Top 4 Desktop Search Tools To Find That Elusive File

Ben 10-01-2009

It’s happened to the best of us – we type up a document, create a presentation, download a program or file and suddenly it vanishes! So now you’ve lost it, and most likely want it back, but how would you do that?


There are better ways than combing though every folder on your hard drive. Simply search for it using a desktop search tool. But if you simply search for “desktop search” you’ll come up with dozens of different apps. These are some of the best.

Windows Search

Windows Vista actually has a decent desktop search software built in. Unlike previous built in search programs in Windows, Vista will automatically index your computer (XP can index, however you have to turn it on manually and it won’t remind you to start indexing until after your search, to turn it on simply open my computer, right click on your hard dive, usually C:, click properties and at the bottom, check the box that says Allow Indexing Service to…) and give you close to instant results.

However, it will not index what is inside the files like other desktop search programs but does consider folder names and other data.

You can also narrow it down by type of file, author, location, and date. From there, you can navigate the search results like a regular folder. To get to it, simply hit Start then start typing.

windows desktop search tools


MakeUseOf had mentioned some tips on how to make most of new Windows Search Utilizing Windows Search 4.0 (Part 1) Read More in the past. Check them out.

Google Desktop Search (no longer available)

It’s probably a safe guess that most of you have heard of Google Desktop Search. It is a standard desktop search software with a few extra features. First, it has a side bar where you can put widgets (namely ones that connect with other Google services.) Second, it can integrate with Google’s standard web results, (i.e) you search for cheese and you wrote a report on cheese, both will show up when you Google “cheese”. And third, it can integrate with (and search) your other Google services (like GMail, Google Talk, etc).

The search interface is the exact same as Google’s web results, because you search inside your browser. The downside to this is that 1. it won’t give you real time results and 2. the preview “what’s inside the file” is limited.

However, Google Desktop Search’s biggest flaw (that I’ve found) is that it is not 64-bit compatible. To install it on a 64-bit system, you have to run a special command in the command line, and some features do not work.


google desktop search software

Yahoo! Desktop Search

This product is now defunct and not provided by Yahoo! any more. So then why is it here? Because Yahoo! licensed X1‘s search program to do this (X1 is an enterprise level desktop search developer and because from my experience, YDS indexes and searches the fastest. It indexes relatively quickly and also what’s inside of the files. The interface is excellent, you can search email, files, documents, music, etc. via tabs at the top of the screen.

When you start searching, it will instantly start showing results with your search phrase highlighted. Click on a file and you will see (to the side or at the bottom) a preview of the file, be a picture or document, with your search phrase highlighted in the document. And all of this is almost real time.

Though the last update was way back in 2005, Yahoo! Desktop Search is still a solid desktop search tool. How can one get a hold it since Yahoo doesn’t support it? Softpedia still has a link to it on their servers and at Yahoo!’s.


yahoo desktop search


The next two programs have a different approach to searching. Instead of taking 45 minutes to index what’s inside of all of your files, they take usually less than a few minutes indexing the names. Locate32 looks like the search app in Windows 95-2000, only it is much faster. Once you install it and run the database updater, the interface is fairly basic.

You can search by name, extension, or location. Clicking on one of the other two tabs will get you more advanced options such as minimum and maximum sizes, date modified (this is good for finding stuff that you’ve made or edited recently), match whole phrase, etc.

Locate32 might not be the best choice for the average user, but is great for the power searcher.


locate 32 review

You can read more about it and check out additional screenshots in MakeUseOf’s Locate 32 review Locate32 - Lightning Fast Desktop Search Tool for Your PC Read More .


The name says it all – it searches everything. The indexing is fast, and I mean you blink and it’s done. Instead of the the GUI options that Locate has, things must be done with tags like a search engine, but for the most part works exactly like Locate. Except Everything will give you real time results as you type, like Yahoo! Desktop Search tool.

I’ve used Everything several times, not for full blown desktop search, but in a crisis where I need that file and I need it now!

Everything also has a portable version, for searching on the go.

everything desktop search tool

That is how I find my missing files, how do you? Is there one that blows all of these away?

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  1. 5T3F4N
    March 21, 2015 at 7:04 pm

    I use Lookeen myself, think it's the best alternative.

  2. Friends
    October 8, 2009 at 9:37 am

    Vielen Dank für diesen Vorschlag. Ich schicke Dir einen Gruß aus Deutschland.

    Thanks for the suggestion. I send you regards from Germany.

  3. kevin
    June 25, 2009 at 4:44 am

    Thanks Vincent. It seems no one has got the desktop search engine completely right. Copernic is accurate and ergonomic but free version does not index network storage devices (big minus for me) while Google does this but is not 100% accurate and not particularly user-friendly e.g. it doesn't show the directory path of the file which Copernic does when you move your mouse over the file. Oh is free so I guess we shouldn't be complaining too much! But we can and we do!

  4. vincent
    June 24, 2009 at 9:13 pm

    kevin, try copernic's corporate version. The have a free 30 day trial. Great GPO options. Copernic also indexes portable media such as zip or thumb drives.

  5. kevin
    June 24, 2009 at 2:24 pm

    I have also noticed that the Google Desktop Search allows indexing of all files on a storage device that is connected to the network (I have a Buffalo SAN device connected to my wireless router) and this is something Copernic cannot do. This is a huge advantage and has put Google top of the list for me.

  6. kevin
    June 24, 2009 at 12:16 pm

    Actually one of the most important features of a desktop search is its search "quality" which is how accurately it identifies all the candidate files. I have compared Google Desktop and Copernic side by side on the same laptop and Google Desktop actually missed some of the files which was a BIG MINUS for me. That was about a year ago so I need to repeat the experiment when I have a lot of time to waste!

  7. A1B2C3D4E5
    March 3, 2009 at 4:22 am

    Vista search is the worst.
    Google desktop is no user-friendly, html base. if i want to search manay items, it is really big task, and it must be online connected, too expensive if you are using 3G/HSDPA laptop.
    I going to download the Locate32 and Everything.
    However, Copernic still is the best.

  8. phaoloo
    January 28, 2009 at 7:17 pm

    Nice list. Locate32 is really cute.

  9. Felix
    January 13, 2009 at 3:59 am

    Copernic is indeed a very capable desktop search offering along with Google desktop.

    I have blogged about these desktop search technology at for those of you interested in finding out more !!

  10. aguelmann
    January 12, 2009 at 3:12 pm

    Just so you know, Locate32 can also show the results as you type.

  11. abhishek
    January 11, 2009 at 5:02 pm

    Everything is the best and fastest out of all these.

  12. Ben Creighton
    January 11, 2009 at 12:26 pm

    In reply to all of the Copernic fans: I didn't include it because I thought the others had a much better free options. To get a full featured search app form Copernic your going to have to shell out $50. Also, I did look at it and did have a piece for it, but decided against it. Mostly because it is older and (as said above) the free version just isn't as good as some of the other free ones. And yes, it is a good app, I agree (I've used it).

  13. vincent
    January 11, 2009 at 9:40 am

    I agree with techandlife and the others, I have found Copernic Desktop Search- Professional Edition the best desktop search currently available. The Home edition is good to and is FREE.

    What is even better about Copernic rather than google or microsoft is that Copernic has an incredible new mobile technology that allows you to search, view, and transfer your computer’s content into your PDA, Iphone, or blackberry using a mobile device

    check it out, another cook product from copernic!

  14. techandlife
    January 11, 2009 at 4:30 am

    Another vote for Copernic Desktop Search. It should have been included in your article.

    • vincent
      January 11, 2009 at 9:41 am

      check out copernic's new mobile plug in, it rocks!

  15. codyp
    January 11, 2009 at 1:04 am

    Everything is brilliant. It finds files windows just seems to have problems with and it is very light on the resources for what it is. I use it over the windows search now.

    • mark
      January 13, 2009 at 8:05 pm

      I really like this app. Light, fast, and seems to do the job well. Just what I need.

  16. Carlos M.V.
    January 10, 2009 at 10:31 pm

    "Everything" works great for me months ago.

  17. Jaded
    January 10, 2009 at 9:49 pm

    I can't believe you didn't include Copernic. I have huge amounts of unorganised data which one day I will sort out. But it doesn't matter because I can find anything I want instantly with Copernic, it searches within the files as well as the name,(because I am prone to naming my files things like jjjk {or any random keyboard sequence) when I'm in a hurry).

    • sjiht
      January 11, 2009 at 7:39 pm

      I 2nd that

  18. Perry
    January 10, 2009 at 8:09 pm

    You forgot one more that is also quite awesome.
    Copernic continues to work very well, and it offers a broad range of files types.

      January 21, 2009 at 3:48 pm

      Ja, Copernic is best by far, especially because of its customization capabilities. You can choose to have it NOT index various types of data, thus making the indexes smaller and quicker. Or you can have it index additional classes of data in separate sub-indexes.

  19. Claw
    January 10, 2009 at 6:49 pm

    I'll give it a try to Everything. I used long time ago Google Desktop. It's useful, but a little slow for my PC with 512 Mb RAM.