As hard drives grow ever cheaper and capacious, keeping track of every file single file is a job suited to no one. Luckily desktop search applications have improved in leaps and bounds beyond the useless Windows file search dialog of yesteryear, leaving users with a wealth of free and diverse desktop search tools at their fingertips. Keep reading for a detailed look at the five best desktop search applications as chosen by our readers.
Google Desktop (Windows/Mac/Linux)
Google Desktop is the only completely cross-platform desktop search application on our list. Coming from a company who's built an empire out of search, Google Desktop indexes and searches your hard drive, email (including Gmail or Outlook), web history, and more. You can start a Google Desktop search at any time by invoking Google Desktop's floating search box by double-tapping Ctrl (or Cmd on Macs), and GDesktop displays extended results in your default web browser. The bundled sidebar is one point of contention with users since it displays widgets (or gadgets, as Google calls them) that have little to do with desktop search. If you're a Google Desktop die-hard, check out how to get more from Google Desktop.
Locate32 takes a completely different take on desktop search than the four other apps in this Hive Five. Rather than index the contents of your files like the others, Locate32 only indexes your files by name and location (you can search inside files from the Advanced tab if you need to). That means most of your searches are limited to tweaking variables like name and location or size and date. Why is Locate32 still popular, you ask? Because not only does it perform searches extremely fast; it also has a tiny memory footprint. Where many of the other desktop search apps require a lot of horsepower to index your desktop and search that index, Locate32 hovers between 2MB and 5MB. While Locate32 is probably not the best option if you need to perform deep searches inside files, it's perfect if you have a good idea of the name of the file you're looking for. As an added bonus, Locate32 can run as a portable app on your thumb drive. (Original post)
Copernic Desktop Search (Windows)
Copernic Desktop Search indexes and searches your desktop—including email and pretty much anything else that lives on your hard drive. Copernic has been around for years, and despite lacking a strong backer like Microsoft or Google, it's still a must-have desktop search application for many faithful users. One very cool feature of Copernic is its preview panel, which provides a peek into files to see what matched your search. Copernic is free for non-commercial home use, costs $US60 for the Corporate edition.
Windows Search 4 (Windows Vista/XP)
Where file search was once the most useless "feature" built into a Windows XP PC, the new and improved Windows Search 4.0 is a fast, extensive desktop search tool from Microsoft. Windows Search comes baked into the Vista Start menu with Instant Search, but you can also install Windows Search on XP. Windows Search indexes files on your hard drive or remote file share along with emails and attachments. One little known feature that sets Windows Search apart: Support for natural language queries like "Email from Bill Gates sent yesterday." Trick is, you've got to know how to enable it.
Spotlight (Mac OS X)
Spotlight was first introduced to Macs with OS X 10.4 back in 2005, and today it's a favourite tool for most Mac users looking to search and access their files, email, web history, applications, and even system preferences. Spotlight even has a few useful but not immediately obvious surprises up its sleeve, like dictionary integration and the ability to perform quick calculations. Its search engine also powers Finder's built-in search tool, so whether you're using the default Cmd-Space or Cmd-F shortcut in Finder, it's always at your fingertips.
Honourable mentions go out to X1 (Windows) and Tracker (Linux). If you've got more to say about your app-of-choice, let's hear all about it in the comments.