PowerToys Run: do quick searches in Windows 10

Want to quickly find and open an application, folder, file, or even a registry key in Windows? Use PowerToys Run, a free and terrifically efficient tool from Microsoft, accessible with a simple keyboard shortcut.

As you may have already noticed, searching is not the strong point of Windows Explorer. Even with an SSD, it can take a long time to find a file or folder on the PC. Certainly, the search module built into the taskbar in Windows 10, near the Start menu, is already more powerful, especially since it can find all sorts of items – including applications – without being limited to the computer’s storage only.   

But there is a simple and free way to improve things by using the PowerToys Run module. Well-known to fans of tinkering and optimization, Microsoft’s PowerToys bring together in a single program several tools and functions to improve or facilitate the way you use Windows. Originally developed for Windows 95, they left the scene with the arrival of Windows XP… before quietly coming out of the closet in 2018 in a version compatible with Windows 10. Still free and constantly evolving – which explains a sometimes incomplete translation that we gladly forgive them – they have recently integrated the PowerToys Run module that will undoubtedly remind macOS users of a very useful function of the system associated with Spotlight, Apple’s search engine.

With PowerToys Run, a simple keyboard shortcut displays a search field. You just have to type the first letters of a query to display the corresponding results. You can then directly launch a program or open a file. Practical and fast! PowerToys Run also allows you to search for running processes, register keys, or perform simple mathematical calculations without having to open the calculator. This is a real-time saver that you will quickly get used to, so much so that you may wonder why this tool is not included as standard in Windows…

How to perform a quick search in Windows with PowerToys Run?

Once the PowerToys are installed, the search function offered by the PowerToys Run module is operational. A simple keyboard shortcut is all you need to initiate it.

  • Start by downloading and installing the free PowerToys suite of tools from Microsoft, including PowerToys Run. Follow the installation steps, even if you sometimes have to install a missing component in Windows.

Download PowerToys for Windows

  • After installation, run PowerToys in administrator mode. To do this, right-click on the program icon and choose Run as administrator.
  • The PowerToys window opens. The left pane contains the various tools offered, including PowerToys Run. Here you can set the way the module works. But first, give it a try. Close this window for the moment and press the Alt + space bar on the keyboard. Immediately a search field appears in the middle of the screen.
  • Start typing a query, for example, the name of an application you are sure to have. The corresponding results will appear as you type.
  • Click on the name of the item you are looking for. You can also use the arrow keys and the Enter key on the keyboard. If it is an application, it will open automatically. If it is a file, it opens with the program it is attached to by default. For some of the results listed – applications, folders, and files – there are several icons at the end of the line. Move the mouse pointer over them to find out what they do. For example, this way you can access the path of the selected item. It’s convenient.
  • If you don’t need the search field anymore, just press the Esc or Escape key on the keyboard to close it.

How to use the other functions of PowerToys Run?

PowerToys Run doesn’t just search for files on the PC’s hard drive or SSD. It can be much more versatile.

Do a simple calculation

In the search field of Run, enter a simple calculation, for example, 2966*7852. The result is displayed instantly. You can even copy it to the clipboard by clicking on it.

Search for a running process

You are wondering if a particular process is running. Instead of launching the task manager, go through Run. In the search field, type < then the name of an app. For example <mail. If this is in use, it will be displayed.

Search for a registry key

No need to launch the registry editor (Regedit) to reach a registry key. In the search field type for example: then hklm to open the keys HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE or :hkcu for HKEY_CURRENT_USER

Accessing a Web site

Without launching your Internet browser, you can enter a Web address. Type // and then the name of the website. For example //microsoft.com. Validate. Your default web browser will automatically open to display the requested page.

How to customize PowerToys Run?

  • By default, PowerToys Run is already very efficient. However, you can adjust a few settings to make it perfectly fit your needs.
  • Open the PowerToys window that you closed earlier. Click on PowerToys Run in the left pane.
  • If you want to change the keyboard shortcut that opens the search field, click in the Open PowerToys Run field, then press the keys you want to use. Only the Win, Alt, Shift, and Ctrl keys can be associated with another key.
  • By default, PowerToys Run presents a maximum of four results matching your query. You can increase this quota. In the Search and Results section, use the up arrow to indicate the maximum number of results you want.
  • You can also choose which commands PowerToys Run should interpret. This is useful, for example, if you don’t want to use it to access the Registry or to prevent it from showing programs and applications in the search results. Scroll down the PowerToys Run settings window to the Plug-ins section. Then switch the switches of the functions you do not want to use to the off position.
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