Deep File Divers

Today you're just as likely to search your massive hard drive for image, sound, and video files as you are to do a text search. In recent months several new free programs have launched that search your drive and claim to find these and other nontext files as quickly and accurately as they retrieve text-based ones. The programs offer more options for previewing, sorting, and filtering. And they scan the files on your system to create an index--à la Web search engines--that they use to find your files in the blink of an eye.

The six apps we tested--Blinkx, Copernic Desktop Search, Google Desktop Search, MSN Search Toolbar With Windows Desktop Search, and Yahoo Desktop Search (all free), and DtSearch Corp's $199 DtSearch--vary in how you install and use them, and in how they index your files. They each find different file types, and they diverge in how they present their search results. (Our features comparison chart lists the functions that each tool supports.)

We used the new power-search tools to search a 1MB collection of text, spreadsheet, compressed, image, and audio files on two different PCs (see our chart of the file types and controls each program supports). We placed specific terms in some of the test files themselves, in the file names of others, and in the "metadata" (comments that are embedded with the file) of still others.

Our favorite is Microsoft's MSN Search Toolbar With Windows Desktop Search, even though it failed one of our tests. Copernic Desktop Search is the easiest to use, but it also didn't find some of our test files. For searching only text files--and if you don't mind spending $199--DtSearch is the most likely to find everything you're looking for. A familiar interface wasn't enough to win us over to Google Desktop Search, because it lacks the indexing and sorting options of competing tools.

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