NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, March 2005
Simple But Powerful Tools Find Misplaced PC Files
by Gabe Goldberg
(click to email author)

As PCs have gotten more powerful in every dimension faster processors, larger memories, and (especially) giant hard drives -- software developers have kept pace by bloating their applications. Where PCs once ran happily with 10 megabyte (not gigabyte!) disk drives, now most applications are many times that size, containing hundreds or thousands of files. As applications proliferate and users create their own blizzards of data files (documents, pictures, sound and video files, etc.) PC files become needles in a haystack.

Or, more annoyingly accurate, PCs are like gigantic haystacks hiding needles, since a PC's pile of files is always much more visible than the one file that's missing. Windows versions include a built-in tool for locating files. It's sometimes called Search and sometimes called Find; I guess that Finding sounds more optimistic than Searching. But they share problems: they don't search inside all filetypes (files' types are the second part of their names, what follows the dot, such as "doc" for Microsoft Word files), they don't always find all copies of files, they may completely skip files, and they run slowly.

Picking a file search tool is like choosing a Web browser or your favorite ice cream flavor: a matter of very personal taste. The search tool (or browser or ice cream) you favor matters less than your knowing about choices.

Sometimes it's hard to escape an already-made choice, to try the unfamiliar -- though the pleasure of discovering a new favorite flavor helps the process along. This article describes two powerful utilities that can be your PC's lost-and-found. But remember that many other choices are available on software download sites such as http://www.tucows.com/.

Agent Ransack (a free download) and FileLocator Pro ($25), near-twin-brother file-find utilities, greatly surpass Windows' native tools: they're faster, friendlier, more flexible, and more accurate. Both programs are easy downloads (less than two megabytes) and install by simply executing the downloaded .exe file. They offer many tasty features. For example...

1) They display file lines containing your search string with their filenames: an overdue facility, and much more useful than displaying only filenames!

2) They can search multiple unrelated (non-nested) folders: what a concept, and so much better than having to repeat searches!

3) They can save and reuse search criteria. So if you ever repeat file searches -- for example, to find all files containing your family name -- you'll save time.

4) They allow saving and printing lists of files found: very helpful if a file search is the first step in a larger process which manipulates found files.

5) Both programs provide basic and expert interfaces. This choice allows using only simple search functions or enabling more detailed search criteria.

6) The programmer's tool "regular expressions" provide a more powerful wildcard notation than "*" for specifying matching search strings and filenames. Nearly everyone gets along just fine without using these, but people who like them *really* like them.

You'll be encouraged to register Agent Ransack. This is optional but a friendly gesture towards the developer who makes the program available.

Big brother FileLocator Pro -- whose registration cost includes a year of updates -- adds several features: it searches additional filetypes (PDF, ZIP, etc.); it displays found file lines as they appear in the file, with customizable numbers of lines above and below each one; it allows immediate inspection of found files with a built-in viewer or tailorable external editor; it provides a detailed status line with found-file statistics; and it's programmable via scripting and plug-ins.

While it's perhaps a little unfashionable, I appreciate the 24-page FileLocator Pro manual. Full of screenshots illustrating basic and advanced facilities, it's a quick read revealing tips and nuggets that might otherwise be missed.

After paying for and downloading FileLocator Pro, you'll be given a registration key that enables using the program past the free evaluation period. You'll apply the key by executing a small registry update file or by copying a string from an e-mail into a dialogue box. Note that while you're safe executing the registry update file from a trusted vendor, caution is required with such files and they should *not* be accepted and executed from strangers.

A minor oddity is that invoking either product via right-clicking a folder in Windows Explorer -- a handy facility -- starts a new copy of the search tool rather than making an open copy the active window.

Until PCs can read our minds and do what we want without detailed instructions, tools like Agent Ransack and FileLocator Pro are great productivity enhancers. And don't neglect options available in Windows built-in search tools: they can tailor and refine searches to be more effective.

Company: Mythic Software
Programs: Agent Ransack, FileLocator Pro
URL: http://www.mythicsoft.com
Price: Free (Agent Ransack); $25 (FileLocator Pro)
OS: Windows 95 or newer

This article appeared originally on AARP's Computers and Technology Web site, <http://www.aarp.org/computers>. (c) AARP 2004. Permission is granted for reprinting and distribution by non-profit organizations with text reproduced unchanged and this paragraph included.

There is no restriction against any non-profit group using this article as long as it is kept in context with proper credit given the author. The Editorial Committee of the Association of Personal Computer User Groups (APCUG), an international organization of which this group is a member, brings this article to you.

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