Where are my car keys?

I had them right here, then I put them into something, and now I can’t see them.  I know that one says Acura, and one says Toyota, but I sure can’t find them.

And that, my friends, is a problem not only in real life, but in computers as well.  We know we have a document – a text file, a PowerPoint presentation, a Word document – and we know that it says something unique inside.  Maybe it has geologist, or autohagiographer.  Something, anyway, so that if you had X-ray vision you could find the file that it’s in.

It’s not a file name problem – the cool tool Everything will find that for you.  This is about looking inside files like a burglar would search for valuables inside a house.

Introducing Agent Ransack.

The agent, who looks a bit Holmesian, is awfully good about finding words inside files.  He doesn’t need to index the files ahead of time, and is quite happy to locate files anywhere on your computer they might be.  He can be helped out quite a bit if you know what sort of file it is, or perhaps some of the name, as well as a unique word or phrase that you’re looking for.  If you decide to search your whole hard drive for any file with the letter “a” in it, you deserve the avalanche that you will get.

To the hunt!  First, download the program (probably the 32-bit version, unless you know for sure you’re running 64-bit Windows) and run it to install it.  Accept the license agreement, let the program install where it wants to, don’t bother with the readme (promotional puff), and launch the program.  You will see a blank search window.

Just to see how it would do, I tried searching for the in all files in My Documents.  And then I stopped it – finding too much (that’s a good thing, but not necessary for this example).

Try two: same search, but only in *.txt documents.  Well, now!

I can probably live with that.  And if not, here are some more things to tweak:

The case (should THE be found when you type in the?), the date it was created (awful handy for searching for old Christmas card lists), and the size of the file (text files are usually measured in K, individual songs in single-digit megabytes, and movies in gigabytes).

If you prefer a simpler, cleaner interface, un-tick the Expert User box to see this:

That mode also has a Search Wizard (just below the arrow) that will walk you through the whole process.  Pretty nifty.

Agent Ransack is an on-demand search tool.  It doesn’t run in the background, sucking up CPU cycles.  You want to use it?  You run it, and then stop it when you’re done.  Nice and simple.

And cool.