Best Free Desktop Search Utility

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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:



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, "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 ( 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 (  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:

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 (  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 ( 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

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.
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
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.
Unrestricted freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.
Microsoft Windows 8/7/Vista/XP SP2 required.
Google Desktop Search
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.
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.


This software category is maintained by volunteer editor Kendall Alexander.


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

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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)


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.

by borabora1001 on 16. March 2013 - 2:44  (106276)

One more thought/question. What do you mean by bloated? You mean using up lots of unnecessary disk space, cpu, and/or RAM? At what point do you consider it bloated? If we were still living prior to 2001, I might be inclined to agree, but in just the last 12 years standard computing power you get in modern desktops is actually hard to tap out. We are well into the 2000's where RAM is extremely cheap and most modern desktop system come with 6-8 GB of RAM out of the box.

I wouldn't fault either Google or Copernic for using more RAM. In fact I would applaud someone for using the power in my pc I know is there but just sits around unused most the time. For exammple, I found out recently that the Microsoft Office suite of products are all still single thread/cpu.

Using my RAM and CPU that usually goes unused means it will be faster and more cpu should mean it will be more intelligent. So, unless you are running several apps simultaneously that are eating up more than 1-2 GB of RAM each, they should have negligible impact on system performance I would think. RAM processing should be much faster and preferable to lots of disk paging which basically just wears out my hard-drive faster.

I think the same goes for CPU's where in today's common desktop environments we find anywhere from 4-8 cpu's/cores as standard... jeez I can't think of many programs that use all that core power. Most people sit around using one maybe two of those at any one moment (such as with MS Office)... likely less than 20% of normal users computing power is used throughout the day. All that power we've paid for just usually sits around these days.

So, in summary I applaud any apps that more readily use my RAM and CPU's as long as they don't slow down my system and steal resources from other apps that need them. For me, that really only seems to happen on systems older than 5-6 years or so. If you are using as system that old, I'd suggest an upgrade rather than complaining about bloated software. It's called evolution. We need to keep up with it or be left in the dust.

by borabora1001 on 16. March 2013 - 1:04  (106273)

From recent material I've been reading it's been stated that the key to good results when looking for words in files is relevance ranking based on where in the file something was found and what type of information it was found in. Was it found in the title, sub-title, a heading, was it bold, highlighted, a different color, or italic? Was it a very frequent term within that document (possibly making it more or less relevant relative to other docs).

Also, when searching multiple words, if the program understands that the words were closer or farther apart and can score based on that, then it will be much more likely to bring the most relevant documents to the top of the results. In that event, regardless of how many results are presented, generally the most interesting/relevant will always be at the top. Anything beyond those initial top results are just icing on the cake.

I haven't seen anyone do this well yet. I'm waiting to try this proposed feature on another product that is fairly new (mentioned but edited out above by moderators). In addition to the proximity detection they mention above, it supposed to fuzzy search for document content as well (fuzzy meaning you don't have to know the exact way something was written). I don't think I've seen any products do that well, if at all. Have any of you? Please let me know if there are any other products you know of that do this that are free and won't cost me an arm and a leg or every other body part.

When this particular product releases (they are supposed to have a free version this month), I'll write up a review of my experiences with it. In my particular case it could really be helpful because I'm constantly wasting valuable time searching for documents and emails with specific content and the results I get back from Windows and Outlook are basically just what I call a vomit list of everything containing the word or words with no concept of scored relevance ranking.

by kendall.a on 16. March 2013 - 4:27  (106277)

You mention email indexing and/or searching, i.e. Outlook. While Outlook is not a freeware product and thus not something we will focus on, I've had my eye on a relative newcomer to the desktop search genre. It's called Insight Desktop Search ( and it claims to be able to index and/or search emails and contacts.

I've actually downloaded it, but I've never actually installed it. It appears to be freeware and the main website makes the software at least look appealing. If anyone does decide to install it and try it out, I would be interested in your feedback and input.

by MidnightCowboy on 16. March 2013 - 5:48  (106278)

Last update is from three years ago, so is this still in development?

by Activator on 27. January 2013 - 16:01  (104860)

Hi Kendall,

You wrote you upgraded to Windows 7 64-bit and that it will even search your home network for files. How do you do that? I have a mapped drive letter to my NAS, but can's select UNC paths or that network drive for indexing...

Thanx for your work!!!

by kendall.a on 27. January 2013 - 16:40  (104861)

Have you added the files on your NAS to one of your libraries? Try this article:

Two other links that I've found to be helpful in tweaking Windows 7 search are:

by Activator on 30. January 2013 - 20:06  (104980)

Hi Kendall,

Thanks for your answer and your links! But for what I can find, is that I can't add NAS folders to a library, because the NAS is not and cannot be indexed. Maybe I'm missing something though, because I have not had much time to dive into it since your reply.

Kind greetings,

by kendall.a on 31. January 2013 - 4:51  (104983)

I apologize, but I don't know much about NAS. You might try looking for support on the author's website or check and see if they have some forums.

by dlibertine on 20. January 2013 - 17:41  (104676)

I've used Locate32 for years. I'm just a basic user. I can't figure out the setting to "finding words within files." Can you help direct me to that?

Please and thanks.

by kendall.a on 20. January 2013 - 18:24  (104677)

Under the "Advanced" tab, at the bottom, there is a check box for "file containing text" and then a box that you can enter the text that you are looking for.

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