Best Free Desktop Search Utility

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Introduction

A couple of years back there were no contenders for this title. Today we have a wealth of choices.

NOTE: I have made a decision to mainly highlight programs that meet 2 specific needs that I have: 1) the ability to search within files (find words within files) and 2) programs that will work across network shares (index files on my work network where all my documents are stored). There are literally tons of software programs that will search for files and folders, but that do not search within files. There are also several alternatives that might search network shares, but do not search within files.

Again, my focus has been on programs that meet the primary needs I've identified above. It is beyond my scope to review all types of desktop search tools.

NOTE #2: I recently upgraded to Windows 7 (64-bit). To be honest, after upgrading and using Windows 7 built-in search tool, I see no reason to use a third-party desktop search tool. It takes a little tweaking, but the new search tool within Windows 7 is quite good. It even searches within files and will search my home network for files. My recommendation is that if you are using Windows 7, you really don't need a third-party tool.

For an excellent resource on how to maximize your use of the Windows 7 search tool, please check out this article Getting the most from Windows Search — Part 2.

 

Rated Products

Locate32  

A highly impressive program to search files and folders based on their names stored in a database.


Our Rating: 
5
License: Free (Open source)
Available for Windows 98/ME/NT4/2000/XP/Vista/7. Much faster than Windows Search. You can choose to include or not include folder names in the search, and can search for text strings within files. Both 32 bit and 64 bit versions available.
Not really a con to me but it is to others--it uses databases to store information about directory structures and uses these databases in searches. Not as full-featured as Copernic or Google.
Read full review...

Copernic Desktop Search Lite  

A very competent and balanced product to instantly search files and documents stored on your computer.


Our Rating: 
4
License: Free (Limited features)
Find your files instantly: Word, Excel, PowerPoint, PDF, HTML, Word Perfect, text, ZIP files, Emails or attachments from Outlook, Outlook Express, Eudora and Mozilla Thunderbird and over 150 other types of files like MP3, JPG, WAV, MPEG
The presentation of email search results is not as effective as other search engines. Takes up a fair amount of RAM. Index limit of 75,000 files. Free or lite version will not index Outlook files nor does it appear to work on networked or external hard drives.
Read full review...

Google Desktop  

Search your hard drive files and web history conveniently from a deskbar or sidebar.


Our Rating: 
3.5
License: Free
Google sidebar and gadgets. Just type a few letters or words into the search box and your top results pop up instantly. Indexes and searches multiple email programs.
Google sidebar and gadgets. Large resource utilization. Difficult to remove once installed. Does not appear to work with Outlook 2010. No longer being developed.
Read full review...

Related Products and Links

  • Everything indexes your entire hard disk and then you can search for a file by typing in part or all of the filename and it will display results as you type. Then just double click to run the file or right-click for the menu to open the path. The beauty of Everything is that it can be completely portable! Everything was recently updated and now supports Windows 2000, XP, Vista, and Windows 7. (There is no mention of 32 bit or 64 bit on their website.) If all you are looking for is a specific file or folder, then this little program totally rocks!  It is fast!

    Cons: It does not have a right click preview of common file types (txt, doc, pdf, etc.). It works only on NTFS drives. And, Everything does not search file contents, only file and folder names.

  • Exalead One:Desktop - For home users, this is a serious contender for my top pick. It's been around for a while, but only recently has become totally freeware. It's fast and the options are quite handy. It opens up in a browser window with preview options and other search options. Recently updated to version 4.6. Supports Windows 2000 (SP4), XP (SP2 and SP3), Vista/Vista SP1, Windows 7.

    Cons: I don't recommend Exalead Free version in a networked environment unless you have a ton of storage capacity. On my work laptop, the index file took up a HUGE 46 GB of storage space! In addition, Exalead does not allow users any option about where the index files will be kept on computer.

    For an interesting review of this product, see this link.

  • DocFetcher is an Open Source desktop search application: It allows you to quickly access documents on your computer by typing keywords. - You can think of it as Google for your local document repository. The application is currently available for Windows and GTK-based Linux distributions. It does offer the ability to search within files (actually only certain document types).

    A Java Runtime Environment (JRE), version 1.6.0 or higher, is required. Note: If you have a 64-bit OS, you might have to replace an installed 64-bit Java Runtime with its 32-bit counterpart in order to make DocFetcher work. 64-bit Java is currently not supported.

    The Windows version runs on Windows XP or later. Windows 98 is not supported. There is also a Linux version and a portable version.

    Cons: (though some might see this as a pro) It indexes documents only - pictures, music, videos, etc. are omitted.

  • Agent Ransack is one of my favorites when I'm in a hurry.  It is very similar to Locate32. It does not index your hard drive, but is still relatively quick. It also has the ability to search within files. When searching the contents of files Agent Ransack displays the text found so you can quickly browse the results without having to separately open each file!

 

Have Your Say

You are invited to share and discuss your views in our freeware forum. To post in the forum you need to register first but that's quick and immediate. Alternatively, anyone can leave a comment at the bottom of this page.

 

Editor

This software category is maintained by volunteer editor Kendall Alexander.

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Comments

Have been using this website Techsupportalert, since its inception
Have probably read this section over the last 5 years, and not a lot of the main recommendations have changed. Time to see where the dust has settled

I recently installed the latest version of Agent Ransack 2016 Build 865, and I recommend it highly
Previous versions just didnt work as I expected them to work

I have installed another search program, Locate32 in the past, but that program relies on creating an index, and keeping it current
Using Locate32, you also need to flip between 3 tabs to setup a search

Agent Ransack you can create a search all on the one place
Agent Ransack is very similar to the Windows interface (at least Windows 7, which I am using), and the program works on a 64bit system
It doesnt rely on an index
The program also understands that if I search for "factory receipt" (in quotation marks), I just want documents that contain 'factory receipt', not all documents that contain the text "factory", or "receipt" or "factory receipt"

I successfully found text, existing in .doc files, docx files, and PDF files
On another occasion, I found a txt document on my computer, a Ukranian text file, and I copied the text "LangName=Українська"
During a search, Agent Ransack found the document with this text in it !

The homepage suggests you also install "Microsoft Office 2010 Filter Packs" which was available as a link, but this is only needed if you need to search within more exotic Office files, such as OneNote documents, which I dont use

In summary, Agent Ransack is now my go to application for 'text searches within files'
For file name searches, with a very fast program startup time, I dont use Everything (which is always recommended by most Tech sites), but MasterSeeker (also freeware)

Both applications can be found on reputable freeware sites, and I have no affiliation with either program

I think the "fastest" tag has to be given to UltraSearch now, and I love how it achieves its speed by using the MFT directly on the NTFS partitiions. Moreover the latest version has a load of changes, the major one being support for searching for file content. 

Switched to UltraSearch from Everything, and am really happy with it. It comes in 32 & 64 bit flavours, is crapware free and portable too. 

I thank the author for his labor in collecting the best candidates but i'd like to make two disagreements...
1] Windows 7 best? Tis to snort! '
* its indexing is a PITA and system-resource gobbler,
* its interface is far inferior to most others
*while, as the windows secrets page details, it is tuneable, that's only at the cost of work, time!, and a minimum aptitude [i don't have much of a life, so I'm eager not to spend what little i have on **** like this.]

My second point: it's ALL garbage. Yes, i know that sounds like more troll ranting, but it's true: like software uninstallers, these apps *never* find or uninstall all that's there. Or at least i've never seen an app that does either.

PS: Both Locate32 and AgentRansack used to have HD forms that made it possible to pick individual drives, but in newer versions that's now impossible- one must choose one drive, or all. Progress marches on. Sigh.

PPS: August 18... I was using Agent Ransack today [only because anything is better than Micros**t's Search] for a search of my .cbr's [yes, with search-subfolders checked]. It completely missed a dozen in a sub-folder. I wouldn't say the makers are liars, just optimists. As i said, it's ALL ...[hot wet smelly brown stuff].
[Justified] cyncism aside: if you know of one that's substantially more accurate, please share it with the rest of us!

I am using Fileseek (https://www.fileseek.ca) for a some months now, and I am very happy with it.
No database to store the information, Every time all files in selected folders are scanned, for matching patterns in filename or content.
It is fast enough for me - especially when I can specify selective patterns or selective folders. And when I want to scan all drives, I know that i can take a little coffee break.
The payable version has a lot of options, but the freeware version gives me almost all I need. I am only missing the automatic upgrade feature, but I can live with it.
Bart

You may want to check out Docfetcher again. Version 1.1.12 seems to include MP3's, and at least jpeg/jpg among images. It has no issues on windows 7 for me (e.g. no 64-bit java problems). Because it is portable and I'm mostly interested in searching my pdf library, it has become my new indexer. I had been looking for a capable portable desktop indexer one for quite some time and had been previously disappointing. Docfetcher looks to be getting 3 updates per year the last couple years so it's being supported currently as well.

What is faster? windows 8/7 search or locate32?

Sorry, forget that question, i had missed something obvious

Hi, I decided to try out Locate32, and it does seem good. Everytime I open it though, I get one of those untrusted publisher warnings, asking me if I really want to run it.How can I stop that, espacially as it's run as an .exe? I've looked on the net, but .exe seems to be the only option. I'm using it in my 'daily use' account, and not my admin account which I rarely open.
Thanks, Jay

Kendall, I found an alternative to "Everything"
I use Windows XP
I have used Everything for the last 3 years, and it is indeed a very fast utility
Two problems:
It has to rebuild its database everytime the computer is restarted for the day, which can take some time
Secondly, for my Windows XP system at least, Everyday seems to sometimes interfere with Windows File Manager/explorer, making it unstable at times

I was informed of a new application, Hddb (version 1.03)
This software is very similar to Everything, but can remember its database, so doesnt rebuild it everytime you start the program
And similar very fast file searching

One weakness with Hddb - it needs to be installed, no portable version. And when you install it, it doesnt immediately recognise external drives including USB drives. For the first use of the software, I had to unplug and reinsert the USB flash drive, or restart my computer, and the external drives were recognised : )

I just discovered HDDB on the Portable Freeware Collection site.

I really like it, it's lightning fast and doesn't appear to hook into my system at all.

On balance I think I prefer it to Everything.

That's strange - I've been using Everything version 1.2.1.371 for many years and it definitely doesn't have to rebuild its indexes after a reboot (though if it detects that changes have occurred since it last ran it needs to update the index to reflect them, which takes very little time unless the changes have been very extensive). And it has caused no problems with Windows Explorer on Win2K (which is where I generally use it). A quick run of the current version (also on Win2K even though it's not supposed to run there) doesn't rebuild the database either when the program is completely exited and then restarted, though changes to the index seem to get incorporated less immediately for some reason (possibly a difference in set-up values - I just performed a quick check using defaults).

"... Al File Search - advanced file search utility which is able to quickly find Files and Folders on your Local or external drives (DVD, CD-ROM, USB Hard or Flash Drives) on your computer running under Microsoft Windows 8, 7, Vista and XP ..." (1/48 on Virus Total): http://www.aldimsoft.ru/alfilesearch
It is freeware and essentially portable. It installs no DLL's or anything else. Just download it and run it. It appears to be a useful tool. Unfortunately, I don't have the time right now to fully investigate it. What I can't tell is if it will search networked files and if it only searches for files or if it can search for words within documents. At this point, with Everything and/or Locate32 (or Windows own search tool), for me, I don't see a need for another tool.

The latest version of Copernic Desktop Search is version 4.0. Unfortunately, the free version (Copernic Desktop Search Lite) does not support mails in Outlook, but only files. It also has a limit of 75 thousand files.

Thank you for pointing this out. It caused me to re-evaluate all my choices. As a result, I am moving Copernic down a little and picking a new top pick for this category.

"Everything" was recently updated (beta but stable) to skip the UAC problem and they now have 32 and 64 bit versions. Excellent now.

Thank you for the update. You are correct. The "Everything" page does now show a beta version available and lists both a 32-bit and a 64-bit option. I have not tested or tried out this beta, and I probably will not have time to do so.

I prefer Agent Ransack as i don't like Indexing and here on searching even in files it seems to be the fastest (on not heavy, fast SSD it's even just matter of seconds). Always got the results i wanted and with the expressions you can really search with advanced rules.

It is a great program; which is why I mention it above. However, I find myself more often than not going back to Locate32. It seems to meet my needs and is very quick.

Actually i started using another program - UltraSearch (http://www.jam-software.com/ultrasearch/?language=EN). It is blazing fast (as it reads MFT), easy to handle, works with placeholder/absolute paths/even expressions and you can easily en-/disable a permanent exception-filter. There is also a portable version while i didn't check yet if it's a truely one or saves in reg etc.

It is a little difficult to determine for sure if this program is completely freeware. It seems to be, but since I did not install it, I'm not 100% certain that it is freeware and not trialware. However, I did download the installation file and scanned it with both Jotti and Virus Total. But scans came up totally clean. So, it should be safe to download and install. Feel free to do so and report back here how well it works and if you like it or not.
Both the installed and portable versions of UltraSearch are Ad-supported. MC - Site Manager. "Displays ad banners or other types of advertising material during its runtime".

I've been using it for a month already (installed version) and i can assure it is freeware. They just sell other products you have to buy (IMHO quite visible on their page.

The only ad i have seen is the permanent, yet not disturbing banner linking to TreeSize Free. Main disadvantage: It just searches "for" files/folders, not "in" files so no mail,pdf,doc etc. etc.

A little known gem is the free search program Wilma from www.redtree.com. It searches within many file types, shows number of hits, displays all the found words in their context, can include or exclude any path or file types when indexing, will also index networked drives and is very fast. Simple and complex searches (using regular expressions) are supported. Can separately search for content, file name or folder name or combinations of the three. It needs no installation and is just run from a directory. Uninstalling is simply a matter of deleting its directory.

It appears to be free and can be used on both Windows and Mac OS, but it is old and no longer being developed. From the author's site: NOTE: As I rarely ever use Wilma myself anymore and then only on Mac OS/X, I have not looked at the code in a very long time and am no longer able to effectively support it beyond answering basic questions. I will continue to make it available for anyone who wishes to use it, but please be aware that new versions with additional features or even bug fixes are very unlikely to be forthcoming. I apologize, but I don't have the time or the inclination to examine an old program that is no longer supported or developed.

You are correct -- it is getting on.
I would like to make a correction. Wilma cannot index networked drives.
It is still worth looking at if you need some of its unique features.

Thanks for the great article Kendall.

In your research, did you happen to find any search utilities which allow you to exclude file & folder names from the results?

After reading your article and many of the comments, I decided to download Locate32. After installation, I posted a question at sourceforge.net (which I believe is the primary support forum for that app). The reply I received included the following:

"Unfortunately, Locate32 is supposed to be used to search files based on file names. There is 'search in files' feature, but it is limited and does not support any file formats and the index includes file names. Maybe you could try some other programs like Google Desktop."

That did not seem very encouraging (although I do remember you mentioning that locating the content-search option is a bit tricky). However, the response reminded me that one barrier to quickly finding a particular file (when searching by content) is having to wade through all the files & folders which match due to the search term being present in the file/folder name even though it (the search term) may not exist in the content.

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