Dealing with Data

By Jason Brooks  |  Posted 2005-08-22 Print this article Print

One of the most immediately visible differences between XP and Vista is the new systems overhauled file manager, Windows Explorer, into which Microsoft has stuffed a bunch of potentially interesting new features.

Explorer now sports a search box in the upper right corner of the interface. If you type in a search term and hit Enter, the search tool will deliver results from the file names, keywords and other metadata of the files in the folder you have open.

If you type in a term and then click the magnifying glass icon next to the search box, the utility will deliver results from the computer as a whole—much like the Spotlight tool in Apple Computer Inc.s Mac OS X 10.4—including mail messages from the version of Outlook Express that ships with Vista.

We could save our search as a virtual folder that we could revisit later to find updated results. We could search through files from a network share by browsing to the share and choosing to synchronize its contents to our test system. Vista cached locally and indexed the files wed chosen.

Once wed come up with a list of files that matched our search terms, we could filter and organize those files in several ways.

We could stack, group or filter our files based on a broad range of metadata items, such as the computer on which the file was stored or the subject line of indexed mail messages. In fact, the mail message searching, filtering and organizing features of Vistas Explorer were some of our favorite Vista capabilities. Unfortunately, its not clear at this point whether mail clients other than Outlook Express will be able to interface with Vistas file manager in this way.

As we learned in tests, the much-publicized pullout of the WinFS framework from Vista wont prevent Microsoft from making good on many of the information management promises initially attached to Vista. But because WinFS was to be the means by which third-party developers could partake in this search-and-sort goodness themselves, these benefits are, for now, reserved for Microsoft-developed applications.

Although we were impressed with the search-driven capabilities of Vistas Explorer, our experience with Explorer wasnt all wine and roses. Vistas new search and virtual-folder proficiency comes along with much new confusion for traditional file-browsing activities. At this point, Explorer is a jumble of real and virtual folders thats, frankly, very confusing to navigate if youre simply traversing directories.

The Explorer interface is packed with little drop-down boxes and file-sorting dialogs, some of which sent us off to virtual directories. We expect to see Microsoft put in work tightening up the Explorer interface before Vista ships, but its likely that those users who are upgrading will require an adjustment period before becoming comfortable with the new application.

The build of Vista we tested shipped with an automatic backup application called SafeDocs, which automates the process of backing up user data to writable CDs or DVDs, network shares, or other removable media. SafeDocs looks promising, but we couldnt get the utility to work with a network share. Some of the basic Windows networking services, including the Computer Browser service, wouldnt start on the Beta 1 bits we tested.

Next Page: Least Privileges.

As Editor in Chief of eWEEK Labs, Jason Brooks manages the Labs team and is responsible for eWEEK's print edition. Brooks joined eWEEK in 1999, and has covered wireless networking, office productivity suites, mobile devices, Windows, virtualization, and desktops and notebooks. JasonÔÇÖs coverage is currently focused on Linux and Unix operating systems, open-source software and licensing, cloud computing and Software as a Service. Follow Jason on Twitter at jasonbrooks, or reach him by email at

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