Until now I was using a "traditional" version of Nautilus: that that comes with Ubuntu 10.10. Now I'm using 3.6.3, included with Ubuntu 13.04 (most likely any recent version is equivalent for the scope of my question, anyway).
One major difference between the two is the search-as-you-type behavior: in classic versions of Nautilus, when you typed an input, the file with the closest alphabetical match would become the selected one, the ellegible files/folders being restricted to the current directory.
The new behavior is to perform an optionally-global search instead.
Can one configure Nautilus to provide the previous functionality?