With the explosion of Web 2.0 and user generated content, we often find ourselves immersed in an ocean of online information – YouTube video clips, e-Books and magazines on Scribd, PDF user manuals, language learning lessons on iTunes, Flickr pictures, MP3 music, PowerPoint presentations on SlideShare, video tutorials on VideoJug, Wikipedia articles.. the list goes on and on.

Falling broadband prices and faster internet connection speeds enable us to store all this information effortlessly to our hard drives so the content remains accessible 24/7 even when we are disconnected from the web. Furthermore, the average cost of data storage (hard disk prices) is heading south allowing us to stuff all things we find interesting or amusing offline without a second thought.

The next very important question is how do you retrieve that one file when there exist hundreds and thousands of photographs, music files, videos, archived email messages and Office documents on your hard drive? You have an important client presentation tomorrow but the spreadsheet you created last week can no longer be found – it’s not deleted, it’s just lost in the myriad of folders that you have under “My Documents”.

Thankfully, locating “lost” stuff on your 200 GB hard drive is almost as easy and painless as finding the official website of The President of India on Google.com. This is possible through some excellent desktop search programs that are free and dig through your hard drive just like Google spiders dig through the billions of web pages.

Some may say why install an external search program when Windows Desktop search is inbuilt in your XP computer? That’s because the Microsoft software is not as user-friendly and intuitive as these third-party utilities. Microsoft did improve file search in Windows Vista but for souls who are still on XP, these alternatives are recommended.

If you are a die-hard Google fan, you’ll immediately love Google Desktop Search – it runs inside your web browser and integrates extremely well with the Google web search homepage. It’s like a local Google.com for your hard-drive that you can also use from the Google Toolbar of your Firefox or IE browser.

Other than indexing email, chat sessions, zip files and Office documents, Google Desktop Search will automatically log your actual web browser history and bookmarks, as well as all sites you visit while Google Desktop is running. GDS is very fast but you’ll miss the file preview feature (explained below).

Another very useful and innovative email and desktop search software is X1 (www.x1.com) – it’s a standalone search utility supporting almost all popular file formats (including CAD drawings and Visio Flowcharts).

X1 has a unique full preview feature – that means if the desktop search software finds a PDF file containing your search keyword, you need not open the PDF in bulky Adobe Reader, X1 will automatically show the contents of the file highlighting words/phrases that match your search – a big time saver. The software supports real time indexing – if a new email arrives in your inbox, if you download some new music or transfer new pictures from the digital camera to the hard drive, it will show up almost immediately in X1 search results.

X1 comes as a 30-day trial software but it will work just perfect even after the trial though the network indexing features will be disabled.

My personal favorite desktop search program is Copernic Desktop Search – in one word, this program is beautiful. Copernic, with the new interface, is perfect for the home consumer – search results are arranged in categories (like Files, Music, email, etc), it suggests alternatives to misspelled words (“did you mean?”), and pictures are shown as thumbnails in the search results.

You can save your frequently used or long search queries to “My Searches” in Copernic Desktop Search. And if you are a lazy typist, Copernic will auto-complete your search queries – just type the first few characters.

Best Desktop Search Software