Five Best Desktop Search Applications

Whether you have the files on your computer neatly organised or they’re all over the place, a good desktop search utility makes finding the file you need when you need it a super-simple proposal. All of the major operating systems have built-in search sustems, but there’s usually a better option out there that’s faster, has more accurate results, or offers other useful features. This week we’re looking at five of the best, based on your nominations.

Everything (Windows)

Everything originally came out back in 2008 and quickly rose to become one of Windows’ most popular search utilities. Everything’s big selling point is speed — it’s fast like no other desktop search tool at the time really was. It builds its search index while you use it, making it easy to start searching as soon as you download it. Everything stopped development in 2009, and the last official version is still from then, but Void, the developer, reappeared last month on the forums with a new beta version designed for current versions of Windows. So far, it works like a charm, and retains the speedy search capabilities that made Everything great to begin with. It still needs admin access for best performance, it still only works on NTFS volumes and some features have been removed for privacy or performance reasons, but Everything is definitely back. Everything is freeware, although the developer notes he may release some features as add-ons in the future.

Alfred (Mac)

Alfred is a combination app launcher and desktop/web search utility for Mac OS X. Once installed, Alt+Space brings up a search bar that you can use to launch any application on your system, search the web, and search your system for files, folders and images. You can add and remove folders from Alfred’s search scope and use its built-in engine to search for documents, or you can turn on Alfred’s search “Extras” to make it index and present file and folder results as you type. It’s a little slower (especially when you can press space again after bringing up Alfred’s search bar to look for files) but it gives you everything up front. The beauty of Alfred is that it’s an app launcher and desktop search tool in one, but it’s also much more. Alfred sports an iTunes mini-player, built-in calculator, support for customisable hotkeys, and has a wealth of available extensions to add even more features. It’s free, although the £15 Alfred Powerpack (approximately $23) tosses in some extra useful features.

Quicksilver (Mac)

Quicksilver has a long and storied history. For a while, it was the best app launcher and customisation tool available for the Mac, but then development stalled. Eventually, it went open source, and when independent developers picked it up, we were happy. Since then it has been updated frequently, and is still our favourite app launcher for Mac. Even though it’s an app launcher, it’s also a great file and document search tool, and allows you to browse and search your Mac’s file system quickly and with a few keystrokes. Right out of the box, Quicksilver lets you search files, folders, documents of all types, contacts and bookmarks. It can chain commands, so it can search for a file, then give you options for how to open it, or find a file and then move it to a file location for you. It also has a wealth of independently-created plugins that can extend its search and scripting features. The latest versions of Quicksilver are really sharp, and it’s completely and totally free (although the team behind it definitely appreciate donations to keep the project running.)

Launchy (WindowsMac/Linux)

Launchy is our favorite application launcher for Windows, and as we pointed out when we explained why you should be using an app launcher, it can do much more than just find and launch the apps you want to use when you want to use them. Launchy is super-fast, cross-platform, and makes finding files, launching applications, and chaining activities (such finding files and then opening them in a specific application, or searching for a term and then opening it in Google in your favourite browser) really simple. It needs a little time to index before it’s really effective, but you won’t notice it working in the background. Launchy stays lean and trim by cutting out the bloat and other added features that other app launches include, but for the purposes of desktop search, it works like a charm and is super-simple to use. It’s completely free, and works just as well on Mc and Linux as it does in Windows.

Windows Search (Windows)

The built-in Windows Search system is pretty terrible on its own, and it’s not really as useful as some of the other contenders in the roundup. It leaves out lots of search locations and file types from its index and indexing is slow and often incomplete. Thankfully, we’ve shown you how to make Windows Search much more powerful, and many of you noted that once you amp it up a little bit and tweak it so it works more efficiently, it’s just as good as having a third-party utility on your system.

Honourable mentions this week go out to Google Desktop Search. Although this was discontinued in 2011, many of you still use and love even though Google doesn’t officially make it available for download, and isn’t offering security fixes, patches or updates for it. There are various installers floating about the web if you’re still interested in trying it (or still have it installed), and it really is a great desktop search tool, but getting it to work with current OSes can be challenging. Still, if you have it and it works for you, enjoy it!

Have something to say about one of the contenders? Tell us in the comments.

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