There are several programs that can index your files and Outlook folders and allow you to find something in them instantly – a name, a scrap of text, a number. It is liberating and exciting to know that you can retrieve a bit of information as readily from your hard drive as you can from the web.
Read my thoughts, look at the web sites and screen shots, choose carefully – I encourage you to try one of these programs!
Until recently I strongly preferred X1 Desktop Search, which I feel has the best interface and features. It displays the search results more intuitively and quickly than other programs, and search results are returned literally while you are typing the phrase to search for. X1 continues to be a viable product, but its developers are now focusing on search products for large companies and its most recent upgrade has some bugs. The other programs for individuals and small businesses are free; it’s hard to justify the $79 charge for X1.
The X1 software was licensed by Yahoo; Yahoo Desktop Search looks like X1 but has some limitations in what can be indexed.
Google Desktop is a worthy competitor. It also indexes files and Outlook folders and returns search results instantly, on a screen that resembles the results of an online Google search. Personally, I miss the preview window that other search programs have.
Recently Google released a new version of Google Desktop that adds the “Sidebar,” a feature I just hate – it struck me immediately as useless clutter. Other people like it, I guess. It also added a feature called “Search Across Computers” that creates a copy of your files and an index on the Google servers, accessible from another computer. That raises some serious security concerns – here’s an example of the kind of news coverage it got.
Microsoft’s Windows Desktop Search is currently the clear winner. It has significantly improved in the last year. Its interface is clean and uncluttered, search results are previewed nicely, it integrates with Windows and Outlook, and it indexes files on the server as well as on your local hard drive. It’s free. I recommend it.
Windows Desktop Search requires a plugin from Adobe for indexing PDF files, available here.
Only install one of these programs at a time! Each will need to be configured before it will index files stored on a company server, and each will need several hours after installation before it can be used, while the index is created.