Chaos Manor: Jerry Pournelle On Why Windows 7 Search Sucks

One reason I still use Windows 7 rather than convert everything to a Mac is that I like Microsoft Office, in large part because after so many years, books, columns, email, blogs, taxes and the rest, I’m pretty well used to it. But Windows 7 search is …

One reason I still use Windows 7 rather than convert everything to a Mac is that I like Microsoft Office, in large part because after so many years, books, columns, email, blogs, taxes and the rest, I’m pretty well used to it.

But Windows 7 Search is awful.

One program I use is Outlook, which over the years has evolved into something that works pretty well, particularly in my case. I get about 1,600 spam messages a day. My provider catches about half of them. Outlook junk mail filters catch another 200. And I have crafted a set of rules that get a lot more.

My problem is that I need to see press releases – some of them, not all of them – and spammers are increasingly clever about sending larger and larger clocks of plain text from Shakespeare or other legitimate sources to swamp the spam filters. So spam still makes it through. That wouldn’t be so bad if spammers didn’t send a dozen or so of the same message every single day.

Anyway, for good or ill, I am stuck with Outlook, and Outlook uses .pst files that grow ever larger and larger. And eventually something will corrupt a .pst file. Then, the next time you run Outlook the system tells you to run scanpst.exe. Because scanpst.exe is always installed with MS Office that ought to be easy.

And it would be easy if I left Office in the place where Microsoft puts it, but for good reasons I keep Outlook in a root directory called C:\Outlook.

So recently the system sent me the “run scanpst.exe” order. Only problem is,  I couldn’t find the scanpst program anywhere. I mentioned this one of my sites — and thanks to readers I can now find it. It’s:


That’s only thanks to the readers.

Windows 7 search doesn’t find the executable. Not even with an extended search. Yet, interestingly, when I did Search on this machine, it found plenty of documents that referenced scanpst.exe, but no such program with that name. But when I did an extended search to “Computer,” which includes searches of mapped drives on networked machines, Search found scanpst.exe all right. On another machine, the one I call Emily.

Meanwhile, search on Emily fails to find scanpst.exe.

Windows 7 has a  fast search system — in the sense that if it’s going to find something it finds it pretty fast. It does that by building indices in the background. But the search isn’t thorough and it’s hard to use if it doesn’t find something instantly.

And in general it pales compared to the Search program Windows had from at least Windows 95 through Windows XP. (Ed: And compared to aNewDomain’s freeware pick, Everything, from voidtools).

You’ve got to wonder if Microsoft programmers use their company’s own operating system or if they have some secret egrep function they can run.

That’s because this Windows 7 search system sucks dead bunnies.

I also experimented with opening a command window and trying to run scanpst. It could not find the file. I tried cd/  That’s Change Directory, the old CP/M and DOS command, remember? I used that to get to the root and run scanpst. And I still couldn’t find it. I worked my way down the directories, cd Program Files (x86) to run scanpst. Still I couldn’t find it.

Eventually I get to C:\Programfiles(x86)\Microsoftoffice\office12 and try to run scanpst, and LO!

It worked.

Clearly I need to play with the registry to add that to the path to be searched for commands and clearly I don’t care enough to do that. I’ll live with this, but Microsoft really should pay some attention to the current search function. The simplest thing it could do is add the old Search we all got used to. The new system is fine but sometimes we really need to find something that the current Search doesn’t believe in.

Regarding that Office12 in the path above, that’s for Office 2007. If you have Office 2010, that will be in the Office14 directory. Windows 7 is really easy to use except that it isn’t, Sometimes.

Just like the Mac OS, perhaps. At least with the Mac it’s possible, as a last resort, to get to a command window with real live UNIX and egrep.

That is why I wonder if the Microsoft programmers don’t have some secret method of doing that because obviously they aren’t using the built-in Windows 7 Search.  And so far none of this is fixed in any version of Windows 8 I have seen, but it’s early days on that.

We’ll see.

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About the author

Jerry Pournelle

An award-winning science fiction author, Jerry Pournelle is the best-known columnist in tech journalism history. His BYTE magazine column, Computing at Chaos Manor, was legendary. Now Jerry is our lead commentator at aNewDomain, where he is reprising that column. Email Jerry at or and check out his site at

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