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5 Desktop Search Apps That Make Finding Files Simple

Lost in the sea of documents, e-mails, and other data on your computer? Desktop search tools abound -- from a free personal app to a high-dollar enterprise edition.

Most of us spend entirely too much time plowing manually through the tens of thousands of files, e-mails, images, and everything else that can accumulate on just one computer, trying to put our hands on the one piece of information that we actually need. Digital pack rat that I am, I've suffered long enough and have gone looking for some help in the form of a third-party desktop search application.

Copernic Desktop Search 2
(click for image gallery)

In this roundup I've looked at five desktop search systems -- including Windows Vista's own native indexed search system -- as well as four from third-party vendors: Copernic, Google, ISYS, and X1.

Some are geared for personal use, but have no price tag attached; others are clearly professional products, but come with the price tag to match. Most of what you'll pay for -- if you choose to pay -- is support, manageability, and federation of search results, rather than search features per se, although those are certainly part of any for-pay package as well.

Copernic Desktop Search 2

Price: Free for non-commercial use
Manufacturer: Copernic
Web site: copernic.com

My original experience with Copernic's products was in the form of Copernic Agent, a nifty application that aggregates results from multiple search engines and data sources. Copernic Desktop Search 2 follows in much the same easy-to-use mold.

The interface for Desktop Search lets you conduct searches in several different predefined categories: e-mails, music, pictures, videos, contacts, browser favorites/histories, and a generic "files" category for everything caught by the indexer. Mail and contacts from Outlook, Windows Mail, and Thunderbird are all indexed along with any global address lists present in the system, as well as favorites / history entries from Internet Explorer, Firefox, Mozilla, and Netscape (although sadly not Opera -- sorry, Opera fans).

Like most other desktop search products, Copernic provides a search bar in the Taskbar. Click on it and you'll get a pop-up window with interactive results as you type a search term, along with clickable icons to filter the results by a few basic categories (e-mail, media, etc.). Copernic's own aggregating Web search engine can also be used as the default search system in your Web browser, if you want.

When you bring up search results in the main program pane, as opposed to the pop-up search box from the Taskbar, search results are shown in context whenever possible. Matches to the search term within documents themselves are also highlighted -- something Vista's native search doesn't do -- and you can also perform various actions for the given document, depending on its type. Unfortunately, metadata in images (such as Vista-assigned keyword tags or Photoshop file metadata) isn't returned in searches.

The "My Searches" pane of the program's interface can contain many commonly used search criteria, like "Today's E-mails" or "Recent Videos." You can add new searches to this list by simply performing a search and clicking "Add" in the "My Searches" pane at the bottom left of the application window. If you perform a search and get no matches, the program suggests alternate search possibilities based on what's already been indexed.

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