What is Desktop Search?

An enthusiastic customer recently sent us an email:

Hi guys, please include the keywords “desktop search” on your home page so people may actually find your product when searching for a desktop search program. (All your competitors are named things like Google|Yahoo|Windows Desktop Search.)

Hope this little tip will help you and your users!

It’s really nice to receive comments like this, people WANT us to be found, but I’ve never really thought about FileLocator Pro or Agent Ransack as Desktop Search products. So, what is Desktop Search? A quick search of the Internet highlights a large number of different uses:

Desktop Search vs Mobile Search: Distinguishing between Internet searches that are performed by someone sitting at a traditional Desktop computer as opposed to someone searching the Internet using a mobile device such as a smart phone.

Desktop Search vs Internet Search: Distinguishing between someone searching files on a local computer as opposed to someone searching the Internet.

Other: And then you get some examples that really confuse the terminology. Bing Desktop is a Microsoft desktop app that allows people to quickly search the Internet, via their desktop. Google Desktop Search is (was) a desktop app written by Google for searching files on their local computer.

So, what do I think Desktop Search is? Well, let’s break it down…

What’s the Desktop?

Microsoft begins The desktop (overview) by defining the desktop as:

“…the main screen area that you see after you turn on your computer and log on to Windows”

but the concept of the desktop is quite fundamental in the Windows API since it’s the root of the Shell’s namespace. To work with objects in the shell you normally get hold of the desktop with a call to SHGetDesktopFolder and use that to to get hold of an objects interfaces for manipulating the object.

That ‘root’ concept of a Desktop is what I take for my definition, thus I consider a Desktop Search is one that searches ALL local files on a computer.

What’s Search?

Although this seems obvious, I think there’s an important constraint of a Desktop Search that doesn’t exist with other searches in that a Desktop Search should be a near instant search. The only way to achieve this sort of search speed is by using an indexed search. I won’t go into the pros and cons of indexed searching but it is an important constraint.

What does Wikipedia say?

Wikipedia has a definition I think is fairly accurate:

Desktop search tools search within a user’s own computer files as opposed to searching the Internet. These tools are designed to find information on the user’s PC, including web browser history, e-mail archives, text documents, sound files, images, and video.

One of the main advantages of desktop search programs is that search results are displayed quickly due to the use of proper indexes.


So while FileLocator Pro and Agent Ransack can search ALL files on the Desktop and FileLocator Pro v8 will be able to search using indexes I don’t think we can really label the products as Desktop Search. I prefer the term Data Discovery, which I really do think accurately describes the products.

Note: Whenever FileLocator Pro v8 is mentioned I feel compelled to reassure customers that anyone who buys or has bought FileLocator Pro in 2015 will be eligible for a free upgrade to FileLocator Pro v8.