Desktop search tools make computer use easier


Washington : With computers these days, it’s all about search and there’s a good reason. With mounds upon mounds of data on our hard drives, the primary obstacle we face is finding what we need when we need it.

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The irony is that it’s almost easier to find information online than it is to find it on our own PCs. Thankfully, that’s changing. New tools are going some way toward making our own hard drives as accessible as what we see online.

But to make your PC truly search friendly, you have to know how to optimise it for faster searching – and which tools can get you to the information you need the fastest.

Comprehensive and ubiquitous hard drive searching may be the single best reason to upgrade to Vista if you’re considering the move. Vista puts a search field almost everywhere – on the Start menu, in the Windows Explorer task bar, and even in many applications, including Media Player and Internet Explorer.

Microsoft calls this feature Instant Search. What makes it different from previous implementation of search in Windows is that Instant Search gives you results almost in real time.

Open the Start menu, for instance, type in the first few letters of a program or file you’re looking for, and as you type a list of search results will present you will names of programs and files that Vista thinks you’re seeking.

Windows XP and earlier versions do not have the Instant Search feature found in Vista. Instead, XP users must initiate a search by using the Search option in the Start menu or by pressing the Windows key and tapping the latter F for Find. Searches take much longer this way than they do in Vista, and you must specify whether you’re searching for file names or for contents within one or more files.

But Microsoft has made available its Windows Desktop Search (WDS) application ( to users of Windows XP, and with it you can improve substantially the speed and accuracy with which you can find what you need.

Although thanks to Instant Search and WDS, Microsoft has an edge in search for Windows users, Google and Yahoo were in the desktop search game early – and they won over lots of fans. Google’s Desktop Search ( and Yahoo Desktop Search ( are still top-notch tools, and they’re available for more platforms, including Linux and the Mac. Both tools are free.

Google’s Desktop Search tool, in fact, gives users what some feel are the best attributes of Vista – integrated search and a sidebar with gadgets – without the overhead imposed by Vista’s Aero interface. What’s more, Google Desktop Search has that familiar Googlish look and feel that has endeared millions of Internet users.

But it’s the Yahoo Desktop Search tool that arguably has made the greatest strides in usability. The latest iteration of Yahoo’s Desktop Search tool shows you search results as you type, much as Vista’s Instant Search does. Once indexed, searches generally occur instantaneously – or so quickly that results appear to be instantaneous.

The search tool goes farther than others to show you the contents of files as they were created. Yahoo Desktop Search includes viewers for more than 400 file types, so that you can see documents that might be stored on your PC even if you no longer have the applications that created those documents installed.

Copernic Inc., though, has been putting out products that do desktop search longer than just about anyone else. And the company’s latest free product, Copernic Desktop Search 2 differs from the browser-based products of Yahoo and Google in that it comes as a standalone application. But its search capabilities are widely seen as some of the best around.

Gone are the days when an effective desktop search tool can be seen as an option. The good news is that there are plenty of free tools available to you, no matter which operating system you use. Find the one that’s best for you, and get back the time you would have spent searching for information you know you’ve stored somewhere.