Desktop Search Tools

2004 saw the birth of a large number of search tools designed to search your own computer.

Given that the search tools in Windows, Office and Outlook are suboptimal to say the least, this new software makes it possible to find documents and emails fast and effectively. Which one you should pick is a matter of taste. We have grown fond of the Copernic desktop tool, and uses this in combination with Lookout for the Outlook email program.

Copernic Desktop Search

Copernic has released a free desktop search tool that searches Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files, Acrobat PDFs, Outlook emails, and all popular music, picture and video formats. Copernic also searches your browser history, favorites, and contacts.

In order to find the information you are looking for Copernic will build a separate database in the background -- while you are working. New files are added to the database as soon as you have saved them on your hard disk.

Copernic already has a web search tool available, called Copernic Agent, and in combination these two programs are getting close to the kind of search tool Yahoo!, Google and Microsoft is looking for. That being said, the Copernic Desktop Search tool also includes a separate section for searching the web.

You may use Copernic Desktop Search (or CDS for short) by launching a separate desktop search window or by using a special windows deskbar.

Copernic has a simple and easy to understand interface. By using pull-down menus you can actually build quite advance search queries. That being said, Copernic also supports Boolean search terms (AND, OR, NOT), nested searches (use of parentheses) and fixed keyword phrases (use of quotation marks).

There is a quick preview feature that lets you see the text in the document without opening the relevant program.

Requirements: Windows 95 or higher (varies according to the different features), Internet Explorer 5.0 or later

Google desktop search

Google Desktop Search is unique in the way that it presents your desktop search results in your web browser, in the same way as regular web search results.

Google Desktop Search supports email programs like Microsoft Outlook, Outlook Express, Thunderbird and the Netscape email client. It will index files in Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, as well as plain text and PDF files. It will also include your website history in Internet Explorer and instant message chats in AOL Instant Messenger. The local Google database will be updated continuously.

Google's own online mail service, GMail, is not included in the file types and programs supported by Google Desktop Search, apparently because of its use of JavaScript. This will be fixed in a later version of the desktop tool. It should also be noted that the tool will only index files on the C-drive at the moment.

Google notes that when users search through (either from the homepage or the Google Toolbar), Google Desktop Search runs the same search in parallel on the user's computer: "If Google Desktop Search finds relevant results, those results are added to the search results page," Google says.

If you do a regular search using Google, the search engine result page will also include a link to results stored on your computer. Clicking on that link will bring up a list of local files with a relevant excerpt of the content of that file, in the same way as Google presents regular web pages.

Alternatively you may click on the Google Desktop Search logo in your Windows task bar. This will bring up a browser window with a special search page. If you do a search using the search form at this page, Google will first list results from your own computer.

Another useful feature is Google Desktop Search's cashing feature. The tool will make a local copy of any webpage or any file you look at and store it locally on your computer. This is the version of the file the desktop tool keeps in its database. You may use this file to review older versions of pages and files, or to look at files in the browser window without opening the relevant program.

The tool is very impressive, and is bound to strengthen Google's hold on Internet searchers.

There is one aspect alone that will make Windows users stop using Windows' own search tools: speed. The list of files appears in a second. Moreover, it is much easier to use -- as easy as using the regular Google search in fact.

Google now also delivers application programming interfaces (APIs) for the desktop search tool. This meanst that software developers can make new plug-ins based on the desktop search product, in practice expanding its functionality. See also: Google gives us desktop search for the Mac

Windows Desktop Search

Windows Vista already has a decent desktop search feature included. Users of previous versions of Windows will definitely benefit from installing Windows Desktop Search though (previously known as MSN Toolbar Suite).

Windows Desktop Search adds new search forms to various Microsoft Windows products, including the Outlook email program, the Windows Explorer and the Internet Explorer. Windows Desktop Search also add a search form to the Windows toolbar, making it possible to search the web as well as your computer without opening a new program.

Windows Desktop Searchlet you search text files, Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, Outlook and Outlook Express emails and attachments, as well as web pages. If you add a special Adobe plug-in you can also search PDF files.

Pandia has tested the search tool Lookout for Outlook for some time now. MSN bought Lookout earlier this year and has apparently integrated this technology into the new Toolbar Suite. Lookout is a very fast and efficient search technology indeed.

Windows Desktop Search also includes a pop-up blocker and a automatic form fill feature that remembers often used personal information. Like the Google toolbar, the Windows Desktop Searchincludes a "highlighter" that colors the relevant keywords on the web results pages.

Yahoo! Desktop Search

Like all its rivals the Yahoo! Desktop Search lets you search for files and emails on your own computer.

Yahoo! Desktop Search covers an impressive number of file formats, including the usual suspects: ASCII text, HTML, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, PDF and Outlook.

However, this tool is also able to index more obscure file types, including compressed files, a large number of database formats and MS DOS word processors.

Unlike Google, Yahoo! Desktop Search does not display results in search engine results like manner in your web browser. This program has its own interface and its own windows.

Yahoo! Desktop Search will try to guess your intentions as you type. Hence the program will start displaying results even before you have typed the whole query. Moreover, this program will, like the Copernic desktop search program, give you a preview of most files in a separate window pane.

If you are using Outlook, Yahoo! will add a separate Yahoo! toolbar to that program. You can search for the contents of attachments, regardless of file type. You may also -- as Yahoo! says -- "view, reply, forward and print emails after you've found them."

Among other interesting options are the possibility to save searches, and set indexing options by file type, email client, and contacts. This means that you can exclude certain files based on size, name or content. You can also limit searches to certain filenames, file types, file size, dates or directories/paths

Yahoo! Desktop Search is based on the X1 Desktop Search tool, and is now able to index network drives beyond your own computer.

Ask Jeeves Desktop Search

Ask Jeeves Desktop Search is a small application (some 750K), but is nevertheless able to search your hard drive for Microsoft Office files, Outlook emails and various text, image, music and video files.

The technology is based on a desktop search tool developed by Tukaroo, a company Ask Jeeves bought in June 2004.

This desktop tool gives users more control over the software than some of the competitors. Hence users can define how much of their hard disk they want indexed, as how much processor power should be allotted to this task.

The search form is integrated into various Windows dialog boxes, including "Open file". Results are presented in a window with two panels, where one give a preview of the relevant file.

Copernic Desktop Search wins benchmark study

(May 02 2005) The UW E-Business Consortium “Benchmark Study of Desktop Search Tools” evaluated 12 desktop search tools. The study evaluated each application along six attributes: usability, versatility, accuracy, efficiency, security, and enterprise readiness. And the winners are:

The best overall desktop search tool in each of these areas was found to be Copernic 1.5 Beta. It was also deemed to be intuitive and easy to use.
On second place in the test, you find Yahoo! Desktop Search 1.1 Beta. The versatility of this desktop search tool is emphasized, and no wonder: it supports more than 200 document types.
The third best tool was found to be Wizetech Archivarius 3000 3.14. It is interesting to note that this tool provided the fastest search time among all the 12 desktop search tools analyzed. It also ranks very high in usability.

The analysis reveals that while the desktop search tools show great promise for significant productivity gains, the technology is still immature due to a lack of security and overall manageability.

Alternative desktop search tools.

[Part 2 starts from here.] Pandia takes a look at alternative desktop search tools that lets you search for files and emails on your own computer.

See also part I which presents the most well known free desktop search tools from Google, MSN, Copernic, Yahoo! and Ask Jeeves.

x-friend desktop search

The German company x-dot GmbH has developed a desktop search tool based on Java, which runs within the Web browser on Windows, Linux, OS2 Warp, Sun and Mac machines.

x-friend, as it is called, will search files on your own computer, including jpeg, mp3, doc, xls, pdf, txt, and will let you sort results by file type, date, size etc.

x-friend also searches the internet, product catalogues, internet news (RSS-feeds), emails and other search services.

x-dot adds that x-friend offers "a P2P-like search in external shared folders of other x-friend users. Therefore, x-friend enables you to set up a client-server environment easily."

Pandia is currently testing x-friend on a Mac. The fact that the program supports advanced Boolean searching is -- for instance -- a good sign.

ISYS desktop search

Another desktop search tool that deserves more attention is the ISYS:desktop product .

ISYS desktop search has a long history, as it was originally developed for MS DOS in 1988 (sic!). To date, ISYS:desktop has been adopted by nearly 10,000 organizations, ranging from law firms and government agencies to criminal intelligence units and large corporate departments.

ISYS in not free, the main reason being that it is developed for corporate power users. Unlike most desktop search programs you may, for instance, use it to index not only your computer, but your whole corporate network. It supports as many as 125 file formats.

There is full support for advanced search queries and stemming, as well as multi-lingual capabilities,. Fuzzy Logic is used to automatically adjust for many OCR scanning or typographical errors that occur when you scan in documents for searching.


Like ISYS, dtSearch has a large range of products that can be used to search text on your own computer, your network, and your Internet or Intranet site.

DtSearch is programmed for Windows and .NET. a LINUX version for programmers is available.

The dtSearch Desktop product supports fuzzy, phonic, wildcard, stemming and thesaurus search options and will display your search history.

Microsoft Outlook and Office files are covered, as are HTML, PDF, XML, ZIP and other file types. You may export search results in various data formats.

A single user version for one computer costs USD 199. Given that many of the competitors give away their desktop search tools for free, this means that this product is more relevant for big corporate users. A five user version for searching a corporate network costs USD 800.

Blinkx desktop search for Windows and Mac

The upcoming versions of the Apple Macintosh operating system. OS X Tiger, will include a new desktop search program called Spotlight.

Apart form this there are not many alternatives for doing a complete search of files on your computer. Neither Copernic, Google Desktop Search or the MSN Toolbar Suite are available for the Mac.

However Blinkx 2.0 is available for Windows as well as for the Macintosh OS X.

One original aspect with Blinkx is that it uses the content of the documents you are currently working on to narrow down search results.

Blinkx also includes so-called smart folders, which are created on the basis of existing normal folders or a search query defined by you. Blinkx will automatically fill and update the smart folder with similar documents from your PC, news articles from the Web, TV, radio or video clips etc.

Blinkx for the Mac will index Word documents, PowerPoint presentations, Excel worksheets, Adobe Acrobat documents, HTML pages, Text documents, Eudora emails, PDFs, zip-files, MP3s, QuickTime files and JPEGs, as well as many Mac only applications, including files from the Safari browser and the Microsoft Entourage e-mail client.

Apple Mac OS Spotlight desktop search tool

With the launch of Mac OS X Tiger Macintosh users have got a really useful desktop search tool as an integrated part of the OS. Welcome Spotlight!

According to Apple, it searches not only files, folders and documents but also messages in Mail, contacts in Address Book, iCal calendars, System Preferences and applications.

The Spotlight search field is located in the top right hand corner of the screen, in Tiger’s menu bar. In this way, it is always available. To start a search, all you have to do is click the icon and start typing. You see results as soon as you type the first letter.

Spotlight maintains a comprehensive, constantly updated index of both files and metadata: the kind of content, the author, edit history, format, size and other details. The content of your files is indexed too, so search results include the contents of a file or document, not just its title.

Note: This is a text only, archived version of "Desktop search tools" first published in 2004. Much of the information on this article may be outdated as it is not updated since long. We made this available since it is still one of the most sought article from old website

Written by: Per and Susanne Koch