A Snarky Question

I understand that Microsoft is now thoroughly committed to search, and has been for some time. You know, catching up with Google, Bing and so forth. So can anyone tell me why search in their flagship products, on an OS they completely control, is such an astoundingly miserable experience? Because right now, if I have a PDF of some document somewhere on my hard drive or in my mail, it’s often faster for me to Google it and download it again than it is for me to find the one that I already have.

There used to be an Outlook plugin for this that helped a lot, but Microsoft bought it and, in their ongoing commitment to improved user experience and better search, buried it. And now the situation is so bad that people write howtos telling you how to download copies of it from warez sites and hack it up to make it work again. It’s seriously just that bad.

I’d really like to know.


  1. Posted June 23, 2009 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

    If you want Microsoft Desktop Search to index the contents of file formats it doesn’t know how to natively read (of which PDF is one such format), you need to install plugin filters for those file types. Allegedly, if you have Acrobat Reader 7.0.5 or greater installed, Adobe automatically installs the PDF filter. If you’re one of those Foxit nutballs, you’ll have to specifically download and install Foxit’s PDF filter.


  2. mhoye
    Posted June 23, 2009 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

    Why don’t they know how to read those formats?

  3. Posted June 23, 2009 at 11:00 pm | Permalink

    For the same reason that Windows Media Player objects to *DVDs*: Satan.

  4. Posted June 24, 2009 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    I thought Google Desktop can solve such problems…

  5. Anonymous
    Posted June 24, 2009 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

    The worst part is that if your search comes back with a lot of results, sorting them takes forever. One click and it’s off-in-the-weeds, going-to-the-moon-brb.

  6. Posted June 24, 2009 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

    Hoye: Because Adobe likes to sue Microsoft if they do anything that even vaguely touches on Adobe’s technologies. Recall that Microsoft took the “print to PDF” feature out of Office 2007 after Adobe threatened litigation.

    (They did add it back in later; not sure if they actually paid off Adobe, or if their lawyers just concluded that Adobe was full of shit.)

    Despite my love for Lightroom, it’s pretty much inarguable that Adobe is the assholiest software company around.

  7. Mike Hoye
    Posted June 24, 2009 at 5:53 pm | Permalink

    But that doesn’t explain the rest of it. It doesn’t explain why outlook search is such a sewer, even for regular email, or why even just sorting a list of things when you’ve found more than a few hundred files is just such a terrible burden. It’s like every time you sort something you need to go crawl the whole drive again, and if you’ve found a 100k files, and click “sort on” some arbitrary column, you might as well go get a coffee.

  8. Posted June 24, 2009 at 10:22 pm | Permalink

    Well, that doesn’t match my experience, so I’m not sure how to address it. Even though I’ve moved to Thunderbird for email, the thing I miss from Outlook is its superb search capabilities, which work nearly instantly and extremely well. And I tried just now doing a search for some common word that returned a few thousand results, and clicking a column to re-sort gave me the results back again in less than a second.

    That said, I think this is very version-dependent. I’m using Outlook 2007, which uses Windows Search as its search engine, and I’m using Vista with all the updates applied, so am using the latest version of Windows Search.

    (And actually a side note re Thunderbird is that in the latest betas, it will index email with Windows Search, even though its built-in searching doesn’t use that, so it’s actually easier for me to find email from the Vista start menu than from within Thunderbird…)

  9. Posted June 24, 2009 at 10:28 pm | Permalink

    Although I see that you typed “100K” there and not “100” as I read it. So, searching for “the” gives me 62K results pretty quickly, but you’re right that sorting them differently takes a strangely long time (multiple minutes).

    But clearly it doesn’t really want you to be dealing with 62K rows, because it tries to limit it to 5K up-front, and suggests narrowing down your search more, before giving you the reluctant option of seeing all 62K.

    That seems lame, but in practice, it hasn’t really bothered me, because it turns out that searching for “the” and then re-ordering isn’t something I’ve ever done before. But I agree it could be better, for people who need to do that for whatever reason.

  10. Linkage
    Posted June 26, 2009 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    I don’t know – having used Outlook for my work mail pretty extensively over the past few years (benefits of being a public servant), but IMHO, Outlook just doesn’t handle volume well AT all…

    For something that’s supposed to be enterprise friendly, it’s strangely limited. I’ve had the great experience of having to delete a few thousand items in a folder, and had to delete them alphabetically because trying to do them all at once resulted in a complete crash – no BSOD, just a permanent freeze requiring a reboot. And even on a letter by letter basis, it would go away for tens of minutes at a time.

    And don’t get me started on Bing. I think it’s funny that at first, from here at DFAIT, Bing was blocked as “inappropriate”. ;-)

  11. janice
    Posted June 27, 2009 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

    Whenever I made the mistake of using Windows built-in search to find a file in a corporate setting, the wait always made me laugh as I would comment on behalf of the OS “Filesystem? I’m sure I’ve got one somewhere around here. Hang on….”

    Made even funnier by my insistence on installing Cygwin and the fact that it could find the same file on the same disk in record time. :-)

    Time for a filesystem re-write, Windows?