Desktop search: Free and paid apps for finding your data

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 desktop search applications, or Copernic's 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.

The search options are a little complex and if you don't enter something exactly right, you get an incorrect result. For example, you might not realize that "and" is not same as "AND." Given the program's overall complexity, the help pages really need to be improved. It's also odd that there isn't (or at least I couldn't find) built-in help for the mobile product.

Once you find the files you're looking for, X1 displays the content of that file in a preview pane. You can also open a file directly from the results list, forward it, print it or add it to a Zip file. If you've found an e-mail, you can reply or forward it. I use Mozilla's Thunderbird as my email client, but X1 is designed to work with Microsoft's ubiquitous Outlook, including calendar and to-do items, as well as Lotus Notes.

There is one fairly major limitation: X1 can't search content you may have stored on the Web. That means Gmail, Google calendar items or docs are simply out of reach. If you're one of the many people now doing most of your work in the cloud, this program or its competitors are not for you. However, X1 comes with a Web Services plug-in already installed. This plug-in allows you to include the contents of RSS 2.0 and ATOM 1.0 feeds in your searches.

Unlike Copernic, X1 does not offer a free version. However, John Waller, CEO of X1 Technologies, told me that this is likely to change later in the year. He also expects the next version of the program to include some functionality (he didn't give me details) that will allow searching for social media content. Waller promised that people who buy the product won't be stuck when companies like Microsoft update their file types. X1 will send out free patches, he said.

In an era where so many apps cost just 99 cents, $50 may seem like a lot to spend, but X1 delivers value for your money.

San Francisco journalist Bill Snyder writes frequently about business and technology. He welcomes your comments and suggestions. Reach him at bill.snyder@sbcglobal.net. Follow Bill Snyder on Twitter @BSnyderSF. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline

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