Windows Search 4.0 vs. Google Desktop 5.5

Microsoft released an updated version of Windows Search, its free desktop search client the other day. And while there are dozens of excellent desktop search clients, including a few good free ones, it seems inevitable that people are going to compare Windows Search to Google Desktop. Because you know, any time either company releases something kind of cool someones assumes that it's just a ripoff of a product offered by the other. Or Apple.

Anyway, we've been using Windows Search for the past few days and we thought we'd let you know how it stacks up against Google Desktop. Read on for the results.
Google Desktop index


Windows Search gives you far more control over which files and folders you want to index. While Google Desktop says that "all fixed drives" are indexed by default, Windows will only index drives that you select. While this means Google Desktop is easier to setup, it also means that you wind up with a larger index file if you have hard drives and folders that you don't really need indexed.

On our test machine, Google Desktop indexed over 270,000 files, while Windows Search indexed 65,000. Google Desktop's index files took up about 1.7GB, while Windows Search used just 374MB. Advantage: Windows Search.

Windows Search categories

Windows Search does an excellent job of sorting search results into distinct categories. When you type a term into the search box, Windows Search will display a list of image files under a pictures category, MP3s under a Music category, Outlook contacts under Communications, and applications and other items under Everything.

Google Desktop, on the other hand just sort of spits everything out at once, without dividing your results up into categories. Advantage: Windows Search.

Ease of Use

Google Desktop SearchNow, here's where things get interesting. You can launch Google Desktop in a variety of ways. You can add a search box to your Windows taskbar, enable the Google Desktop Sidebar with a search box, or pull up a search box by hitting the Ctrl key twice. Windows Search on the other hand, can only be launched two ways. You can either add a search box to your taskbar, or launch the application from your Start Menu (or other program launcher). Update As Scott Zarold points out in the comments, you can launch Windows Search by pressing Win+F. This brings up the Windows Search application, which takes a little longer to load than the Google Desktop search box. But since you don't need to launch a web browser window to display the results, the effect is similar.

This is probably just a matter of personal taste, but we hate the idea of adding a search box to the Windows taskbar. It just takes up too much screen real estate. But if you want instant results, this is the only way to go with Windows Search. Launching the application from the Start Menu takes significantly longer than opening a Google Desktop search box with a keyboard shortcut. And while you could assign Windows Search to a hotkey, that launches the full application, and not just a search box.

Windows SearchBoth programs will start to spit out clickable results as soon as you begin entering your query. But while Google Desktop requires you to open your default web browser to display additional results (which can take a few seconds if it's not already open), Windows Search launches a standalone application which loads much quicker.

So if you can deal with a taskbar search box, Windows Search would seem to have the advantage right? Well, not exactly. Google Desktop has one killer advantage here: It's faster. When you enter a query in a Google Desktop search box, you get results almost immediately. But if you try the same query with Windows Search, you might have to wait a few seconds. The more files you have indexed, the slower Windows Search seems to get. Advantage: Draw.

Some other things to consider

Google Desktop is more than just a desktop search client. It's also a widget engine and desktop sidebar. If you don't want or need these features, you don't have to use them. But there's no way to install just the desktop search application.

Windows Search 4.0 will search encrypted files, something which Google Desktop cannot currently do. On the other hand, there are a ton of plugins for Google Desktop which will allow you to index files that are not officially supported by either application.


So which desktop search client is better for you? Umm, we don't know. While we give Windows Search 4.0 points for a well organized search engine, and more control over your indexing, Google Desktop is still faster. And we really prefer using a keyboard launch key over an always-present taskbar search box.

Which application do you prefer, and why? Or if you use another desktop search client, let us know in the comments.