File Search Tools

Category: Search-Engines

How to find a particular file among the thousands on your hard drive can be a perplexing problem. Organizing files in folders and naming files according to some easily remembered scheme can take you only so far. If all you can remember is that a file contained a reference to a word or phrase, then these crude organizational tools won't help you find it. You need file search tools that will search the contents of files...

File Search Tools

Searching For Files

Looking for a file? Of course there's the Search function that's accessible via the Start button on Windows XP and Vista. Yes, it works, but because it doesn't maintain an index of the files on your hard drive, it's very slow - especially when searching for keywords inside files. Indexing is the key to finding files in seconds, instead of waiting minutes.

Among free file search tools that employ indexing, there are only two significant contenders: Microsoft and Google. Google's Desktop Search is available in versions for Windows XP, Vista, and 7, as well as Linux and Mac OS. Microsoft has a couple of desktop file search tools depending on which version of its operating system you use, and none for anyone else's.

Windows XP and Vista users can use Windows Search 4. This free utility creates and maintains a searchable index file of folders, file names, and file contents. You can specify which drives and folders should be indexed to avoid building a huge index database of things you never look for (like DLL and system files). This tool can search within Outlook and Outlook Express email messages and attachments. Power users will appreciate advanced search options such as the ability to sort results into categories.

Windows 7 Search is faster than Windows Search 4, and better at fine-tuning searches or presenting search results than Windows Search 4. But it's not available for earlier versions of Windows. It will search across shared files, folders, and drives on a home or business network. If you find too many search results you can narrow them down by date, file type, size, folder, and other categories. Windows 7 Search is built into the operating system; there's nothing to download.

Google Desktop Search uses the same indexing technology as the Web-wide Google search engine. Google Desktop Search indexes all text found in files (including archived files such as ZIP, RAR, CAB, etc.), as well as your email, chat sessions, browsing history, cached Web pages, and metadata stored with documents and multimedia files. Not surprisingly, it's particularly well integrated with Gmail. If what you're seeking isn't on your hard drive (or local network) then one click will take you to Web search results.

Searching for image files on a desktop hard drive is still problematic. While file search tools can locate text tags or descriptions stored in the metadata sectors of image files, most users don't bother to add this type of information to every picture they capture. ImgSeek is a content-oriented open source search engine that will seek an image file based upon a rough sketch drawn by the user. It will turn up images that are similar to the sketch used as query input.

Copernic is a highly rated desktop search tool that is free to try for 30 days. Registration costs $50. Its strength lies in its presentation of formatted documents such as Word, Excel, Powerpoint, PDF, etc. Copernic is mainly used by businesses which deal with many document formats, i. e., law firms, engineers, insurance companies, banks, etc.

Do you have something to say about file search tools? Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "File Search Tools"

(See all 25 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

Bob Friendship
22 Oct 2010

Long before Windows Search utility I came across an exceedingly usefull utility called "Where Is It" by Robert Gaulle. I believe it is still infront of anything on offer now, although Robert would ask for a small registration fee in exchange for his hard work. It is worth it. Go and see, please. It will catalogue all your discs as you wish. (there's nothing in it for me!)

you will love it.

Kind regards to all,

Posted by:

22 Oct 2010

Is there any way to get around the index search slow down? Of the times I've used any desktop search engine my PC would slow to a crawl.

Posted by:

Ted Tabb
22 Oct 2010

The tool Everything at is incredibly fast and efficient!

Posted by:

22 Oct 2010

Bob - the article is fine as far it goes - MS and Google are the 2 main players. Please compare their performance on at least these criteria. 1) resource use of CPU & hard drive, 2) obtrusiveness of indexing process, 3) privacy, 4) realistic h/w needs for not-new machines.

Posted by:

Thomas G Spenik
22 Oct 2010

A free program called "Everything", at, catalogs the NTSF file system and gives immediate results. I think that it is the best. Lightweight and fast.

Posted by:

22 Oct 2010

I've been using 'Everything' by Voidtools, for quite a while. It's quick - will find any file by name, or part of a name.
It is donation ware.

Posted by:

22 Oct 2010

With Windows XP, I have for years been using the free version of Agent Ransack. It doesn't index files (a plus in my book, considering how indexing slows down the machine) but it's much better than the built-in XP search function. It is fast enough for my simple needs and has never failed to find what I was looking for.

Posted by:

Richard Ellsworth
23 Oct 2010

I use "Search Everything"(free). It shows results instantaneously, unlike other search engines. I'm not sure if it can search file contents.

Posted by:

23 Oct 2010

Windows Search 4 is as useless as the proverbial mammaries on a male of any species. I watched all of the advertising videos, tried their go-bys searching for a known item in a known location and came up with zero results. I could not phrase my inquiry in any way to find the required file. So much for MS.
I refuse to allow Google or Yahoo access to my system so that basically leaves me out in the cold.
The Windows explorer search needs a function to look inside a file for a keyword just like all of the search functions before Vista.

Posted by:

24 Oct 2010

try out Everything.. as it search everything

Posted by:

Andrew D-J
24 Oct 2010

Windows 7 search is reasonably good but canthrow up an awful lot of false positives. Today I searched for a document - that in fact I had forgotten to scan in - using the text "A woman without her man" and came up with an unbelievable range of ill-assorted items, such as an Amazon receipt for a Monteverdi opera, and a range of other things which did not and could not contain the phrase (program shortcuts etc.)Similarly it sometimes overlooks the real file one is hunting.

My thanks to the first Andrew and to you Bob, I'll give Copernic a spin

Posted by:

26 Oct 2010

Hey I can recommend a tool called Lookeen! It is primarly an Outlook search tool, but can also search through your whole desktop for every file! If you ask me this tool is unbeatable in speed and capacity! You can check out the 14 days free trial here:

Posted by:

26 Oct 2010

copernic has a free version for non-commercial use.

Posted by:

31 Oct 2010

I'll second the Agent Ransack comment. Been using it for years and love it.

Posted by:

02 Nov 2010

All I can do with Windows 7 search is find file names, then it will let me look for more details in that results list. If I have no idea where a file is or what I named it, I can't find it just by searching for a word or phrase. Thanks for this info. I'll look at some of the options.

Posted by:

02 Nov 2010

Others have already mentioned "Everything" is a GREAT Filename search tool (it does have a couple of minor issues I ignore)! It does no separate indexing, it ties directly into the NTFS file index. It starts by listing all files in folders you indicate, and filters results truly "instantly" as you type. It does NOT search for file contents. I am looking for a file content indexing tool other than Vista search. Thanks, I'll try some of the suggestions.

I use it in parallel with another tool, a FireFox addin called "PlainOldFavorites". This addin ties FF in to the IE "Favorites", which are created as separate "Shortcut" files. So when I search for a file name both files and favorites are searched. This is good for me since I have about 6,000 favorites in my collection. Naturally I use long descriptive file and favorites names.

Posted by:

Alan Wheatley
02 Nov 2010

I'm no longer up to date on this field, but in the past I have advised a client against allowing Google's desktop search on their machines. Users were too tempted by an upgrade that allowed them to search their work files from home, and doing that put the client's confidential data onto Google's servers. Copernic served their needs equally well, was free, and had no security issues.

Posted by:

Harry Lykes
12 Nov 2010

I know there is a way to see the error messages
on a computer. I need help finding it.

Posted by:

Glenn P.
16 Nov 2010

While YMMV, I personally do NOT favor index-based search programs. The problem with index-based search programs is that they will always miss recently added or created files (and may miss recently modified files too, if the program is capable of searching for keywords within files), and this is not the fault of the search program, but is an inherent weakness of the genre. Index-based search programs can ONLY list files in its index, so unless (and until!) the index is updated to reflect recent changes, the search program will always (and inevitably) return inaccurate results on searches for recently created, or for recently altered, files.

Posted by:

10 Jan 2012

Amazing i like this blog, can u review about custom search? or some like that?

I love seo service and blogging and i life with it..


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Article information: AskBobRankin -- File Search Tools (Posted: 22 Oct 2010)
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