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The Searchers

The ten tools can do more than simple e-mail and data-file searches; my tests focused on finding that Spanbauer file and locating all files on a single subject (travel books). For more, see the complete description of the tests.

Three of the programs I tried out work primarily with Outlook data: Caelo Software's $70 NEO Pro, Lookout Software's free Lookout plug-in for Outlook (Lookout was recently acquired by Microsoft), and Stata Labs' $90 Bloomba Professional. You can also set Lookout to search for data files on your local system. Five of the remaining seven programs let you search both e-mail and data files. (I also looked at two popular personal information managers, AskSam Systems' AskSam and Micro Logic's Info Select 8. See " Searching With PIMs" to read why they don't satisfy the file-search need very well.)

All but one of the tools found what I was looking for in less than a second, once they completed the initial task of importing and indexing.

Despite some missteps, all ten programs proved to be a giant leap up from the search functions in Windows and Outlook. My favorite e-mail searcher is the free Lookout, and the $199 DtSearch Desktop is my pick among file finders. Here's how each package fared.

DtSearch Desktop With Spider



DTSearch Desktop gives you many options for narrowing your file search.
DTSearch Desktop gives you many options for narrowing your file search.
I could easily see this program serving a reference librarian. DtSearch Desktop gives you more ways to search for information than Windows has bugs. The utility took only 6 minutes to index my test files. By default the program indexes Excel (.xls), Word (.doc), RTF, text (.txt), Outlook Express, Outlook, PowerPoint, PDF, MBOX (for Eudora, Netscape, and other e-mail), HTML, and other files. It includes document properties, macros, and other hidden content in Office files. Even with all this overhead, DtSearch returns results in a flash. In fact, it found my folder and e-mail test files so quickly I had to make sure that I hadn't already done the search and forgotten to clear the results. The $199 price tag is steep, but the search results speak for themselves.

Lookout



Microsoft's free Lookout add-in utility for Outlook lets you limit your search by date, contact, location, and other options.
Microsoft's free Lookout add-in utility for Outlook lets you limit your search by date, contact, location, and other options.
Some of the best things in life really are free. Lookout Software's Lookout add-in for Outlook not only found my test e-mail attachment, it uncovered the test file in my megafolder as well. Lookout installs as an Outlook toolbar. It requires Microsoft's .Net Framework, but this downloads automatically (with your permission, of course) if you haven't already installed it. Loading the utility took only 5 minutes, and Lookout indexed my Outlook files and data folder in just 90 seconds more. However, you can't search the contents of e-mail attachments until you've opened the program's Advanced options and checked 'Index attachments and file contents.' Lookout's ability to search local files is all the reason I need to keep the program on my Outlook toolbar. Searching couldn't be simpler or cheaper.

HotBot Desktop



The free Hotbot desktop browser plug-in displays your local-file and e-mail search results in Internet Explorer.
The free Hotbot desktop browser plug-in displays your local-file and e-mail search results in Internet Explorer.
Seeing your office documents displayed in Internet Explorer can be a little disconcerting; but after the initial shock, you'll appreciate that this free download puts your e-mail and most of your files just a search and a click away. Unfortunately, the program's poker-faced indexing gives you no clue as to how long the e-mail and file indexing will take. The only way you can tell the tool is doing anything is by hovering your mouse pointer over the utility's system tray icon while the indexing is in progress.

The utility searches both messages and attachments from Outlook and Outlook Express--along with Excel (.xls), Word (.doc), rtf, text (.txt), PowerPoint, and PDF files--by default; you can add other file types manually. To index files, you must navigate to and select the drives and/or folders that you want to include. The program took a pedestrian 42 minutes to index my Outlook data, and another 50 minutes to index my test folder. But once the index was complete, it served up the files I needed in no time. That makes the slow indexing easier to abide (especially since the tool is free).

Blinkx



The free Blinkx toolbar searches local files, Web sites, and news sources--with or without your entering a phrase.
The free Blinkx toolbar searches local files, Web sites, and news sources--with or without your entering a phrase.
I've always had a soft spot for the contrarians of the world. Just when everybody says that searching is all about keywords, along comes Blinkx with a free search utility that claims to find the e-mail and documents you want without bothering to conduct an actual keyword text search. The program indexes your local files and adds a small toolbar to Internet Explorer and to your other apps. Click one of the toolbar icons to find files related to the topic of the document that's currently open. You can choose from local drives, online news, the Web, shopping sites, video content, or Weblogs.

The program can also perform an old-fashioned keyword search of files in the same locations. Just click the Blinkx icon on the toolbar to open the utility's search window. Enter your keywords and click the magnifying-glass icon, and your search results from the Web and from your local drive will appear in an Internet Explorer window. Danged if the program didn't find my test file on the first try, though it never did find the Outlook e-mail message that the file was attached to. Blinkx might also make a valuable research tool; it lacks the advanced features of conventional finders, but its scattergun approach is fast, simple, and free.

NEO Pro



You'd have to look long and hard to find a program that offers more e-mail search options than Caelo Software's NEO (for Nelson Email Organizer) Pro. When open, the $70 program ($40 for the basic version) places a small Outlook icon in the bottom-left corner of the screen, so moving between the programs is a snap; NEO Pro also adds its icon to the Outlook toolbar for one-click switching. I imported my Outlook data to NEO in only a few seconds, and the import operation includes automatic indexing of every word sent and received. I found the attachment I was looking for on the first try, and NEO completed that and all other searches in less than a second each. Though NEO doesn't work with local files, it'll turn up your hard-to-find Outlook messages.

Bloomba Professional



Bloomba brings first-rate file-search options that make finding data lurking in mountains of Outlook e-mail and attachments easy.
Bloomba brings first-rate file-search options that make finding data lurking in mountains of Outlook e-mail and attachments easy.
Who needs folders? That's the philosophy of Stata Labs' $90 Bloomba Professional, which works as an Outlook replacement. (The $60 Personal version lacks automated Palm sync, shared calendar, and other features.) During installation, Bloomba took only a minute to import my Outlook data, and the program even warned me to make sure that my antivirus software was set to scan incoming and outgoing e-mail. (No indexing was required.) Bloomba promises not to modify Outlook's settings, and in my tests I was able to access all my messages and contacts and send and receive e-mail in Outlook while Bloomba was open. New messages sync with Bloomba automatically when that program reopens.

In less than a second, Bloomba found the attachment I was looking for, and it did equally well in my "travel books" search. You can limit a search to certain e-mail fields (to: or cc:, for example) and to specific dates, among other options. Two other things I like are the handy 'Delete as spam' option and the fact that the utility lets you save and scroll through past searches. Unfortunately, even with Bloomba's fast and intuitive approach to e-mail searching, $99 is a lot of money for what is essentially an Outlook substitute.

X1 Search



I got a good feeling about X1 Technologies' $99 X1 Search program right off the bat when it politely asked whether I wanted it to load at Windows startup. Unfortunately, I had plenty of time to contemplate X1's civility because creating its initial index, which it does with no prompting, took 25 minutes. You can search during the indexing, but X1 warns you that the results won't be complete.

Following this initial setup, though, X1 lets you specify which file types to index, and you can choose the folders it scans. After X1 produced its automatic index, I went back and manually instructed it to re-create the index, limited to my test folder (and to all e-mail). The tool generated that index in about 2 minutes, and it found both my test files in an instant. I discovered that the indexing picked up my Eudora and Outlook Express mail as well as my Outlook data (including all attachments), and I found that combing the mail from various clients makes locating duplicate messages a breeze.

With X1 you can search by file name and size, or by file extension. Other options let you specify the maximum file size for content indexing (which applies to e-mail attachments as well). But for advanced search options, that's it.

The Also-Rans

the last three file searchers I tested didn't measure up, for one reason or another, to the preceding apps. Knownsoft's $30 Turbo Searcher was by far the slowest of the group, though it supports a wide range of file types. In Enfish Find's free-trial version, the default settings and automatic indexing missed my test data folder; after I re-created the index manually, however, it found both files in less than a second. And Sleuthhound gives you fast searches, but the $20 shareware utility adds itself to your system tray and to Windows' Startup group without asking. Click here to see full reviews of these programs.

At a Glance
  • dtSearch Corp. dtSearch Desktop With Spider

  • Lookout Software Lookout

  • Lycos HotBot Desktop

  • Blinkx

  • Caelo Software NEO Pro

  • Stata Labs Bloomba Professional

  • X1 Technologies Inc. X1 Search

  • Enfish Software Enfish Find

  • iSleuthHound Technologies Sleuthhound

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