Microsoft Search and Improved Windows Search Performance in Windows 10

Search in Windows and Microsoft 365 is changing. Earlier this year, Microsoft announced the general availability of Microsoft Search, a new cloud-based service borrowing AI technology from Bing aimed at making it easier to find information in Office 365. Microsoft said at the time:

“Today, we’re announcing general availability of Microsoft Search, an intelligent, enterprise search experience from Microsoft that applies the artificial intelligence technology (AI) from Bing and deep personalized insights surfaced by the Microsoft Graph, to make search more effective for you – so whether you’re looking to complete a task, pick up where you left off, or discover answers or insights, it’s just a click away, across all of your applications, your desktop, and your browser.”

If you are using the latest version of Office 365 ProPlus, Office 365, or Microsoft 365 you can access Microsoft Search in the search box at the top of the application or browser window. Despite the focus on cloud search, Microsoft isn’t ignoring local search in Windows. The Windows 10 November 2019 Update (19H2) brings changes to File Explorer search, which now includes results from OneDrive, not just what’s stored on your local disk. There are also some UI tweaks to make it easier to read search results and documents now open by default in Office 365 ProPlus if installed instead of in a browser window.

Microsoft also announced some improvements to Microsoft Search at its annual Ignite conference in November. You can read about those changes in Microsoft’s Bringing new Features to Microsoft 365 Search on Petri.

Windows Search Performance Improvements

But Windows Search, the local file search indexer that is built-in to Windows, still has a role to play. Microsoft has been working over the last couple of years to improve Windows Search performance. And that work has accelerated recently based on feedback received from Windows Insiders, especially those who had disabled the search indexer because of performance issues or perceived lack of value.

Microsoft had already made some changes to the Windows Search indexer algorithm in 2018 but acknowledged that the changes only improved performance a bit so continued work into 20H1 development. As part of that work, the Windows Search algorithm in 20H1 has new signals that help to identify when a system is already under load so that the indexer can be better managed. In Windows 20H1, the indexer will throttle or stop completely in the following scenarios:

  • Gaming mode is ON
  • Power savings mode is ON
  • Low power mode is ON (constrained mode or connected standby)
  • The device is waking up after being in low power mode or in a logon state
  • Device goes from AC to DC
  • CPU usage goes above 80%
  • Disk usage goes above 70%
  • The device’s battery charge is less than 50%
  • The device’s display state goes to screen off

And there’s some additional help for developers. Windows Search will no longer index code source repositories, like GitHub repos, because of their size and developer tools usually index repos anyway. And in conjunction with the Visual Studio team, project folders are now excluded from Windows Search, apparently resulting in a 30% improvement in disk usage.

Search is Key to Productivity

The changes to search in File Explorer in Windows 10 19H2 would have been more welcome if they’d been better implemented. I often find that clicking on a document in the search results list doesn’t open it. I can only hope that changes coming in 20H1 improve on what we can already see in 19H2 because search is critical to productivity. With information scattered all over Office 365 and its different apps, finding what you need must be easy and painless.