How-To Geek

Ask the Readers: Favorite Local File Search Tips, Tricks, and Apps?

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Increasing the speed at which you locate the files stashed in your local directories, hard drives, and even network drives, is a massive productivity boost. This week we want to hear about your local file search tips and tricks.

There’s nothing more frustrating than knowing the file is somewhere on your computer but being unable to quickly locate it. For this week’s Ask the Readers session we’re interesting in hearing how you have increased your local file search efficiency. Do you use special tricks when using the default Windows search? Have you outright replaced the default search with something else? What about file search for files on external or networked drives? Whatever it is you do to put your vast array of files at your finger tips, we want to hear about it.

Sound off in the comments and don’t forget to check back on Friday for the What Your Said roundup.

Jason Fitzpatrick is a warranty-voiding DIYer who spends his days cracking opening cases and wrestling with code so you don't have to. If it can be modded, optimized, repurposed, or torn apart for fun he's interested (and probably already at the workbench taking it apart). You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 12/7/11

Comments (81)

  1. ben trovato

    google desktop

  2. Catherine

    Mac’s Spotlight is always lightning fast! ;)

  3. Wayne

    google quick search box and Voidtools Everything search engine

  4. Howard

    I still use Locate … I find the everything search does locate hard links

  5. Mike

    Everything is my favorite. Light & fast. ( )

  6. Elliot

    FileLocator Pro (which is the paid version of Agent Ransack) and Copernic.

  7. Marlon


  8. Ziggy

    UltraFile Search and Everything are my two favourite search tools.

  9. Qlimax43

    Remembering where i put it (work organized & clear)
    still works best for me though.

  10. Grant

    On Windows, I use “Everything” from On Linux, I use “locate”.

  11. Anonymous

    “Local” Search? What’s that? I never search my own system. I don’t need to cause 99.9-percent of the time I know where all my stuff is. So, for example, if you tell me the name of a file/folder I can almost instantly tell you where it is. At the very least, I can probably dig down to it faster than any search algorithm can. (Yes, I’m not your typical user either.) Quite honestly, I’ve never really understood why people need to search their own systems unless they either don’t know/care about their own stuff or tend to be a bit sloppy to begin with.

    But mostly I hate local searching especially with Windows cause I hate the way Windows is always wanting to index stuff – and stuff like photos that almost certainly don’t need indexing either. Windows isn’t the only OS that does this but it does seem to be the worst where performance is concerned. With Windows, the claim with indexing is that it will make searches go faster. But really, indexing just bloats the registry and tends to save needless log files that never get deleted. (And don’t even get me started on those worthless hidden “thumbs” files!) If you doubt this, just delete any lengthy folder that’s been on your Windows system a while and then use something like CCleaner to find all the invalid registry entries and other junk. Therefore, I try to never use local search functions or at least turn off file indexing. Besides, shortcuts seem to work better when used properly anyway (hint, hint).

    Now, what I need is a better way to search out what app does what. More specifically, what app installer is what? In my case, I probably have several thousand installer packages (files) that I’ve collected over the years and segregated in storage according to use (some are ZIP files, some are in folders of their own, some are as outright .exe files, etc. — and no, none of them are actually installed either). But sometimes I forget what some of them are or what apps they install/modify are. So whenever that happens (and assuming there isn’t a .txt file or something) I almost always end up resorting to searching online with Google to figure it out. But rest assured, I almost never need to search my own system to “find” anything. I can “find” it just fine – I just might not know what it is is all.

  12. selvo

    i use “Everything”
    its a great light weight software…

  13. sdi


  14. Chris

    Google Desktop!!!

  15. sragan5

    You really can’t depend on Window’s search engine for nothing. It’s SO darn sluggish. That’s why I started putting many important files onto the desktop, so that I could get to them quickly. But there were still too many files that at a moment’s notice, I had to find. Agent Ransack saved the day for me. I’ve been using it for a couple of years. It’s easy and very fast. I just couldn’t be happier with this little program!

  16. Jeff C.

    I have all locations indexed. It is recommended not to do this because of of performance degradation, but I have not seen any side effects. I have also run benchmarks before and after and there is no change. Will it work well in your system? I don’t know, but for me it’s great. I can find any app, movie, or even the smallest .dll file in as little time as it take me to type it in the search box (Windows 7 Pro by the way and a C2D system).

  17. CaryO

    Nothing beats Everything. Old and tired looks-wise but incredibly fast and helpful. I install this on every computer I work on and the users always look at me like I’ve just created a new lifeform. “Why isn’t this part of Windows” is question #1. :-)

  18. carmine

    I’ve used locate32 for years ( just as great as XP )

    enjoy the app… and the holidays friends!!!!!

  19. Amin

    I just use Launchy, it’s not as great as others but I’m fine with it… and it also looks great with my Rainmeter setup.

  20. Igor

    I use Launchy. It is very fast and configurable.

  21. Pat

    I find that having a good filing system is the most important thing. Using search to access known files is quicker when you know where the file is.

  22. Frank

    Everything search kills … I love it !

    blazing fast search of every file on your PC –

    if I look for negatives, maybe if doesn’t work on network drives, but what does ?

    and sometimes – I’m not sure why, it seems to need to do a rescan, so can take 30 seconds or so to reset.

    Otherwise, my tool of choice.

  23. Jim Kirk

    Google Desktop – sadly no longer supported. What about searching network drives, what do you guys use?

  24. fake

    indexing is good option for this.

  25. RobZuc

    LookDisk : it’s portable, it’s free, searches in binariy files, gives the context in the results (you can specify how many trailing/following lines to show).

  26. MJ

    As some others here, I never search for files inside my computer. I cut Windows Indexing down to my start menu. Everything else is not indexed. That’s because I’m used to launch programs by using “Win+Keyword+Enter”, for example, “Win+word+Enter” for Microsoft Word 2010.
    For my files I just have them well organized. This one is one of my favorite How-To-Geek articles:

  27. Mark

    Everything Search by voidtools!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  28. nt0xik8ed

    i’ve always known where i put everything and never really needed a program to help me locate anything. it just seems like a lot more effort to open and search in another program than it is to do a few clicks with the mouse.

  29. Arie

    Enterprise X1

  30. anon

    Nothing, I know where my files are. If anything, use run and location of the file, e.g C:/Windows/System32/driver/etc

  31. James Walker

    Dear HTG discussion,
    I personally find the easiest and quickest way to find files, folders & programs within Windows 7 is just to use the Start menu search box! Windows Search 4.0 works fine for me!

  32. IrishIT

    Agent Ransack is an oldy but still is reliable. It will even open files and search through the document for words that you want. Mighty Handy :D

  33. miry-mir

    embedded windows search 4. any result on 1-2

  34. Heinz Schmitz

    Voidtools Everything search engine – I can’t live without it now

  35. Blake Miller

    I use “Everything” for most hardcore searches. But will use the default Windows search for lighter stuff.

  36. Hisa

    I couldn’t agree more with the few who are saying to have a good filing system to begin with. Why waste time trying to find something when you should just KNOW where to go? If you filed it right the first time, you wouldn’t be wasting time and being unproductive in the first place.

    However, when I have to find someone else’s files (yes, people really do call IT and ask us to find their missing files), I do like Everything. I haven’t run into a situation where the file existed and it couldn’t find it. If I believe they deleted the file but know where it may have been, I try Recuva.

  37. Loser

    A small but powerful software.
    In fact, dir | find is somethings used avoiding the slow system search.

  38. Doug Jensen

    I have over 250,000 Outlook emails. They are my most important data to search. I have 32 TB of other data files (16 2TB drives). Really good searching is critical to me. For example, criteria like: “within x words of word y,” “in (not in) the same paragraph as x,” fuzzy, phonic, wildcard, stemming and thesaurus searching.

    Isys does all that and more. There is no serious competition for Isys as the best search software — desktop or on your LAN. But at about $2000/year per PC, it’s not for the faint of wallet. I am willing to forgo other things in my life to save up that annual license fee — it’s that good and valuable to me.

    My vote for second — and by far the most cost-effective – place goes to dtSearch, much less expensive than Isys at $199 but with lots more features than the other programs people are recommending, like fuzzy, phonic, wildcard, stemming and thesaurus search options (available for Linux and your web site, too).

    I also like X1 Pro for my resource-poor netbook.

  39. Archaeopteryx

    Ava Find

  40. joss

    For Windows – you can’t beat X1

  41. Bill


  42. Greg in Texas

    Regular expressions in XYPlorer.

  43. Eugene

    Total Commander’s internal search tool.

  44. superfahd


    Launchy Every Time! nuff said!

  45. Sandy

    I use a free utility called FileSearchEX from Intuitive, easy to use, lightning fast and free for non-commercial use. What more could you want?

  46. dysert

    Everything is a must-have. I load it on every Windows machine I work on.

  47. JT

    My important files (workout text files, system tool software icons, newly downloaded DVD covers to print and delete) go on my desktop

    All dated stuff…into my documents with a title telling me exactly what it is

    Why would I need to search?

  48. Marno228

    Everything !!!

  49. Austin

    Well, I may be young but I imagine that my way to keep my files in check is by haveing a file that was made as an index eg: file’s with colledge work are numbered in order in index with c1-c741 and i have one file named C#list and I open that for anything that i may be looking for with the titles all listed in neat sections in the document. It does seem long n painfull but maybe thats just me and it seems to keep my work up to date and organized just fine.

  50. Smike

    I use SearchMyFiles from Piriform.

    It’s free, and does everything that Windows Search used to do in XP, and more useing an improved version of the XP file search interface

    The standard search facilities in W7 are a huge step backwards. If you want to search by combinations of date range,file size, file type, etc etc, W7 makes you go back thirty years to a bolean algebra interface.

  51. John

    I use my mind to locate my files. Most cases I know what drive and folder of all my files. I have 4T (4ea 1T drives). Each drive has own use like music, movies, programs,ebooks and data. Movies and music has their own drive. But ebooks,data, and emails share a drive. Most of time I do not know how to ask the question to find my file or programs.

  52. Celie

    I was fine when I had Windows XP and could find anything myself, but Windows 7 is horrible so will take a look at Locate.

  53. Rich

    “Everything.” Small, fast and light. And it finds everything, everywhere, even on external USB drives. And did I mention FAST!?!?

  54. Guidez

    I combined Launchy and Everything together so I use the ALT-TAB command then search for files! It’s very practical and fast.

  55. Ysl

    I confirm : Everything is my favorite. Light & VERY fast. ( )

  56. skilletrocks

    I use everything

  57. AJ Nok

    Indeed, You really can’t depend on Window’s search engine.

    I use Rocket Retriever for instant results. Marvelous!!

  58. c-roc

    Everything cause Google Desktop is dead!

  59. Fred

    I use “file finder” which is a component of the Windows Explorer replacement utility, Power Desk 8.0

    Works great for me.

  60. Neelanshu Jain

    My one and only favourite that I suggest to each of my friend : “Everything”.

    Its the best and perfect search tool for my 5.5TB storage, just had to save the files with proper names.

  61. David

    Indexing by filename
    Locate32 for quick search for that file whose location I can’t quite remember- or for finding odd files created in odd locations by installations – e.g. that downloaded msi.. and it’s better than Everything ‘cos it adds file content search (non-indexed). However, as it doesn’t automatically update, a quick re-index is needed to find recently added files.

    Indexing by content
    Google Desktop has ceased being supported – such as its support was. And it is a limited indexer compared to Copernic, which I therefore use.

    But, with the Omnipage GDS Indexer plugin, Google Desktop search still rules for scanned text documents (or similar).

  62. mjtowen

    used X1 since year dot, beats everything

  63. Brett

    THANK YOU Anonymous!!!

    At last, someone else who thinks like me. Ditto to all you wrote.

    I use a DATA directory on my D: drive (1Tb) which holds all my data files, and identified by the sub-directories : Client Data, Downloads (absolutely everything ever downloaded), ePub Books, Excel, Executables, Fatal1ty, JPG’s, Misc, MP3’s (my music), Movies (from the PVR), Nokia Backups (old phone data), PDF Files, PICAXE Source Code (microproc code), Picture Files (not JPG’s), Powerpoint, Projects, Protek 506 Datalog, Publisher, Security Footage (surveillance camera files), Sound Files (non music), Text Files, Utilities, Video Files (non-security), Word Docs, and ZIPs. The titles speak for themselves, anyone reading this could find my Excel models – or should. Also, below these subdirectories are logical groups of folders applicable to the type of work done; under D:\DATA\Excel are 14 folders named by client or spreadsheet type. Easy, and certainly easier than trying to find where Microsoft want to put them.

    The applications all need tweaking to point to these places, and obviously as a Microsoft Office user, these are set up in Word, Excel, etc. It only needs doing once and bypasses Microsofts horrible library system.

    The beauty is the ease of file location and also backing up. Everything is under D:\DATA, so I can back this up to an external drive which for $60 a year, lives in the local CBA vault. Being a 2Tb drive ($13 dearer than the 1Tb model… watch for that) allows for an entire drive backup which gets done about once a year and a D:\Data backup is done about monthly (with interim backups to memory stick). The ease of finding data lies within the logiical layout. While my directory names may or may not encompass everyone elses needs, it is a good start, and I oonly have a very small area to look in to locate anything.

    Lastly, seeing I use an SSD for my C: drive, the cost does not allow me to keep data there – I have 130ish Gb, and the SSD is smaller than this alone. It is obviously reserved for system files and some executables. The assumption that data lives on a C: drive is old hat in these days of (sometimes necessarily) smaller C: drives. Of course, if you are not using an SSD or small C: drive, this does not apply.

    So, thanks Anonymous – well said, I’m with you.

  64. B Thomas

    I use a file I have been using for years. It is called Ava Find. Other search apps just don’t compare to the speed of this program for me.

  65. rashad

    Locate32 :- fast, small footprint – the database updater is just as light. I am tired of all-singing, all-dancing software.

    Sometimes you just don’t want the ginsu knives…

  66. Patrick McDonald


  67. Dennis

    Id like to say that I agree with Anonymous’ HUGE post, I know exactly where everything is that I need or that I have put on my hard drive, I can’t ever think of a time when I have downloaded anything and didn’t know where it went, I make specific folders for downloading specific file types, for instance, a plain old folder called “dl” for just random things, or a folder called “MP3s” for music, and so on, I just like organizing, it makes like much less troublesome and frustrating, Computer using is much more than just a tool, it’s a hobby of mine, all aspects from gaming to trying every type of OS that a PC can use, ive never used Mac because I don’t have a Mac capable computer, ive tried basicly Windows and Linux and for different reasons love both, and both are pretty easy to configure for file storage. I usually let Linux download all files to the “download” folder and then move them where I want them on my own, I do this sometimes in Windows as well, it just makes it that much easier not having to look into multiple folders wondering where something is, that way you can put what you just downloaded/transfered to your computer into the folders you want at your leisure.

  68. Mohan

    I just use the built in one on Windows 7, works for what I need to do. On Ubuntu I usually use locate or the one that is in Nautilus.

  69. Mikayah

    I agree with Pat. A good filing system enhances getting to a file easier. I throw any files not categorized but suitable for later viewing into a ‘trivia’ folder which is the last place I look for a file if all else fails.

  70. mjgoulet

    I use “Everything”. It searches all attached drives and gives instantaneous results.

  71. Tom

    Everything superfast and supereasy

  72. Daryl

    Copernic Desktop Search Professional. For serious indexing and locating of thousands of files by name or content, this can’t be beaten. Costs a bit, but a real asset if you are a researcher or student. Make sure you turn off Windows indexing – slows the computer way more than Copernic, and is vastly inferior.

  73. herman

    everything-and all

  74. Baradoch

    I use the following four folder names:


    Everything is organized in one of those places (including sub-folders). If I need a file about a client, the path is easier to follow than using a search tool. Also, my Outlook folders use the same heirarchy as my file system, and yes, you will see the same structure in my paper files. Keeps things simple, easy to find, and I don’t need a search tool slowing down my system.

  75. gldvorak

    I use Krusader on Linux because you can tell it where NOT to search.

  76. clmlbx

    “Everything” is very fast and light to use.. no installation nothing .. scans/indexes 500 GB Hard-disk in less then a minute

  77. wblake

    Previously Copernic in Windows, especially with Network Drives. Presently Windows 7 search.
    Presently the Gnome Desktop search in Ubuntu, occasionally supplemented with the search tools in Konqueror or Dolphin.
    Adobe Acrobat reader has a good search tool for PDF files for both Linux and Windows.
    tried and true find -exec grep \{ \} \; has uses from the bash shell in Linux and Cygwin.

  78. Bran

    Find and Run Robot. It’s like Launchy, but better.

  79. John Lenihan

    Everything from Void Tools Is by far the best and fastest file finder.
    I have been using the program for yrs.

  80. Matt

    WinGREP or GREP

  81. pcunite

    FileSearchEX … the voidtooles utility is cool but does not work in LUA environments … breaks security.

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