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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 Anonymous on 29. May 2010 - 23:03  (50583)

copernic doesnt read hebrew in rtf files??!!

by Anonymous on 5. June 2010 - 1:34  (51339)

Personally, I like "Super Finder". It does all kinds of searches and will do it across network shares as well!

It searches for parts of file names, or if you want exact matching file names the old way (with wild cards also), it does that!

It also searches within files for text, etc. and it is small, powerful and free and it doesn't take over anything! It is a completely separate app with a small footprint and a simple install! :)

My own personal recommended options during setup in the Setup tab are to check only the following items:

Use Thread Priority
Remember Names and Paths
Remember Checkboxes
Contextual Menu Integration

This software is not being updated any more. They switched to the "XT" version, which I did not like at all! But the regular version does work on every version of Windows, both 32 & 64 bit! :)

This thing is far better than the Windows search and makes big, integrated apps like CoperNic (which is big in comparison) of no value. :)

You can download the last version made at:

http://www.softpedia.com/get/System/File-Management/Super-Finder.shtml

No, I am not associated with the company in any way and I get nothing for promoting it. I was just searching for recommendations for the best web search engine on this site and came across this page and thought I would offer my two cents worth and maybe help someone out. :)

Gizmo (whatever your real name is (is it Mark?)), you should check this one out! :)

Hope this helps! :)

Dave

by kendall.a on 5. June 2010 - 3:23  (51356)

Thank you for your opinion and recommendation. Please be aware that this site is maintained by volunteer editors. Gizmo owns the site, but there are close to 100 volunteers that help run this site and these program recommendations are ours alone; not Gizmo's.

by JW on 27. May 2010 - 7:57  (50429)

Warning:

I have been using a free app called Index Your Files (IYF) from http://www.indexyourfiles.com/.

I recently discovered that this app is not dependable because it appears to NOT index all your files on the drives you select.

I emailed a complaint to the author with screenshot documentation showing that files that exist were not being found by IYF. I have yet to receive any response.

by Anonymous on 6. April 2010 - 23:40  (47133)

Today, I downloaded the Copernic desktop search from the link given at this forum

However, A-squared says that the file is infected with the "Trojan.win32.shutdowner". Is this a false positive ? Avira, superantispyware, and malwarebytes says the file is clean. I noticed that when I went to the home page, it required that I enter an email address and then they emailed link. I suppose the link on this site bypasses the email requirement which is great but are they the same files ?

Thanks
John

Moderator's Comment : Link to direct download removed. Please do not post links to direct download of files, we do not allow that.

by kendall.a on 7. April 2010 - 0:45  (47134)

I downloaded the file. 1) It did not set off MSE. 2) I ran it through VirusTotal and it scanned clean.

I suspect that this is a false positive. A-squared has been known to have a large number of false positives.

by Anonymous on 7. April 2010 - 18:10  (47176)

Thanks for getting back to me Kendall.

I updated A-squared and scanned the copernic .exe install file I downloaded yesterday again. A-squared said I should send it in to them for analysis so I did. I then uploaded the file to VirusTotal and Two scanners reported problems...

Ikarus T3.1.1.80.0 2010.04.07 Trojan.Win32.Shutdowner
Prevx 3.0 2010.04.07 Medium Risk Malware

Iterestingly, A-Squared at the virusTotal site did not report any problems.

I then re-downloaded the .exe file from the link at this forum again. A-squared reported no problems, and Virus total reported no problems either. I did notice that the .exe file downloaded yesterday is 7.09 MB in size (Version 3.2.2.7) and the file downloaded today is 7.97 MB in size (Version 3.2.3.13). Which version did you scan ?

The digital signatures of both files were said to be "OK".

What do you think happened here ?

I would appreciate any feedback. In the meantime I will delete the old file and use the new file.

Thanks
John

by kendall.a on 7. April 2010 - 19:22  (47185)

I'm not sure what to tell you at this point. I find it hard to believe that Copernic would post a file with malware in it, but I guess it's possible.

I would be pretty confident if VirusTotal claims it is clean then it probably is.

by Anonymous on 7. April 2010 - 18:13  (47178)

Kendall wrote:
Moderator's Comment : Link to direct download removed. Please do not post links to direct download of files, we do not allow that.

Good grief man, it was the same download link you posted in your review. I was just trying to be specific so you would know the exact link I downloaded from. We are talking about a possible virus infection here.

John

by Anupam on 7. April 2010 - 18:30  (47179)

It was not kendall who wrote that. I had edited the link, and written the comment. Ah, so you copied the link from the article only. I think it has been done by mistake. Its our site policy that we do not allow links to direct download of files.. on the main site, or on the forum. So, it must have been mistake that such a link is there on the article. It will be rectified soon, and it will point to the download page of the article. I think that's where the problem arose. Ideally, you should have gone to the download page of the software and should have downloaded the file. That way you would have got the latest version. Seems like the download link presently on the article is for the previous version.

Sorry for the confusion, and thanks too... it pointed out our mistake. The link will be rectified soon, and will point to the download page instead.

by Anonymous on 7. April 2010 - 19:54  (47188)

Thanks for clearing that up. I originally went to the copernic site download page and they required an email address so they could send me a download link. I never received the link via email, so I was glad to see the direct download link at this site.

It might not be a bad idea to send copernic and email and advise them of what happened. A hacker may have infected the old file version on their system and may well infect the new version as well at some point. I have already sent A-squared a copy of the file, I would guess they will contact copernic as well.

In cases where the vendor requires and email address for a download, I actually like seeing the direct download links, if they can be verified as true and safe. I have seen direct download links in other software categories of this site, posted by the moderators. In the future I will not post them.

Thanks again for clarifying.
John

by Anupam on 7. April 2010 - 20:10  (47191)

Well, if a site requires email address to download a file, then you can download the file from other download sites, like MajorGeeks, or Softpedia. Its good of you to have sent A-Squared a copy of the file, to clear this up.

Well, if you remember seeing direct download links anywhere on this site, please do tell us, we will correct that. We really do not allow direct download links for the same reason... the files can be manipulated, and infected.

by Anonymous on 7. April 2010 - 19:58  (47189)

Also please note that I download both times from the link posted at this site, so I did get the most recent version from this site. Apparently, the same link is used in either case, and Copernic must have just recently (sometime between yesterday and today) updated the program.

It all seems a little strange in any case.

John

by Anonymous on 27. May 2010 - 14:54  (50465)

Thank you all for letting us know about that problem.

In fact, there was an issue with the previous version of Copernic Desktop Search (3.2.2.7) in the installation process. Some anti-virus software tagged a simple shutdown process commanded by CDS as a virus or an intrusion, which wasn't. This issue is fixed in the latest Copernic Desktop Search release (3.2.2.13)

by Anonymous on 29. January 2010 - 4:38  (42315)

Google Desktop has got a major flaw which nobody seems to be noticing,

It does not index folder names.

currently using software named everything since I only wanted file/folder name indexing. and I am very happy with it.

by Anonymous on 3. May 2010 - 14:22  (49022)

Another irritating Google Desktop feature is that it only indexes the first 10,000 words in a document, which is approximately 13 pages of a document. It also indexes only 100,000 documents on a drive in the initial scan. And there is no substring search or logical OR support.

by torres-no-tan-m... on 25. January 2010 - 12:56  (42016)

System restore came to my rescue and everything is as was! ;-)

by torres-no-tan-m... on 24. January 2010 - 22:52  (41966)

Hi kendall,

After installing Copernic I noticed that it also installed an icon on my taskbar. Not a problem until I also noticed that my launcher toolbar had moved approx 3” to the left and was now showing 3 of my 8 subfolders on the taskbar. I find this highly irritating as these subfolders are located within the launcher folder and are therefore, normally hidden. When I want to launch a particular application, I simply right click the double chevron and view a vertical list of folders and then click on the appropriate shortcut icon. I uninstalled Copernic using Revo but I still have the aforementioned taskbar annoyance! :-(

by kendall.a on 24. January 2010 - 23:18  (41971)

I've not heard of this happening before. However, check out this link, I think it might prove useful.

http://www.allpostnews.co.uk/i5/Remove%20items%20from%20taskbar%20toolba...

by Anonymous on 24. January 2010 - 17:59  (41931)

Does Copernic actually work? I put a file called "app.txt" in the root of my D: drive. I spent 10 minutes trying to get Copernic to find it to no avail. And why is there a "search" box as well as a "file name" box? redundant when searching for files, isn't it?

by Anonymous on 29. December 2009 - 23:39  (39766)

Could someone tell me which program gives you a simple search box like XP (after you turn off the stupid features), i think it was customize. Where you can simply change date, type of program, and text within file? Why Windows 7 is TERRIBLE for searching. Why does something so simple have to be so hard? For the average home user it is a million steps backwards (7).

by Anonymous on 7. January 2010 - 10:45  (40467)
by bqgq73 (not verified) on 29. September 2010 - 15:27  (58648)

Well, I tested text-search under windows 7. It found the text very fast. When I went into 1 of the files and removed the text it still listed the file as having it. I did a reset and everything. Am I missing something?

by DougS (not verified) on 23. February 2011 - 21:25  (66983)

UltraFileSearch leverages Windows Indexes and if you delete a file or it's contents it may still appear in the list until the indexes are refreshed.

I have looked at the UltraFileSearch utility but I have not installed it yet because Zone Alarm tags it as being infected with a Zombie virus. I have not been able to determine if that is a false-positive or not.

by kendall.a on 23. February 2011 - 23:08  (66986)

If you have concerns about a file, download it (do not open it) and submit it to Virustotal (http://www.virustotal.com/) for review.

by Anonymous on 2. January 2010 - 16:17  (40044)
by kendall.a on 30. December 2009 - 5:45  (39790)

I'm sorry but I'm still using XP. Maybe someone else who works with Windows 7 can assist you.

In the mean time, you might want to consider Locate32 or Everything. Both are lightening fast.

by Scoffer on 13. January 2010 - 13:22  (40945)

Hi Kendall.

You're no doubtedly going to get inundated with W7 32 & 64 bit problematic file searches. It might benefit you to explore this area in a bit more detail as this is an extreme headache Microsoft has pathetically created. They took a simple thing and complicated the heck out of it.

Anyway: -

What's wrong with Windows 7 file search? It works great!

It only took me 7 weeks @ 4 hours a day to get it configured so I could use it somewhat.

Beats the heck out of XP's search that took me about 5 minutes to learn and to configure.

(SARCASM)

One solution: -

Currently, I have a second HDD with XP (D:) that I use to search the W7 directory (C:) on the other drive. It's the only way that works for me, but why should we need to do this, or even spend copius hours configuring a once easy to use search?

So the bottom line is;
what is a good free file/registry searcher for Win7, preferably similar to that of XP? Tried the ones listed here, but not too impressed so far either because of the configurations, results, removal problems, W7 compatibility etc or a combo of these.

Scoffer

by kendall.a on 13. January 2010 - 23:54  (40984)

It is a great suggestion. I could research Windows 7 Desktop Search Utilities. However, at this point, my research would only be based upon what others write or say. I have no ability right now to test these products out on Windows 7.

I feel strongly that in order to recommend a product, I have to actually use it; and use it for at least a while. Unfortunately, I cannot at this point test out any products on Windows 7. I don't foresee myself upgrading to Windows 7 any time soon.

So, with that said, if anyone is interested in taking over this particular category and you have the ability to test these products in Windows 7, please let me know. I would be willing to step aside in the interest of technology advancements that I'm not prepared to make.

by Anonymous on 24. January 2010 - 5:18  (41884)

Hello Kendall.

I noticed that the reviews made mainly concern "Indexing" in the software. This precicely is the reason NOT to use these, along with having to create an index in the first place. FYI, this is one of the most painful problems with W7. The Generic search parameter has been deleted unless you want to search within the files, and we all know how long that can take.

Google works well, but like all Google products, there's just too much crapware and other non-wanted rubbish added to it. Seems the bigger the name, the more swamped by this they become (MS, Adobe, Nero etc etc to name just some top contenders of software mortal obesity).

So what we (I) are looking for is a free simple, non-bloated, non-indexing, generic Desktop searcher without extras that resembles the ease and speed of the XP search engine.

Maybe someone can "Crack" the XP version for W7 use? Food for thought.