Tutorial Windows: Start Your (Search) Engines: Windows 10 vs. Third-Party Alternatives

Finding files on your computer can be a bit of a hassle, since there are a lot of criteria to include, besides the file name. The basic tool that Windows provides used to take a bit too much to show results, especially when the index wasn’t saved. This led to the creation of third-party alternatives.

One of the major features in Windows 10 is Cortana, which at the core puts emphasis on search. She, so to speak, is the first thing you see on the taskbar after the Start Button. Not only does it help you find stuff online but it also takes control of Windows Search, so you can easily find anything offline as well.

Cortana doesn’t replace the generic search engine found in File Explorer, but rather enhances it. What’s more, you can easily manage what and where to look, in an attempt to improve speed. After trying to find some files, we noticed that Microsoft really did improve indexing and the engine as a whole, so we decided to put it, along with several alternatives, to a simple test.

We’re going to try to find some files of several types, size specifications, and locations, but first, let’s shortly review the search tool and its options in Windows 10.

Windows 10 search options and indexing

All your files and folders are cleverly indexed in the background while you’re attending other activities. This means that, when you decide to find something specific on your computer, the search engine already knows where it is but just waits for you to tell it what you want to find. If you consider it’s taking too long, or you just want to look in a certain location, here are several options and hints:

-> the fastest way to initiate a search process is to press Win + S;

-> you can start searching from any location by pressing Win + F or clicking on the search field next to the address field;

-> sorting can be done according to Kind, Size, Date modified, and Other properties like Folder Path, Name, Tag, or File Extension;

-> custom parameters can be added by writing them in front of the search word. (i.e: name: softpedia);

-> search can be refined by manually specifying which locations to index, as well as choosing only a selection of file extensions to be shown, thus excluding those files you never need. This is done by clicking the search field in a folder, and choosing to Change Index Locations from Advanced Options under the Search Menu;

-> custom search locations and filters can be saved so that results are retrieved instantly later on;

-> setting filters can also be done in an easier way from searching with Cortana through My Stuff;

-> when you Change Index Locations, access Advanced settings and switch to the File Types tab to Index Properties and File Content, rather than just Properties Only;

-> you can get more taskbar space by making the search only visible as an icon, or even removing it completely.

The competition: Windows Search vs. Third-Party Alternatives

Now that we know what the search tool in Windows 10 is capable of, we’re going to see how it can fare against other applications. Searching is done for a picture, audio file, video file, text document, hidden file, and a large, generic file, all with the same name. Locations are going to be on the hard disk drive, an USB Flash drive, and somewhere in a ZIP archive.

Since the core function here is search, we’re not going to beat around the bush about what each application can do. If you’re interested, check out our editor’s review on Everything, VX Search, and Launchy.

Before running any search, we configured each application to look for as many different files as possible, in all locations. Although you can see a timer in the example videos, it’s mostly used as a general note, with no considerable difference between the test subjects.

Round 1: All files in a deep system folder

The first test consists of placing all files inside a complex directory structure that’s also inside the Windows System folder.

Windows Search: Strangely enough, it did not manage to find anything. However, this is only to protect Windows files, because once we started the search from the Windows folder, it only took around a second to find them.
Everything: The only thing to mention here is that we were unable to keep up with the application in terms of timing, because results were displayed as we typed, and pasting the whole word instantly revealed results.
VX Search: Although it takes a bit more to configure and retrieve results, this application managed to successfully fulfill our request.
Launchy: It just so happens that we found a competitor for Windows Search. In spite of all expectations, no results were retrieved.

Round 2: Different locations and states

On our second and last test, we spread the files in different locations. One was on an USB Flash drive, one inside a ZIP archive, one in Recycle Bin, one was hidden, while the remaining file was to be found in the C drive, the same one as Windows.

Windows Search: Apart from the file stored inside a ZIP archive, this method revealed the locations of all other files in probably less than a second.
Everything: Focused on speed, the list of results got filled as we typed. In the end, we managed to find everything, except for the files inside a ZIP archive and Recycle Bin.
VX Search: This application takes its time to make sure it delivers what you ask for. As such, we got our hands on all files but that inside Recycle Bin and the archived one.
Launchy: As much as we tried to configure it, this application stubbornly refused to fetch any of the files in this test. It’s a little odd, since it can indeed find stuff, but mostly executables and folders.

In conclusion

If we’re to make a decision based on these tests, Windows Search is a solid choice, and you can rely on it to find almost anything on your computer. VX Search is a powerful competitor, and even if it takes two seconds more than the others, results are properly delivered.

However, in case Windows Search doesn’t quite tickle your fancy, Everything (the application) is our recommended alternative, and you can read our in-depth review of Everything here.