Originally published in July 2012. Updated by Joel Lee in October 2017.
Have you ever searched for a program, file, or folder only to discover that the system search takes longer to find results than it does to just go find them manually yourself? I’d imagine most Windows users face this dilemma.
Although there are things you can do to improve Windows Search results, there are some excellent alternatives to the default Windows Search that you should consider using.
These applications are all free and allow you to get your results faster, more efficiently, and some even display more accurate results.
UltraSearch is a creation of JAM Software. They are also the creators of the popular hard drive space recovery program, TreeSize (but you’re better off using these disk space cleaner tools and the Compact OS feature in Windows 10). UltraSearch offers essential search features plus a few extras, all while keeping it simple and fast.
It works by directly searching the Master File Table (MFT). Within the search window, all important file information is displayed. It also displays all of your computer’s partitions and their total size and free space. Additional options include showing folders and/or files in a search, exclude filters, and printing the search results.
If you prefer the style of search from Windows XP, FileSearchEX is the program for you. Not only is the search interface familiar and comfortable, the app itself is portable and uses minimal system resources.
However, there is one drawback: the free version is a trial — not in the sense that the program will expire and become unusable, but the search window will timeout. Open the window, complete your search, then close it. If you do this in a timely manner, you should be fine.
Overall the search performance is OK. It isn’t nearly as fast as the other programs I tested, but I still noticed it was quicker than the default Windows Search and remains a good alternative.
Super Finder XT has a very nice interface and displays search results quickly. Its interface mimics the interface found in Microsoft Office 2007 and 2010. And while it’s not overly complicated, it does offer a decent amount of features.
The non-supporter version has quite a few features available, but the supporter version has even more. To use the supporter version, donate any amount to the developer through PayPal. The perks of this version include are receiving a portable app, excluding folders from search results, using special hotkeys, enabling Most Recent Used management, and selecting multiple files.
As of this writing, Locate32 hasn’t been updated since 2012. Yet despite the app’s age, it still works and it’s still good. It’s free, simple, yet full-featured enough to provide an excellent search experience. If you want to learn more, check out our overview of Locate32. Again, not much has changed since then, so you’ll find everything you need to know in that article.
Everything by Voidtools is the most renowned search alternative to Windows Search. It’s portable so it doesn’t require installation, it’s free, and it’s just an all-around great program.
Upon launching it for the first time, it will scan and build a database of all the files on your computer, but this indexing process is actually quite fast. When typing into the Everything search box, results are shown in real-time with every key you press — only possible because of the smart initial indexing.
There isn’t really an “advanced search” option, but it’s not really needed because the main search is advanced enough as it is. Without a doubt, Everything is one of the best free search tools for Windows 10.
Launchy is a nifty app that’s meant to replace the Start Menu, the Taskbar, the File Explorer, and desktop shortcuts. If you’ve ever used a Mac, then it’s a bit like Spotlight. Launchy indexes your entire system, then lets you launch files, apps, folders, and bookmarks with just a few keystrokes.
Most people think Launchy can only launch apps, but it can search files and folders if you enable the setting. Open Launchy with the Alt + Space shortcut, click the gear icon at the top right, go to the Catalog tab, find File Types in the right panel, then click “+” to add file types and directories that you want to include in the search.
Which Search Tool Is Right for You?
Which one’s right for you? Only you can decide. They’re all solid options, so my best advice is to try them all out and go with the one that feels best to use on a day-to-day basis. If you find yourself reverting to Windows Search, then maybe that particular search tool doesn’t mesh well with your workflow. For it to be a good fit, it should feel natural and convenient to use.
But bottom line? You can’t go wrong with any of these options. They’re all great and all fast at displaying your search results, although some are faster than others. A few of them have unique features or interface designs that may appeal. It’s up to you!
If speed is your most pressing concern, check out our roundup of the fastest search tools for Windows.
What current methods are you using to find your programs and files? Do you use an alternative to Windows Search that wasn’t mentioned here? How do you like (or dislike) the native search in Windows 10?