Desktop Search: Free and Paid Apps for Finding Your Data

Finding "stuff" on our PC can be a drag. If you do basic searches, there are plenty of free search apps, but if you're a digital pack rat like Bill Snyder of CIO.com, you may need a more advanced paid desktop search app.

By Bill Snyder
Mon, August 08, 2011

CIO — I've said it before: I'm a world-class pack rat, at least when it comes to my digital life. With several thousand emails on my hard drive, not to mention thousands of documents, photos, and music tracks, you might think I could never find anything. But I can.

For the last few years, I've been using a desktop search program called Copernic. I like it a lot and would never hesitate to recommend it for many purposes. But I recently came across an even better search program; it's called X1 and it performs some amazing tricks, including an option to connect remotely with your desktop from an iPhone or iPad over the Internet, do a search, and view the files you find.

Not surprisingly there's a catch to all this functionality: You've got to pay for it. Unlike Windows or Google (GOOG) desktop search applications, or Copernic's (CNIC) entry-level product, it's not free. The version I tested runs $50 and if you want to add the mobile functionality, it will cost you another $20.

So if you only perform the most basic searches, or have very little stuff on your PC (this is a Windows only product) stick with the free stuff. But if you're like me, you can download X1 and get a free, 14-day trial to check it out.

How X1 Works

Like any other desktop search application, X1 needs to index your hard drive. Because I have so much stuff it took a few hours to complete the index. But after that, the program is really, really fast.

It starts showing search results as you type, and takes very little time to complete even a complex search. Speed is an important attribute, of course. But to my mind, the program shines because it can recognize some 500 file types and allows the user to construct complex searches using Boolean operators and a variety of filters.

By Boolean, I mean simple operators like "and" "or" "not" and more complex ones that let you search for words close to other words, or words in a certain order, and so on. Filters let you search the dates the file was created or received, specify the type of file, the size of the file, the words in an e-mail's subject field, and more. It's even possible to search the content of an attachment. The only glitch I came across occurred when I searched for a specific attachment in an e-mail that contained two PDFs. X1 found the correct e-mail, but displayed the wrong attachment.

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