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:  

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 17. July 2009 - 1:12  (25225)

Maybe the programs that don't index could be listed separate, since many have said that they are substantially slower to search. Then, maybe the indexing programs could be divided into those that do or do not index file contents.

by kendall.a on 17. July 2009 - 3:54  (25233)

That's actually a very good idea! I'll have to think about how to do just that. Maybe I could develop some type of table that shows 1)indexing vs. non-indexing and 2)only searches for file/folder names vs. indexes file contents.

by Anonymous on 18. July 2009 - 23:30  (25328)

The good idea gets better still. I like it!

by Anonymous on 1. September 2009 - 12:30  (31984)

Launchy is still the best (and fastest) filesearcher/file-launcher program I've tried.

by kendall.a on 1. September 2009 - 14:15  (31985)

I appreciate your feedback. However, Launchy does not belong in this category. From their website:

"Launchy is a free windows and linux utility designed to help you forget about your start menu, the icons on your desktop, and even your file manager."

Launchy is not a desktop search utility in the sense of indexing all your files. It certainly does not search within files.

by chris.p on 4. September 2009 - 18:13  (32160)

Kendall, thanks for the recommendation for Locate32 - it's an excellent search utility.

However I don't think it can search in emails, so that is a bit of a negative.

Also it's not been updated in two years, although I guess if it works, that doesn't matter too much. I prefer that it builds a DB and uses that, running loads of apps 24/7 is no good unless you have a power PC or don't mind if things are slow.

chris.p

by Anonymous on 5. September 2009 - 18:24  (32201)

Launchy is excelllent for launching programs and files, but it used to have a limit to the index size. You still need a desktop search to find files across your entire workspace, and you may still need to look in a file manager to recognize a sequence of similar file drafts and related files in the respective folder.

by Anonymous on 7. September 2009 - 14:41  (32284)

Hello Kendall and rest of the forum,

I am looking for a software that indexes also my usb removable drives so that even when they are disconnected I know where stuff is.
I installed Google Desktop but it doesn't seem able to do what I am looking for.
Is there any software that does this (even paying ones)?

Thank you :)

P.s. Also you write that Google Desktop is difficult to remove.
What does it mean and what should i do if i want to uninstall it?
Thanks

by mr6n8 on 7. September 2009 - 15:23  (32288)

Some good freeware programs are listed at Best Free File / Disk Catalog Organizer.

If you just want to know where files are, Cathy is a good choice. It does not scan within files, just by names, but is very quick and scans both NTFS and FAT32 drives.

by Threshold on 7. September 2009 - 17:44  (32295)

Hello Keroff,

Thanks for the suggestion.
I actually already have Khaty but I am looking for a full fledged desktop search software like Google desktop that indexes external drives too.
I don't know if network searching in Copernic is referred to that function or else and i cannot find out on their site help pages.

I will open a thread on the forum too re this.

Many thanks.

by kendall.a on 9. September 2009 - 5:14  (32362)

I think your best solution is what you've already suggested--post a note on our forums. That way, you get the thoughts and opinions of 1000's of readers who probably know much more than I.

I am thinking that you are going to have to go commercial for this type of request, but I may be wrong.

by Anonymous on 29. September 2009 - 16:53  (33548)

A portable version of Copernic Desktop search is mentioned in the Quick Selection Guide section. Where can one find this portable version?

by kendall.a on 29. September 2009 - 23:49  (33562)

Thank you for pointing this out. I cannot find any mention of a portable version of Copernic Desktop Search. I will remove that mention in the article.

Please be aware that Copernic does now offer myCopernic OntheGo (formerly called Copernic Mobile). It is a commercial application that looks quite interesting.

by Anonymous on 20. October 2009 - 15:22  (35058)

I recommend TheSearchMan.

unlike Everything , TheSearchMan’s database is encrypted and it doesn’t show ALL files at the startup.
The database of Everything is on the most wanted List of hackers as it lists all your files.

TheSearchMan is a mere 30 KB download.
It is portable also. That means NO INSTALLATION.

Unlike Everything or Locate32 which can only search in the index, TheSearchMan can do real searching,ie, in the drive with a super fast speed.

It searched my 50GB Seagate drive in a little over 2 seconds.
It has bagged many 5 stars and Top Software awards.

The interface of TheSearchMan is extremely simple.
Just enter the path and search criteria

TheSearchMan’s database is updated on the fly.

The home page is:
http://venussoftcorporation.blogspot.com/2009/08/thesearchman.html

Its also been reviewed by ghacks and addictivetips.

THESEARCHMAN IS PORTABLE:

THAT MEANS NO INSTALLATION

by Anonymous on 20. October 2009 - 15:25  (35059)

In TheSearchMan, if want to have the database then keep the index.mdb file (provided) in the same folder as the TheSearchMan.exe.

If you don't want to have the index simply move the index.mdb file somewhere else.

by okwhen on 20. October 2009 - 15:45  (35063)

This program will not work on my system. Win 7 x64 P6T Intel Core 2 2.66 GHz.

by kendall.a on 20. October 2009 - 23:11  (35094)

When I get around to re-reviewing these products, I will add TheSearchMan to the list. However, I do note that TheSearchMan will not search within files. It only finds files or folders not words within documents. Not everyone needs that functionality, but for those that do, this is not your solution. If you only need to be able to find a file or a folder, this might be an option.

by Anonymous on 21. October 2009 - 0:49  (35098)

It doesn't work on my system either.

by Anonymous on 21. October 2009 - 15:28  (35147)

Its a 32-bit program.

@Kendall
Hi

Have you seen the homepage of TheSearchMan.
In that there's an 'about us' page in which the picture of the developer of TheSearchMan is posted.
Thats a boy!!

by kendall.a on 22. October 2009 - 13:51  (35250)

Thanks for pointing that out. However, I'm not sure what relevance it has to the product or the software. For me, it's impressive that 2 young men can create something like a desktop search program by themselves at such a young age.

by Anonymous on 22. October 2009 - 15:12  (35254)

Ahem..

Only one young man created this.
Its Prankur Rusia.

by Anonymous on 16. November 2009 - 6:37  (36709)

I have tried several search tools, I like DocFetcher so far. it's fast, intuitive to use, still a bit heavy on system resources but I like it better than copernic and Windows search and Google Desktop. The Search Man is not as intuitive and font size and usability are not that great even though it's fast. (remember folks it's a zipped program which must be unzipped to a folder first) Still looking, thanks to all for their suggestions.

by Anonymous on 16. November 2009 - 7:11  (36712)

I submitted above post on DocFetcher... but "Everything" by VoidTools http://www.voidtools.com/ is very good. Taking about 5 minutes to learn what you can do with it makes this maybe the best file searcher out there. What I love is the "search as you type" feature and low system resource use. no need now for clicking many times to find the folder you think you put a file in. to find todo.xls just type "to" ".xls" (parens not needed) and it will show you all excel files with to in the name. I must be a geek cause I think it's cool

by Anonymous on 16. November 2009 - 9:14  (36718)

This is the best I have used, by a wide margin;
http://www.exalead.com/software/products/desktop-search/

It is fast, reliable,may be set up as you want it regarding searching, it doesn't "phone home" or install a lot of stuff you dont need or want. On a scale of 1...10, if Copernic is say a 5, then this program is a 9.

I dont know why people are apparently so concerned about "ram usage". If a program is to work properly it needs to use ram, and I cant see that it makes a lot difference how much, unless you are trying to run other processes concurrently, which will be deleterious to performance anyway!

by kendall.a on 17. November 2009 - 1:34  (36740)

From a post I wrote back in January of this year:

Post by monkeywithit--
Correct me if I'm wrong, but it looks as though the free version of Exalead has become a "free download" -- you have to pay for a license after 30 days. This is from the license agreement:

1. During 30 (thirty) days from the installation of the Software, you are granted a free, personal, non-transferable and non-exclusive license that allow you to use one copy of the Software for evaluation purposes only, on a single personal computer and to use the Documentation under the terms stated in this License (the "Evaluation Period").

2. After the Evaluation Period, you will not be authorized to use the Software any longer unless you activate the Software (the "Activation"). The Activation requires the purchase of a license online in order to obtain an activation key. The price of the activation key is mentioned on Exalead's website. When you acquire an activation key from Exalead, you are granted a personal, non-transferable and non-exclusive license to use one copy of the Software on a single personal computer and to use the Documentation under the terms stated in this License. The Activation does not include a right to get updates of the Software. Title and ownership of the Software and Documentation remain to Exalead.

So, I'm not sure if they've changed their license or not. You're welcome to give it a try and report back if it is still "trialware" or actually "freeware". If anyone can find new wording from the Exalead license, please point it out to me. Based upon the license agreement, Exalead requires activation after 30 days and this activation REQUIRES the purchase of a license. That is wording directly from their license agreement. As such, it is not free and not a candidate for this website.

Again, if you find different wording or if this has changed, please point it out to me. I have not tried or evaluated Exalead because to the best of my knowledge, it is not truly freeware. (Again, it has almost been a year since I looked at Exalead.)

by Anonymous on 19. November 2009 - 14:59  (36914)

TheSearchMan unRARs before you can blink your eye.
Its a 35 KB program.

Light on resources.
Accurate.
Portable.
Simple.
Small.
Free.
Fast.

what more do want?
Apple pie??

by Anonymous on 19. November 2009 - 16:08  (36916)

It is completely free;

http://www.exalead.com/software/products/desktop-search/#section-4

the free edition is limited to 100 file types, but all the important types are covered. I use it primarily for PDF's and text. This is the best software for this I have tried, and I have tried just about all of them.

by kendall.a on 19. November 2009 - 19:48  (36925)

Please confirm this with the license agreement. My apologies, but the real truth will be in their license agreement. I can't seem to find this online, so it must be within the program itself.

If possible, post the first couple sections here of the license agreement.

by Anonymous on 19. November 2009 - 20:45  (36932)

They declare it as freeware on their page.

System Requirements

* Windows 2000/XP/Vista/7
* Internet Explorer 6+ and FireFox 1.5+
* To index emails/contacts: Outlook Express 5.x/6.x, Outlook 2000/XP/2003/2007, Windows Mail, Microsoft Exchange, Mozilla Thunderbird, Lotus Notes (from version 5.09)

Download Information

* Version: 4.6.0.515
* Last release: 05.05.2009
* Size: 16,4 Mb
* Languages: English and French (soon German, Italian, Spanish, Czech, Polish, Russian and Japanese)
* License: Freeware

There is no licence agreement, it is simply freeware.

There are no nags, no problems, no nothing. Its is just FREEWARE.

It is simple enough to try it.

by kendall.a on 20. November 2009 - 2:47  (36966)

Ok. Here is a portion of their new software license accessible upon installation:

LICENSE
1. You are granted a free, personal, non-transferable and non-exclusive license to use one copy of the Software on a single personal computer and to use the Documentation under the terms stated in this License. Title and ownership of the Software and Documentation remain to Exalead.
2. In order to qualify for the free use license described herein, you must have downloaded or received the Software in the form of an original Software distribution package as distributed by Exalead and/or Exalead-authorized Distributors, including all files contained in such package ("Original Distribution Package"). Current Original Distribution Packages for the Software are available from Exalead and Exalead-authorized distributors. Copies of the Software not received in the form of an Original Distribution Package are not licensed for use, copying or transmission by you or others.

TERM
This license is effective until terminated. Exalead shall terminate the license at its sole discretion. You may also terminate it at any time by destroying the Software and Documentation with all copies, modifications and merged portions in any form. Exalead shall terminate the license if you fail to comply with any term or condition set forth herein. You agree upon such termination to destroy the Software and Documentation together with all copies, modifications and merged portions in any form.

Their license agreement has indeed changed. It is apparently no longer "trialware" and appears to be fully "freeware". I have installed it and I will give it a try. I'll report back later my findings.

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