Think of the computer hard drive as a large warehouse of digital content. It has your emails, family photographs, office documents, presentations, saved web pages, spreadsheets, audio mp3 files, video clips, PDF ebooks and a million other file formats.

Imagine you have a presentation tomorrow which requires last year sale statistics, the sale figures spreadsheet is on your computer but your don’t remember the name of the folder where you saved it ? So how will you locate that year-old xls file? Well, there are two options to find that relevant .xls document from this huge pile of data residing inside your computer.

The first option (which I would never recommend) is that you open Windows Explorer, browse through each of the folders and when you encounter any Excel Document (ending with .xls extension) – open it, read the contents – if it is the one you’re looking for, you are lucky otherwise close this file and move to the next folder.

Most probably, you will get successful in locating that “important” file provided you  have plenty of time at yur disposal. But what happens in the case when you need the file that immediate moment? Your boss is asking for the sale figures in two minutes. Then you need to look at the second option – Desktop Search.

If you are on Windows 2000 or XP, you already have a desktop search program on your computer, courtesy Microsoft. The program is called Search Companion and can be accessed via Start – Search – For Files and Folders. You can either search for file names or search for text inside Microsoft Office Documents. It is useful in scenarios like show

me Microsoft Word files modified during the last week containing text “Stock Research” or show me Powerpoint files that have “India” in the file name – it will return all files name liked stock-india-2006.ppt and india-talk.ppt.

There a few disadvantages of using Windows Search. One, the Windows native search is limited to a few file formats and second, the search interface is not so intuitive. It also requires an indexing service to run in the background which can slow down your PC if  you have an old configuration.

The good news here is that all web giants have plunged in the desktop search market during the last year. Google, Yahoo, AOL, Microsoft have all released their own versions of desktop search software for free and the stiff competition is leading to lot of innovation.

If Google is your favorite search engine, you will love their Google Desktop Search Tool.

At the first glance, it may become difficult to guess if the results are from the web or from your hard-drive. Google has provided a very powerful desktop search program in a neat, uncluttered interface that resembles their web search layout. Open your browser, type the search query like you do at google.com and click search desktop. You can even search across network computers or search your home hard-disk from the office computer. Some people dislike browser based applications and have more interest in standalone programs which they can just double click and run. For them, I would recommend the Yahoo Desktop Search software which is based on a popular enterprise desktop search tool called X1 by IdeaLabs.

The advantage of using Yahoo DS is that it has a built-in preview engine which lets you see the actual contents of your PDF documents or Excel files without the need of opening them. Yahoo also supports hundreds of file types like Illustrator, Visio, CAD drawings and more. You can also search your computer from the yahoo toolbar.

Copernic is another powerful desktop search software. I am waiting for Copernic Version 2 which is in advanced beta stage. The interface is totally revamped and the new features look very promising. Copernic is also available free of cost. Privacy and security analysts are alerting users to be cautious while using desktop search because most of these programs index every bit of information on your computer. They can also throw surprises like – Oops, I never knew that my credit card number was mentioned on a text file hidden somewhere in My Documents folder. So to prevent these embarrassing moments may have to be a little careful if you are using a shared computer.

If you are corporate user, you can look at Google Enterprise Search or ISYS Desktop Search. They are commercial desktop search engines and provide tons of configuration options so that your data is protected from unauthorized access.

Finally, there is no clear understanding yet on how web companies plan to make money from desktop search. Probably, they may integrate advertisements in the future or club the desktop search results with their internet search engines (like Google desktop and Windows Live). Whatever be the case, the consumer is the winner here.