honestly, the search as you type functionality is an obvious usability enhancement, as is the lack of dogs, balloon tooltips and other such nonsense!

Then what’s wrong? Ok, it doesn’t work as you expected. For example, if you have two programs installed, one UltraVNC and the other TightVNC, and you search for it on the Start-menu by typing “vnc” into the search box, nothing will be found. This behavior is incompatible with Windows XP where this search will work. What you need to do is precede the search string with an asterisk, so *vnc does the trick.

It’s not so bad you might say, but why make the change, and why isn’t it consistent? Why can’t I get VNC if I search for “tight” or “ultra” without an asterisk at the end of the string?

It gets even more fun if you’re actually trying to find a program in a directory hierarchy with company names containing hundreds of thousands of files, all of which are preceded by a four letter number. So, to find something referred to as “119405” for compatibility with DOS 8.3 filenames, you have to search for “193119405” or “*119405” every time you search. Again, this is not the case with Win2k or XP.

And what’s up with the search results? Compare the picture below with XP/2000. Why is the last path name at the beginning of the Location field?

I am well aware that it is possible to do advanced search in Windows 7, so much so that the link to advanced search query syntax is at the top of my bookmarks. However, that’s where the problem lies, how does it need to be so cumbersome and inaccessible? Why not integrate it into the interface?

Which brings us to the present. Windows 8 Search has been “improved” again.

On Windows 7, if you want to search for TightVNC you can type *vnc on the start menu, hit enter and it will start.

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