Troubleshooting our biggest Windows Search issues

Two men search on PC

Anyone hanging around a Windows forum for too long eventually sees the same thing. Something is going wrong on a Windows device, and the recommendation to fix it is to turn off Windows Search.

So how has investigating this issue in Windows Search gotten to where it’s at now, and how are Windows Insiders helping us determine what’s next? Let’s take a look!

Identifying the problem

For us on the Windows Search team, the real questions that matter are:

  • Are people really following these instructions to turn off the Windows Search service?
  • And if they do, what problem are they trying to solve?

We’d had our theories, but up until recently, there was no way to test them. Reading through forums hasn’t given us enough information to know what’s going on, and such a small percentage of people have turned off Windows Search that calling or sending surveys wasn’t bringing us enough data.

Despite significant changes across several Windows 10 releases, there were enough people turning it off that we feared we might be missing a major issue. But how to track it down? Windows Insiders and their feedback of course!

Windows Insiders to the rescue

To get to the heart of the matter, we turned to you. For three months, if you turned off Windows Search, a small notification would pop up on your screen asking why.

We were hoping for maybe 100 reports when the campaign started, but once again, Windows Insiders surpassed our expectations. Almost 700 different pieces of feedback came in from Insiders all over the world.

Our team spent hours reading through every single piece of feedback and making sure it was sorted correctly. Pouring over feedback from Insiders in a dozen different languages and all sorts of different devices helped us find the top reasons you were turning off Windows Search.

Reason for turning off Windows Search Cases
1. High disk usage 165
2. Because of past or general performance issues 142
3. Not enough value to me 100
4. Didn’t mean to turn it off 90
5. To protect an SSD from wear 71
6. High CPU usage 69
7. All other reasons 55
 Total 692

Making things better

First, I’d to thank all the Windows Insiders who gave feedback during our campaign. We can’t stress enough how much it has helped us. The Windows Search team is committed to addressing each issue you’ve raised.

And as a first step in keeping that commitment, we want to talk about some of the things that we’ve done already to start solving these issues and providing some quick fixes you can try right away.

High disk usage

We’ve seen this issue in previous surveys, but it had never ranked this high, so we’re going to work the hardest to improve here. While disk usage is never going to go to zero, there are a few features that we’ve added that will make things better.

First, when the system detects high disk usage, Windows Search will slow down any background activity. The new algorithm isn’t perfect, but it is a little better. And to help improve this logic long-term, Insider machines running Insider Preview builds will log the number of times a day the Search service causes high disk usage and for how long. This will help us make the next version of this algorithm even better and see how these changes are performing on your machines.

Quick fix: If the Search service is causing disk usage issues, you can pause it for 15 minutes at a time. Just go to Control Panel > Indexing Options > Pause. This will pause the indexer for you and send a signal back to us that something is going seriously wrong. (This will only be logged in telemetry for Windows Insiders.)

Because of past or general performance issues

You might be the hardest to please here, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to forget about you! Most of the Insiders falling under this bucket have had bad experiences with Windows Search before. Something hadn’t worked, or Search had gotten in the way of an experience you valued more.

Quick fix: We’re always making improvements to Windows Search, so, let’s make a deal. Give Windows Search a try in the new release for just one week. If you don’t like it or something bothers you, log feedback in Feedback Hub or upvote an existing issue, and then turn it off until the next release. (Note that the first day after re-enabling Search can be rough as it builds the database, but we really believe that after a week it will win you over!)

Not enough value to me

This group of Windows Insiders was one of my favorites. They were very honest in telling us that Windows Search doesn’t do what they want it to, and there was not a single comment that we disagreed with. They all gave reasonable arguments why Windows Search might not be for them.

That said, we think it’s worth reminding you of the benefits of Windows Search and why you should think twice before turning it off. Windows Search:

  • Powers the file search behind Cortana, File Explorer, and many UWPs.
  • Powers email search for millions of Outlook users around the world.
  • Gives you suggestions based on your personal web history when you’re typing in the Edge address bar.
  • Syncs and changes tracking logic in files on-demand.
  • Gives you full control of where all this data is stored. Your search engine storing its database on your computer is great for your privacy. The search index is also stored on your machine, and no data about your files will ever leave your machine.
  • Powers the new Timeline view.

Learn more about search and indexing.

Didn’t mean to turn it off

This was the biggest surprise to me. There are programs that turn off Search without you having to take action. Some of them are anti-virus, while others are privacy protection software that try to reduce the data being sent to Microsoft.

Quick fix: Your personal files or data won’t be sent from Windows Search to Microsoft. The database is stored locally on your machine and can be deleted at any time. However, if you’re already running one of these programs and think Windows Search might be disabled, you can turn it back on by following these steps:

  1. Windows Key + R > services.msc
  2. Scroll down and select Windows Search
  3. Confirm these values:
    1. Service Status should be Running
    2. Startup Type should be Automatic (Delayed Start)

After turning Search on, check back in a few days to make sure it’s still working. Some programs will undo this on a schedule. If you see this happening, check your anti-virus or other programs that are running in the background.

To protect an SSD from wear

This is the category of people we completely identify with. Our devices sometimes have an SSD too, and we understand trying to make them last longer.

Quick fix: One option is to move the Search index from your primary SSD to a secondary HDD. This gives you all the benefits of fast Search, Timeline, and Cortana without risking your primary SSD.  To set up your device like this, go to Control Panel > Indexing Options > Advanced > Index location. From here, you can move the index to another drive.

This is also a longer-term issue we’re continuing to look at. Wear leveling on SSDs is getting better, which will help, and improving the indexer’s logic reduces the writes and the wear, but there is still work to do.

High CPU usage

This is a problem that we’ve been working on almost non-stop for 4 years, and there is a still a lot of work that we can do. As a part of the work to log disk violations, we’re also going to log cases where it’s using too much CPU. We’ve also made a few tweaks to the CPU logic.

Look for other improvements as we get closer to the next version of Windows.

Other reasons

Insiders have an amazing ability to weed out bugs in Insider Preview builds, and Windows Search has been no exception. In fact, we’ve already fixed a bug from the survey that was stopping indexer from running, because of incorrect permissions on the directory. We’re also going to continue to fix more of the open bugs you shared.

Quick fix: If you are having issues with search not finding your files, not finding your drive, or finding a drive you don’t want it to search, look at Indexing Options in Control Panel. It will show you which drives and folders Windows Search is looking at. You can also configure all the different folders that it will use.

What’s next?

We’re not at the happily ever after part yet. Honestly, we’re still just getting started. There’s a ton of work to do, and we’re delighted to have Windows Insiders helping along the way.

Please log your feedback in the Feedback Hub when you can. We may not reply to every item, but we certainly read them. It’s all part of our never-ending quest to make Windows Search even better.

Until next time—keep searching.