Thanks for the reply and explanation, Jon. What has me scratching my head is I'm talking about CMD-F, not CMD-E. I've been using a Mac for 5 years and just hadn't noticed it before, so either it's something new(ish) or I just won't encounter it often enough for it to be a real problem. I did some searching and there were complaints about this with Firefox about a year ago , but that was related to OS X 10.5, and appeared to be resolved in 10.6. I've done some quick testing with Safari and TextEdit, and it appears that this is something Apple has done at the OS level as they both exhibit the global behavior in 10.7. I can't say that I like it, at least not yet. There are many times that I will switch away from one application and do something completely unrelated in another, and if I search in that other application, I don't want my find dialog (or anything else!) changed in the first application without me explicitly initiating that change.
Thanks for being patient with me on this. Much appreciated.
EDIT: Another thread that suggests this is something Apple implemented at the OS level and there's nothing we can do about it (it also suggests there are other people who dislike this functionality, so I'm not alone ... yay!):
cocoabuilder.com/archive/xco ... -apps.html