A couple of months ago I put the three leading free desktop search utilities to the test to see which one was the best.
The following versions were tested: Windows Search 4, Copernic Desktop Search 2 and Google Desktop Search. The test was done using WIndows XP. WIndows Vista has Windows Search built into it and that is an improved version, as far as I understand, of what I was testing on XP. First to the test was…
Google Desktop has two main features, a desktop search engine that will index the files on your computer and search through them instantly, and side bar similar to the one that comes with Windows Vista, to which you add lots of gadgets including news readers, email notifications, calendar, slide shows… the list goes on. Personally I find side bars distracting and I have enough distractions off-screen without a side bar giving me more, but this feature is easily disabled. Once Google Desktop Search has indexed the computer it is extremely fast to find results in most file formats including Outlook emails. The software can be accessed in several different ways, my favourite method is as a search box docked onto the task bar at the bottom of the screen. As you type a search query into the box the search engines starts to provide matches to the partial word you have entered. What is particularly good about Google Desktop Search is that the results are all shown with a content preview, showing the text that surrounds your search string where it has been matched, this makes it extremely easy to find the very document you are looking for. The only problem I found is that not all the documents on my computer were being indexed. I uninstalled the software, re-installed it and ran a full index and still found that many of the documents I had were not indexed by the Google Desktop Search.
I was optimistic when I installed this given that the product should be as well designed for Windows as such a product could be. Windows Search did index all of my files but it lacked the context to the results on the search bar. When used as a full application the software offered the ability to open the found documents in a preview window so that you could then search for the result inside the document and realise the context, but this worked very slowly. On the whole I didn’t feel that Windows Search 4 made searching much easier than using the search features already built into Windows and Outlook, having used Google Desktop Search I had had a glimpse of how quickly a search tool could work, and by comparison Windows Search was painful to use.
Copernic Desktop Search
Copernic Desktop Search is similar to Windows Search in appearance and in its interface, it does offer filename matches very quickly from a search box on the task bar at the bottom of the screen but in order to get context you have to use the application Window and preview the matched document in a preview window, this was, however, considerably faster in Copernic than it was in Windows Search. Copernic also seemed to index every one of the files on my computer, including Outlook email, and the application interface is very easy to use. I found that once I had used Copernic a few times I was able to use its features to find the documents and emails I needed very quickly.
My favourite desktop search for WIndows XP is Copernic Desktop Search. I found the instant contextual results in Google Desktop Search superior to both Windows and Copernic but the incomplete indexing made it inadequate at the most important task of searching files on my computer. I did check through the support forums but, like others before me who had had the same problem, I could not find, nor was offered, any solutions. Copernic was fast and intuitive, had I not seen the way in which Google presented results I would not have even thought it might be lacking in any department.
My tests were limited to the free version of Copernic Desktop Search 2, they have since released version 3 and that appears to offer “results as you type” in the commercial (non-free) versions, their web site does not specify if these are contextual results or not. If Google added an option that would allow you to force indexing of files and folders it had missed out then Google Desktop Search would be my winner, but at the time of testing there was no known way of doing this.