Software

Five fast Windows desktop search utilities

Wasting time looking for a file is a huge aggravation. Here are several tools to keep you from falling into that trap.

Over the years I have accumulated a lot of file data. Even though I keep it well organized, there are times when I have to use a search utility to find what it is that I am looking for. Since I'm sure that there are others who are in the same boat, I thought that it might be helpful to talk about some desktop search utilities.

Before I begin

Before I get started, I want to clarify my definition of a desktop search utility. For the purpose of this article, I am defining a desktop search utility as any utility that is used locally to help find specific data on either the desktop or on an on-premise server. In other words, I'm not talking about Internet search utilities, but everything else is fair game.

Note: This list is also available as a photo gallery.

1: Copernic Desktop Search

Copernic Desktop Search (Figure A) is a free utility that has a clean and intuitive interface, although it is ad driven -- and the ads can sometimes be a bit distracting. But my only real complaint about this software is that it doesn't initially index your entire hard drive. You may have to go in and add some non-default folders for your data to be indexed properly. After you do so, however, the software works really well.

Figure A

Copernic Desktop Search

2: Auslogics Duplicate File Finder

Auslogics Duplicate File Finder (Figure B) is a free utility for searching your hard disk for duplicate files. The search engine does a really good job and it lets you opt to ignore things like file dates. The search engine can even peek inside files to locate ones that might be duplicates even though they have different names.

Figure B

Auslogics Duplicate File Finder

3: X1 Professional Client

X1 Professional Client (Figure C) is another desktop search engine that can find various types of files and email messages. While the functionality might seem routine, a few features help justify the price tag.

Figure C

X1 Professional Client

For starters, the search engine is blazing fast. The search actually occurs as you type. Furthermore, you can use a variety of search commands to help narrow your search results. My personal favorite feature is the preview window that shows the currently selected item. Finally, X1 Professional Client has options to do things like copy, email, and zip selected items.

X1 Professional Client retails for $49.95, but a free 14-day trial is available.

4: Search and Replace 98

Search and Replace 98 (Figure D) is a bit different from other desktop search utilities, in that it can find and replace specified text in your files. It's extremely useful when you need to make changes to a lot of documents.

Figure D

Search and Replace 98

I first found Search and Replace 98 many years ago when I was developing a Web site. The site I was developing consisted of nearly 4,000 ASP files. As the site was approaching completion, my lawyer informed me that certain blocks of text that appeared on several pages had to be rephrased. I needed an editor that could perform a search and replace across multiple files so that I would not have to dig through all 4,000 files by hand. Search and Replace 98 did exactly what I needed it to do. I'm pretty sure that Search and Replace 98 used to be a commercial product, but today it is available for free.

5: Ava Find

Ava Find (Figure E) is a free utility for finding files, messages, and other resources on your computer. Ava Find is nearly 10 years old. In spite of its age, however, the software still works really well. It has a simple interface that lets you quickly find documents, messages, music, and videos simply by searching for them or by clicking the Music or Videos button.

Figure E

Ava Find

Other picks?

Do you have a favorite desktop search app that didn't make this list? Share your recommendations with fellow TechRepublic members.

About

Brien Posey is a seven-time Microsoft MVP. He has written thousands of articles and written or contributed to dozens of books on a variety of IT subjects.

47 comments
ciaomas
ciaomas

hi brien, great post. Currently I am using the filescanner to find my files in windows (more than 100,000 and number still increasing on a daily basis). It main feature is speed. It cannot search content, but is superfast. Check it out: http://windowsfilescanner.com

borabora1001
borabora1001

I've tried a number of these and all have their positive features, but recently I tried a new one called Aikin HyperSearch... very addictive since you basically can type without worrying about knowing the exact spelling or making typos and it find stuff so easily. 9 times out of 10 I find the right result at the top even though I was sloppy or made typos. It's definitely more google-ish than the others.

borabora1001
borabora1001

I've tried a number of these and all have their positive features, but recently I tried a new one called Aikin HyperSearch... very addictive since you basically can type without worrying about knowing the exact spelling or making typos and it find stuff so easily. 9 times out of 10 I find the right result at the top even though I was sloppy or made typos. It's definitely more google-ish than the others.

gpopkey
gpopkey

Having some experience with UNIX I have always felt Windows lacked a good desktop search facility but I recently found a reference to PowerGREP and tried it. It is AMAZING! The flexibility it provides for searching is truly great. It is NOT free (there is a free trial period). It has a graphical interface and can use Regular Expressions and can search through text in file in multiple formats including .doc, .docx, .pdf, etc. as well as .txt files. I have found it to be a VERY capable search facility. It is a VERY FAST search facility. You will NOT see me switch to any other Desktop Search soon. One caveat: I initially ran a trial of PowerGREP on an old XP Pro box but found it very slow because, I believe, it was paging (I may be wrong) but on my Windows 7 Ultimate box with lots of RAM, it FLIES. Find it at http://www.powergrep.com/ Incidentally I also use ls and grep as provided in Microsoft's Utilities and SDK for Subsystem for UNIX-based Applications which is available (free) for Windows 7 Ultimate to quickly locate specific files in lengthy directory lists to speed up my operations. Call me frustrated UNIX user but these facilities keep me operating happily.

boucaria
boucaria

One searcher/Indexer, I have yet to see is one I can use on a USB drive with a lot of files. whether PDF, Word or txt, etc, the capability for myself to use a search tool on my larger USB drives when working on a windows machine, where I usually store my previous fixes and KBs, it would be handy to type in an error etc ( Like with Portable Apps ) and search for a solution I have already come across ( especially if I have the hard as hell to find driver, or what I call the "off-label" use of a driver for another model :-) ).

browndavidc
browndavidc

I like agent ransack. I've been using it for years as well. It is fast, light load, multiple images can search simultaneously etc... I stopped using Google's product because I am concerned about privacy and tracking. It doesn't have to phone home to track you, just record all of your requests. BTW: MS just changed their user policy and you might want to re-evaluate their stuff as well.

Rudi-S
Rudi-S

I see Everything has already been mentioned....but it worth another. I use it everyday and realistically it has become part of my daily processing. I write multitudes of articles and I use it not due to lost docs, but simply for lightning fast access to articles. I also do training interventions and regularly compile articles of common topic together via Everything. It is the best search tool I have ever worked with; fast, simple, programmable with filters, etc ... Truly my one and only!

h.youssef
h.youssef

For sometime now i have been using ultrasearch its clean interface, easy of use and being super quick is the reason that make it an essential tool on all my machines, it searches only on file names but it can accept wild-card so you can actually try several combinations, what make it really fast is that it doesn't index files at all it search directly within the file system so i can find files in a several TB HDD in seconds :) , ultraseach can be found here http://www.jam-software.com/freeware/

remmrich
remmrich

I have been using Supercat since Windows 95. It won't look inside the files, but it will catalog everything & anything and it will filter your search results. Supercat also indexes my Windows Home Server. It is exponentially faster than anything built into Windows. no-nonsense-software.com To look inside the files, including Outlook emails, there's Google Desktop. Google it, it's still around.

Dragon_fawn
Dragon_fawn

Concur with the X1 comments above. I've been using X1 since at least v. 5.2 (i.e. since at least Oct 04) on a ho-hum Win XP box. In all that time, I've never crashed an index or lost data (I've currently got over 35K text doc's, with over 100K items altogether, including PDF, WordPerfect and Micro$oft Word doc's, PPT files, etc. I particularly appreciate the re-sizeable document view (with a LOT of built-in file & image viewers), so you can view files created by software you don't even own, the search-term(s)-highlight within documents and the ability to sort results by a variety of criteria, with all the usual boolean, etc. bells & whistles. Their site (www.x1.com/) still ( I believe) carries some useful documentation such as "X1 – Search rules and operators" and a "Quick Tips" tutorial (http://www.x1.com/tutorial/quick_tips.html) that contains a good deal of useful info that will substantially enhance the utility of their software. Current pkg (ver. 7) price is, I think, 50 bucks; well worth the investment, IMO. --- Disclaimer --- I have NO financial interest in X1, but I AM running the X1 Pro ver. 7 beta, which I got free as a long-time registered (and paying) user. So this posting could be seen as a kind of unsolicited "Thank-You" to X1 for years of reliable, trouble-free help managing an otherwise unwieldy database. -- The Geezer --

alawishis
alawishis

I've used Agent Ransack (aka File Locator) and it's a very good free solution for finding files. There is a paid version that adds a few more features like the ability to search in Outlook pst files for emails contacts etc. If I'm paying for a search utility it would be X1 Professional. I've used it before and it's fantastic. Lightning Fast (search as you type) and works with Lotus Notes to find contacts and emails. If you are a professional using Notes that is a huge plus.

walter.kirsch
walter.kirsch

is my favorite comparison utility - it can even find files that are similar in content. Great for winnowing through many pictures that have a several multi-shots with varying aperture/speed/filter/focal-length combinations. I think it does indexing in the background. Another go-to is FolderMatch.

info
info

I used to be into Copernic, but from my experience stability issues are vast. Indexes crashing on a regular basis. Tried various alternatives, and X1 is by far what meets my criteria best. Happy to pay for it. One note of caution: when comparing software like this, you need to take into account WHAT is actually being scanned: filenames or contents as well? X1 does a great job at the latter. Most of the search utilities will simply stop at the level of a filename.

imsoscareed
imsoscareed

File Locator Pro....an Excellent search tool

mikef12
mikef12

Primitive Duplicate Finder is pretty good.

jonc2011
jonc2011

None of the search tools listed apart from the specialized ones in the article such as Search and Replace seem to have ANY advantage over searching indexed partitions or folders in Windows 7. If I search by file name (name:filename) I can find all files in less than a second on my data drive with 30 GB of data (60,000 files). Even in my unindexed music partition, I can find a filename in half a second. Searching for text within files takes a bit longer - I just searched for "London" on my data drive - Explorer listed the 13 file names including London in a split second (most recent first) then the 800 files containing the word in 5 seconds. Without inverted commas, the search is instant. I doubt many of the apps others are talking about can do it any better, and since Explorer is still the best file manager in many ways, there seems no reason to go past it. The trick seems to be to use an Explorer window to search, rather than the Start button search function, tho the latter is essential when searching for functions etc.

Dyalect
Dyalect

Is a very good search utility and fast.

Kudumi
Kudumi

Everything has been a faithful companion of mine. Does pretty good job as far as searching file names is concerned.

tamir.nof
tamir.nof

Do not forget thta if you add local files to windows 7 library (an existing one or you can create a new one), it is indexed by the OS and then the windows built-in searching engine can serve you pretty well.

kleczerx
kleczerx

Effective File Search (latest version 6.33) is super-fast, searches over a local network, your PC and has an "Administration" ability to exclude or 'black list" drives and folders from the search. I recommend this as the best after trying some of the five programs listed in the article.

bugcrusher
bugcrusher

I use Copernic Desktop Pro daily for content searching, but for file name searching, you can't beat the freeware Locate32. It builds indexes of many GB really quickly, and also you can place the index anywhere you'd like. It also runs great from a USB stick, so is a fantastic addition to your portable suite. Check it out @ Locate32.net

wlperkins
wlperkins

While no longer actively developed, Google Desktop is still available, and their search functionality is unsurpassed. Go find the latest version, install it, configure it, and turn off everything else besides the search functionality. After it indexes your files, you can see results as you type, get previews and click to open any results. Wikipedia claims Google discontinued the product because there was no longer a need. But obviously that statement is questionable.

Narog2000
Narog2000

I have used CDS for maybe 10 years now, the free version at home and the corporate version at office. As it index the content of every file I'm happy it doesn't index every file on the drive, but the folders I chose. Easy to use Boolean search terms to narrow down the findings. Very fast with practical pre-view and easy to open file or folder. The ads in the free version is not intrusive at all. I once tried to convert to Windows Desktop Search, but its user interface was not as easy and clear as CDS. I recommend it highly.

tf76
tf76

I agree with a lot of the comments on here. Everything by Void is very good and I'm also surprised it's not on the list. It's on my list on my Top Freeware site that's for sure.

Stargazer_Ken
Stargazer_Ken

Agent Ransack will search file names and contents as fast as the operating system and hard drive can anywhere on the drive. It's my preferred search tool. It doesn't scan in the background and cache, it's a realtime search.

alainch
alainch

Really free fast and simple ... using search usual conventions. I'm using it from the beginning and I never lost a file. WWW.locate32.net

dt_matthews
dt_matthews

Everything works best for me, the only caveat is it will only work on local disks (i.e. mapped drives are a no go), thats where Locate32 picks up some plaudits as it can work on any drive but for all other features, speed and sheer simplicity Everything is probably the single most useful app I use.

richard.may
richard.may

I have been using AgenRansack for years and recommend it highly. It can filter your search by file name, extension, and a host of GREP-Link wild card capibilities. And it can search for text within your files. It is also able to search through Microsoft word & excel documents, not just text based documents. It is only 32-bit but it is very through.

mudpuppy1
mudpuppy1

including the ones mentioned in the comments phone home? I would hate to have them send info on what is on my computer to some site. Nothing to hide, just a private person.

mannew
mannew

I, too, use Everything and it works like a champ. If I need to replace text within a file or group of files, a simple VB Script is all that is needed for that.

Rob C
Rob C

Yup, Everything is the best for searching for file Names. To search for text within files, I use XYPlorerFree. Even if XYPlorer did not have Search, I would use it as a File Manager (that is what it is, it just happens to have a great Search capability, as well). I shudder when I use Windows Explorer, after having used XYPlorer. I also shudder at the thought of using Windows Search facility (horrible). And you can turn off Indexing on all of your folders, and files, since you will never use Windows Search again. When in XYPlorer (which has Tabs), you press F12 to show or hide the Search panel. I would strongly recommend that you all try XYPlorer. (There is a 30 day trial). |If you wish to use the free version instead, yell out if you have trouble finding where to download it..

Assaf Stone
Assaf Stone

Poorly researched list! I don't even understand how it isn't at the top of the list, let alone not even mentioned. [ol] [*] It is incredibly fast - it brings up results as fast as I can type them (thanks to a good indexing of the drives) [*] Pretty low memory print (19MB on my machine) [*] Low impact on machine startup times [*] Low CPU usage - only initial indexing uses any significant horse power. Next to nothing when updating or searching. [/ol] Assaf

attypage
attypage

--use it almost every day, Only searches file name, but that's a lot with sound name conventions. Even do clean up by searching "-$" It is such an obvious choice that I have to suspect if was omitted for a reason. If so, it would be a favor it the reason was explained.

JackDT
JackDT

I highly recommend 'Everything'...it beats everything else hands down...indexes whole drives and instantly finds files as you type in its search box...I was surprised not to see it in the Top 5 list...

ssavett
ssavett

For the last year I've been using the Everything search engine by voidtools. It's free, compact, and powerful. One caveat: it will only find files by name. It can't look inside of files to index their contents. Available at: http://www.voidtools.com/

Cuffy10
Cuffy10

I'm about to submit the minority opinion here. After reading the posts here I decided I had missed something. I loaded up Everything and WOW......Zippy! Unfortunately it doesn't even recognize a CD/DVD drive, much less index it. IYF just indexed my Win7 DVD without incident. I haven't tried it to read a USB drive but I'm betting it will work. A link to it is posted above and it's free. Try it!

fabiogil
fabiogil

I have used Google Desktop for years now and still works great. It indexes my emails and I can even ask him to search my GMail messages. The only downside is that the index file tends to grow after a few months. What I do is uninstall, re-install and problem resolved. I did find slowness with Excel and it turned out to be an add-on. I simply disabled it and problem solved. I tried copernic but I think the simplicity of Google Desktop beats it hands down.

Gisabun
Gisabun

You're kidding. Right? Google Search slowed down every computer I found it on. As soon as it was pulled, the computer ran fast. Sometimes I think it was a diabolioal plan by Google to claim that Windows is slow and tell people to switch to Chrome OS. :-)

mikef12
mikef12

Absolutely. I started using the free version a couple years ago, sickened by the inept search in Win 7. Now have it installed on XP as well. It's great. I can't see how Posey missed it.

mirossmac2
mirossmac2

FileLocator Pro is an extension of Agent Ransack that does all of the above and, among other things, has an in-built tester for regular Perl-type expressions. Free, and worth a look, anyway.

fedm235
fedm235

I also enjoy using Agent Ransack. It also supports regular expression searches. By Mythicsoft. While it does not do indexing like the other tools, and so does not provide "instantaneous" results, it integrates with Windows Explorer so I can limit my search to folders of interest, even on remote machines. I also like how it saves my search for either or both file name or text.

janitorman
janitorman

From the download page at Mythicsoft: Agent Ransack™. Freeware 'lite' version of FileLocator Pro™. I agree, I've been using it instead of XP's search for years, it's very good.

Ron_007
Ron_007

I've been using it for several years. I use it in conjunction with a good file naming convention. Part of the convention is to use a good folder allocation, and part of it is to add one or more "tags" to the file names (rather than relying on the tags feature which not all tools can see). I found that copying favorites change dates, so I add dates to the file names. It helps me identify "obsolete" files. Everything, in conjunction with a FireFox addon called "PlainOldFavorites" allows me to use Explorer "favorites" (10,000+). Favorites are just windows shortcut files so they are also found by Everything. So when I use Everything, I find both files and favorites. Oh yes, the reason Everything is so fast (it REALLY is) is that it does not "index" anything. It ties directly into the NTFS (NT File System). All it does is filter the total NTFS to exclude / include specific folders.

wlperkins
wlperkins

That's a strange finding Gisabun, because I haven't noticed any performance issues. I am running win XP on an old 2GHz machine. Of course I only use the search functionality. But Google Desktop allows you to turn on a million widgets: streaming photos, news tickers, weather forcasts, bouncing balls, media players, you name it. Performance is really a common sense sort of thing. All I can say is it works great for me, and its free, and it comes from a company I trust. But of course with any software: Caveat Emptor.

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