Find what you're looking for

Staying organized in Windows 7

Have you ever saved a file and then had trouble finding it later on? As a shutterbug with a digital camera, I do this all the time. I've taken thousand of pictures over the years, and I've got a lot of files and folders in a lot of different places. Keeping track of it all can be a frustrating chore.

But there's hope for us shutterbugs and clutterbugs. In Windows 7, searching is faster and works better than ever before. And a new feature called libraries actually helps organize your files for you, regardless of what they're called or where they're stored.

Picture of the search box in the Documents library
Start typing in the search box at the top of a library to find a file.

Here are some of the different ways Windows 7 helps me find my files and stay organized.

Instant gratification from the Start menu

When I'm in a hurry and I'm pretty confident I know what I'm looking for, I'll usually start with the search box in the Start menu. Just click the Start button Picture of the Start button, and then start typing—you don't even have to click in the search box first. It can be the name of a file, a folder, a program, or even text that you know appears within a file—pretty much anything. For more information and a video about searching for files and documents, see Windows Search.

As soon as you start typing, search results start showing up, organized by category. When you see what you're looking for in the list of search results, click it to open it. Or, if you don't see what you're looking for, click a category, or click See more results to view the complete list of search results in Windows Explorer.

Picture of search results in the Start menu
Search results appear as soon as you start typing in the search box.

Gather your far-flung files with libraries

It's nice when I know exactly what I'm looking for, but I usually don't. Sometimes I'm not quite sure where a file is stored, or even what it's called. That's when libraries come in handy. To open a library, click the Windows Explorer button Picture of the Windows Explorer button. on the taskbar, and then, in the left pane, click a library—Pictures, for example. You can also access some of your libraries from the Start menu.
Picture of the Start menu
You can open libraries from the Start menu.

A library looks a lot like a folder, but it doesn't actually store files. Instead, a library points to the locations where your files are stored so you can see them all as a single collection. For example, I've got some digital pictures stored in a folder on my computer, and the rest are in a folder on an external hard drive. I can include both of these folders in my Pictures library to have access to all my pictures at once. You can include many different locations in one library, and even create new libraries. For more information, see Working with libraries.

Picture of the navigation pane, showing the Pictures library with three folders included
The Pictures library includes two folders by default, but you can include additional folders.

To search a library, just go to the library you want to search (such as the Documents, Pictures, Music, or Videos library), and then type in the search box—you'll see results about as fast as you can type, with your search term highlighted in yellow so you can quickly pinpoint the file you’re looking for.

Picture of a library's contents after typing "invoice" in the search box
After typing "invoice" in the search box, the term is highlighted in the search results.

You can also arrange files in really cool ways. For example, I can arrange the pictures in my Pictures library by the month they were taken or by the tags I've assigned to them.

Picture of the Pictures library arranged by month
The Pictures library, arranged by the month that pictures were taken

Don't sweat the details—let search filters do it

If you have a lot of files, and you want precise searches with as few results as possible, adding search filters to a search is the way to go. You can use search filters to fine-tune searches on the fly using buttons built right into the search box. Just click in the search box, and then click a search filter.

Picture of the "Date taken" search filter in the search box
Use the "Date taken" search filter to choose dates and they'll be added to your search.

Sometimes, I'll add a couple different search filters to the same search to narrow down the results even more. For example, I might want to search for a picture by the date range it was taken in and by a tag assigned to it. I can add two search filters to get the job done.

Picture of the "Tags" search filter menu in the search box
You can use two search filters to search for a picture tagged with "family" that was taken a long time ago.

Windows will remember every search, no matter how complicated. As soon as you start typing, suggested terms from previous searches that are similar to your current search term will appear under the search box—sort of like a search box in a web browser.

Picture of the search box with previous searches
You can click one of your previous searches below the search box.

So much more to explore

That's just the beginning. There's so much more you can do with libraries and search filters, and part of the fun is trying them out for yourself. Experiment with file arrangements and search filters—they all behave a little differently depending on which library you're in. I'm usually looking for files in the Pictures library, but it's a completely different experience in the Documents, Music, or Videos library. And if you have a home network, check out the Home sweet homegroup: Networking the easy way in Windows 7 article to learn how to find files in libraries from other computers in your home. All your files neatly organized in one place for you—what more could a clutterbug ask for?

About the author

Picture of columnist Andy Myers

Andy Myers is a writer on the Windows team at Microsoft. He comes from the video game industry where he has worked as a magazine journalist and an author of strategy books. In his spare time, he plays and records music with various bands.

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