Best Free Desktop Search Utility

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Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

 

Rated Products

Locate32  

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


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

Copernic Desktop Search Lite  

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


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

Google Desktop  

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


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

Related Products and Links

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Have Your Say

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

 

Editor

This software category is maintained by volunteer editor Kendall Alexander.

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Comments

Everything has undergone a major update (to version 1.4.1.877 on 2017.06.07); the full changelog may be found at http://www.softpedia.com/progChangelog/Everything-Changelog-114264.html . (One of its advantages is that it does not require the Windows Search Service to be enabled -- especially pertinent with the current Windows exploit CVE-2017-8620.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

George, I think you saved my day (and my remaining hair).
I have tried many of the other suggestions, and had not found one that did ALL of this -
1) I can have windows indexing switched off for eternity
2) It (the chosen search program) does not require a massive index, nor a massive indexing time
3) It can search within the files for a desired text string
4) It can exclude folders (like Windows, Programs, Documents and Settings)
I have about 600,000 files, so I figured that all of the above were required for a reasonably fast search.
I was unsure if I could use 4, but I installed UltraSearch based on your 'heads up'.
BEFORE I could work out how to do 4, the program had returned the single file I was looking for (which contained the word 'ToDo').

Thank you for your recommendation,
Rob

Glad to be of help Rob. I use it regularly too, coz am quite forgetful. :D

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

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

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

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

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

I just checked out Fileseek, and it fulfilled my 4 criteria (described in another post above).
I had to do a lot of appending of folders that were to be excluded, and it then completed my search in 1 minute, which is pretty good.
If you look at George.J's post - Submitted by George.J on 27. June 2016 - 3:50
You will see in my reply to him, that his recommendation UltraSearch was even faster, and I had not yet attempted to enter the 'to be excluded' folders
Rob

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

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

Sorry, forget that question, i had missed something obvious

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

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

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

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

I just discovered HDDB on the Portable Freeware Collection site.

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

On balance I think I prefer it to Everything.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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