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Best Free Desktop Search Utility

In a Hurry?
Go to details...  Go straight to the Quick Selection Guide
 
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:  

http://windowssecrets.com/top-story/getting-the-most-from-windows-search-part-2/

 
Discussion

 

Locate32Locate32 is a little known but highly impressive desktop search program and it is my new top pick.

It works like update db and locate commands in Unix based systems. In other words, it uses databases to store information about directory structures and uses these databases in searches. The use of these databases provides very fast searching speed. The software includes a dialog based application as well as console programs which can be used to both update and access databases. Supported operation systems are Windows 98/ME/NT4/2000/XP/Vista/7 (32 & 64-bit versions available).  Locate32 does NOT have to be running at all times like both Copernic and Google desktop.  In my tests, it is quite fast.  Plus, I really like not having to have it run all the time.  Just remember to update the databases fairly regularly.  Please note that finding words within files is somewhat difficult to find.  At first, I didn't believe that it included this feature, but it is included.  You just have to look to find the feature. Available in many languages.

 

CopernicCopernic Desktop Search has moved down a notch for a couple reasons.  1)  It no longer supports indexing networked files or external hard drives; 2) the free or lite version has a limit of 75,000 files; and 3) the free or lite version no longer supports indexing Outlook folders/files.  However, it's a very competent and balanced product.  It used to support network shares, however, from version 3.0 forward, the network searching is only available with the pro or corporate versions. My only beef is the presentation of email search results is not as effective as other search engines such as X1, a product that is unfortunately no longer available in a free version (although it is integrated into free email client Eudora's find function).  Copernic was recently updated to version 4.0.2.

 

Google Desktop SearchAnother option is Google desktop search. It not only will search your hard drive files but also your web history. It offers an Outlook toolbar, integrated Gmail search and a novel desktop sidebar that allows personalized search, news, weather, photos and more. The Sidebar also includes a quite effective application launcher.  Some folks love the Sidebar but others, me included, find it intrusive. My main problem with Google Desktop search is again the presentation of email search results which is even poorer then Copernic. This is not an academic point. For many users searching email is the number one application for desktop search programs so you need a product that performs well in this area.  There is both a MAC version and a version for Linux.

Google recently released Google Desktop version 5.9;, which is lighter and faster.  Google Desktop now supports 64 bit Windows. In addition to supporting 64 bit Windows systems, Google Desktop now supports the latest browsers as well (Google Chrome, Firefox 3, & Internet Explorer 8). Please be advised that Google Desktop does not appear to index pst files in conjunction with Outlook 2010.

Please be advised, according to http://googledesktop.blogspot.com/, "As of September 14, 2011 Google Desktop will no longer be available for download, and existing installations will not be updated to include new features or fixes."  I do not know if you can still find the installation file elsewhere on the internet.

 
Related Products and Links

Everything (http://www.voidtools.com/) 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 (http://www.exalead.com/software/products/desktop-search/)  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, please see the following url:  http://www.networkworld.com/reviews/2010/072610-desktop-search-tools-tes....

Please note that you might have to search around for version 4.6 as I am having difficulty finding it on the Exalead website.

DocFetcher (http://docfetcher.sourceforge.net/en/index.html)  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 (http://www.mythicsoft.com/agentransack/) 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!

Requires: Win 9x/ME/NT/2000/XP/SP2/2003/Vista/2008/7.

 
Quick Selection Guide

Locate32
5
 
Gizmo's Freeware award as the best product in its class!

Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Available for Windows 98/ME/NT4/2000/XP/Vista. 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.
http://locate32.cogit.net/
3.1.11.7100
1.1MB
32 and 64 bit versions available
Unrestricted freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.
Windows 98/ME/NT4/2000/XP/Vista/7
Copernic Desktop Search Home
4
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
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.
4.0.2
8.5MB
Unrestricted freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.
Microsoft Windows 8/7/Vista/XP SP2 required.
Google Desktop Search
3.5
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
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.
http://desktop.google.com/
5.9.906.4286
1.7MB
32 bit but 64 bit compatible
Unrestricted freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.
Intel Pentium 400MHz processor. 128MB RAM. 500MB HDD space. Must have administrator privileges. Windows XP/Vista/7 (64-bit supported)

 
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.

 
Tags

Search desktop, search files, best free desktop search tools, best free desktop search utility, top free search desktop tools.

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Comments

by Panzer on 3. July 2014 - 8:31  (117113)
by Australia on 18. April 2014 - 0:43  (115757)

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 : )

by Panzer on 13. January 2014 - 9:31  (113569)

"... 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

by George.J on 18. November 2013 - 12:53  (112330)

You should take a look at SearchMyFiles: http://www.nirsoft.net/utils/search_my_files.html

Outstanding little utility.

by kendall.a on 18. November 2013 - 17:46  (112348)

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.

by GJW on 14. November 2013 - 20:41  (112229)

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.

by kendall.a on 16. November 2013 - 19:37  (112270)

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.

by streeeeetch on 8. September 2013 - 15:58  (110600)

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

by kendall.a on 8. September 2013 - 17:33  (110602)

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.

by dinovom on 11. June 2013 - 19:15  (108469)

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.

by kendall.a on 11. June 2013 - 22:08  (108471)

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.

by dinovom on 8. September 2013 - 11:53  (110594)

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.

by kendall.a on 8. September 2013 - 17:42  (110603)

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.

by MidnightCowboy on 8. September 2013 - 22:51  (110605)

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".

by dinovom on 9. September 2013 - 17:12  (110625)

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.

by Clive Burns on 5. April 2013 - 5:15  (106827)

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.

by kendall.a on 5. April 2013 - 5:23  (106829)

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.

by Clive Burns on 5. April 2013 - 10:27  (106835)

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.

by gopher_everett on 5. March 2013 - 21:36  (105979)

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.

by borabora1001 on 6. March 2013 - 16:09  (105990)

[commercial program edited out] allows you to exclude any item types in the results with a pattern like this: "[Search Phrase] !email, word, .ppt"

[content related to commercial software edited out]

by Anupam on 6. March 2013 - 18:31  (105995)

This is a freeware site. Please do not post about commercial software, it's not allowed.

by borabora1001 on 15. March 2013 - 14:53  (106262)

Actually, the guys at [edited out] said that they are releasing a completely free version of the app this month. Copernic and a bunch of others that have commercial/paid versions are mentioned here on this site but they have free versions as well. So, I thought it was relevant. Since the trial period currently is 15 days, essentially its currently free since the free version will be out before the trial period expires, and I was told there will be no need to re-download, but that I'd just need to register to get a free activation code and the app would do any necessary auto-updates for me after that.

by Anupam on 15. March 2013 - 15:31  (106263)

If there will be a free version out, then let's wait for that free version. Until that happens, I am sorry we won't be allowing the product to be mentioned on the site/forum. We do not consider a "free trial" to be a free software.

Once they release a free version, feel free to post here, and we will check it out. Again, if the free version is severely crippled, we won't be allowing it.

by borabora1001 on 15. March 2013 - 17:27  (106268)

Btw, what's your definition of severely crippled? All the free versions that have paid versions have limitations. Hopefully, your difinition isn't arbitrary. Otherwise, one would suspect this site is paid to promote specific products over others.

by Anupam on 15. March 2013 - 17:44  (106269)

Severely crippled will be where the features in the free version lack so much, that practically, it's of very little use.

And I don't know why when we state the site rules, or the policies, people start to question the integrity of the site, or the team members here. Just because you don't like the policies, or the rules, it does not mean that we are running some scam here, or favoring specific products, or being paid to favor products, or anything of that sort. This site is big, and if you have cared to look at the several reviews around here, you will know that this site presents its work honestly. There are no favors, nothing, and we do not get paid from anyone. All the team members here are volunteers and work for the site on their free time. So, before you make such statements, please think twice. Don't make ridiculous statements!

by MidnightCowboy on 15. March 2013 - 16:00  (106264)

Same thing posted in other forums. Looks like spam to me.

by Anupam on 15. March 2013 - 16:10  (106265)

Let's see. Will be clear in a few days.

by borabora1001 on 15. March 2013 - 17:25  (106267)

So, it's spam if I think something is good and post about a specific feature it has that I like? By that definition every other post here is spam. I sent an email to them asking what limitations the free version will have. I'll post the reply once I get it.

by borabora1001 on 15. March 2013 - 18:04  (106271)

Here's their response:
[name and email edited out]
11:00 AM (1 minute ago)

John,

Thanks for your inquiry. The free version of [edited out] will generally have all the features of the paid version. However, there will be some limitations. This is a still a bit in flux, but we are targeting making the free version useful for general users, and the paid version most useful for professional power users. At this point the free version will include the following limitations:

· Email indexing

o MS Outlook email indexing will be limited to the default email account/address. So, if you have multiple accounts hosted in Outlook, it will only grab the email, from the first or default account.

· Fuzzy Content Indexing

o The new version will still include unlimited content searches through the windows search API (which generally only searches by exact word matches… non-fuzzy).

o However, this version will now also include our own proprietary fuzzy content search (non-exact word/phrase matches) with proximity detection and relevance scoring. The free version will be limited to scanning the first 150 words of documents, emails, etc. However, this is actually where most general users find the information they need. Only power users usually need to search/scan through the contents of very large documents and emails in a fuzzy way, and for that you’ll need the paid version. However, remember it will still search the entire contents of documents in a non-fuzzy way.

As we get closer to release exact specification will be better known. To keep up to date with the latest information, please visit our News page [edited out]

Kind Regards,

by kendall.a on 6. March 2013 - 2:57  (105984)

Good question. Other than Google Desktop and Copernic, which can get quite bloated, I think your best option might be Agent Ransack.

I still find that Locate 32 offers my best quick choice for searching, but you do get tons of results if you are looking for a word in a file.

But, I haven't looked at Agent Ransack in awhile, but I vaguely recall being able to sort or exclude files.

One other thought: In Locate 32, you can create pretty much any number of "databases". I choose to limit my databases by network folder (c or h or j drives). But, there is no reason that you cannot limit a database to a single folder or group of folders in a specific drive. You can then update all databases at once or choose which database you want to update. You can also choose to search by a specific database. That may help you limit the number of files you are finding.

I wish I could be more helpful.