Microsoft released Windows Search 4.0 today in final form. It is a free upgrade to the search features built into Windows Vista. It adds indexed searching to Windows XP; this release is an upgrade to the prior version of Windows Desktop Search that many of you are already using on Windows XP.

Programs for indexing and searching Outlook and document folders have literally revolutionized the business flow in small offices. Windows Desktop Search is the single most important and most successful new technology that I’ve introduced to my clients in the last three years. Businesses drowning in e-mail and files have new confidence that information can be retrieved instead of lost. People understand it, they immediately see its power, and they immediately begin using it every day.

“Instant Search” is one of the most heavily promoted features of Windows Vista. “Search” is deeply embedded in the system; it’s the first place your cursor lands when you click on the Start button, it’s the primary method intended by Microsoft for finding programs, it’s available everywhere � from the Start menu, from Windows Explorer, from Internet Explorer. Windows Vista is built on the same technology as Windows Desktop Search version 3.0, running in the operating system as a service and constantly keeping an up to date index of everything in Outlook and every file stored on the system.

I wrote up the features of this new version when Microsoft released the preview version a couple of months ago. Briefly, it runs more quickly and economically than prior versions, and it greatly enhances searches of files located on other network computers.

I have different advice for different groups.

  • If you are one of my clients in an office run by Microsoft Small Business Server, wait for me to work with your office before you install this. Windows Search 4 will work best for you after it is also installed on your server, and that has some prerequisites that I’ll be working on.
  • If your computer runs Windows Vista, you already have a searchable index of your entire computer. This improves the indexing in modest ways that you likely will not notice in day to day use. Install it freely but there is no urgency.
  • If your computer runs Windows XP, I have long maintained that Windows Desktop Search is one of the few essential programs that everyone can and should run. This is an important improvement to the prior version for its performance and stability, but you will not notice any significant change in the design from the previous version. Everyone with Windows XP is encouraged to install or upgrade to Windows Search 4.0.

This is not difficult to install, but you should close other programs before you install it and you will have to restart your computer when the installation is completed. After your computer restarts, the index will rebuild itself, so searches may not be complete until the system has time to do that.

There are different installation packages for Vista, Windows XP, and various servers. Click on the “32-bit” package for your version of Windows on this page – the links to download and install it are at the bottom of the page.

Here’s a description of what’s new in the final release.

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