One of the things I like best when using OS X is the Spotlight tool. You can click a magnifying glass in the corner, and search for apps, files, anything. Windows 7's Start Menu search tool is similar. Does Ubuntu have anything like this?

Gnome Do has some similarities, but it's really more about doing things than searching for things. Something with a panel applet like Spotlight would be ideal.

  • I've posted a more applicable answer as the situation has changed for 11.04 Natty Narwhal. You might consider accepting it :) – Ingo Apr 9 '11 at 13:39
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    @Ingo: Awesome! I will make that the accepted answer once 11.04 comes out. Until then, I think answers for previous versions of Ubuntu will be more useful to visitors. – Matthew Apr 11 '11 at 1:17
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    I think you'll be happy whith recoll lens: askubuntu.com/questions/38772/…. It's great. – user178482 Jul 26 '13 at 2:45
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    @Closevoters Why would this question be considered as too-broad? It is asking for a specific software which sits in the panel and allows one to search for files, applications and everything else. There is a specific task laid out in the question which should be functionally similar to Spotlight. If this question is too-broad in your opinion, then consider all the question tagged as software-recommendation to be too-broad as well. – Aditya Apr 22 '14 at 11:42
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    Moreover the question is completely applicable as of today, since not all the desktop environments are Unity which come with dash built-in... So, people using other desktop environments would find this question to be very valuable. – Aditya Apr 22 '14 at 11:44

13 Answers 13


Unity Dash

From 11.04 to 17.04 (Unity), Ubuntu had an even better solution built in: The Dash!


With the dash you can do all kind of cool stuff, such as:

  • Search through your files
  • Find installed and available applications
  • Run commands
  • There will be many more features in the future, as the dash is extendible through so called "lenses". These will allow you, for example, search Ask Ubuntu right from your desktop.

Just hit Super to open it in 11.04!

For more information, check out this link.

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    It is super slow. Not even closer to Mac OS X spotlight – jerrymouse Apr 20 '13 at 15:07
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    Did you try 13.04? It got much better, at least on my system. That's not to say it isn't improvable, though. – Ingo Apr 20 '13 at 17:13
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    Seems to have lost the ability to search in file in 16.04 – scruss Aug 20 '16 at 16:23
  • Can you use it on the command line like mdfind? – Raffi Khatchadourian Nov 10 '17 at 20:42


Cardapio is exactly what I was looking for. You'll have to install TrackerDownload tracker, start it, then enable the "File Search" plugin from Cardapio.

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    Cardapio is awesome. Recommended. – Coc Feb 10 '12 at 5:07


Deskbar is probably the closest application, as far as the user interface goes, to spotlight.

Click here to install.


It has a number of backends, allowing you to search for files, launch applications, search the web, and a lot more.

  • What does it use to index files? In the past I've always associated this with Beagle. – ændrük Oct 11 '10 at 21:26
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    Unfortunately, if you want "search-as-you-type" you need Beagle as a backend to index the files. Without Beagle, it launches gnome-search-tool. – andrewsomething Oct 11 '10 at 21:31
  • This is probably the closest to what I was looking for, so I'll accept it as the answer, but it's not really good enough for me. Like andrewsomething said, it's not really "search-as-you-type" (Beagle is defunct), and the whole thing feels kind of clunky. But it's the closest out of the answers suggested here. – Matthew Oct 14 '10 at 15:47
  • What icon theme are your monochrome panel icons from? They're purrty. – Matthew Oct 16 '10 at 18:14
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Beagle or Tracker for Ubuntu. For Kubuntu, Strigi.

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    Thanks! Beagle appears to be dead, and is not in Maverick: lists.ubuntu.com/archives/ubuntu-mono/2010-May/023656.html . I installed Tracker, but I'm still looking around for an lightweight search-as-you-type front-end for it, preferably as a panel applet. Any suggestions? – Matthew Oct 11 '10 at 21:12
  • Update: Cardapio provides a good front-end for Tracker (among other things). See the accepted answer. – Matthew Oct 18 '10 at 17:29

Tracker seems to fit your needs, and 0.8 and beyond is overall awesome.

You can install it with sudo apt-get install tracker. Once installed run from Dash with "Search and indexing" or from CLI tracker-preferences to adjust preferences., and issue tracker control -s to start indexing, or wait for it to index your files when your system is idle. tracker-needle is the graphical search tool, and there are various CLI tools that you can discover by typing tracker- and hitting the Tab key twice. Also run just tracker to see a list of available commands.

  • I like tracker, very through and efficient. It also integrates with the optional deskbar applet (which resembles mac os x spotlight). You could also try beagle search as well. – NightwishFan Oct 16 '10 at 12:23
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    Beagle developed stopped some time ago, if I'm not mistaken. Tracker is really the only proper tool nowdays. – Dante Ashton Oct 16 '10 at 12:32
  • @NightwishFan: I thought only Beagle worked with the deskbar applet. Are you sure it works with Tracker, too? – Matthew Oct 16 '10 at 15:19
  • Tracker and Beagle do the same thing. – NightwishFan Oct 16 '10 at 20:26
  • Great, this sounds like what I was looking for, although I've hit a few snags so far - didn't start indexing automatically (left it overnight), so I had to manually start it with 'tracker-control -s' this morning. Also I set the notification icon to appear when indexing but it doesn't. Otherwise is looking good so I'll give it a try. – jaminday Oct 16 '10 at 23:55

Gnome-do has an official plugin called 'Files and Folders' which indexes any directories you add to its configuration.

To enable it:

  • Summon gnome-do (win+space)
  • Click the arrow in top right and choose preferences
  • Plugins tab under official plugins tick Files and Folders to enable it
  • Click configure to choose the folders you want indexed (I have Desktop, Documents, Downloads)
  • You can then summon gnome-do and type the name of a file or its extension, e.g. 'mov' to see all movie files (with thumbnails)

Of course gnome-do has a wealth of other functionality built in and through plugins. Well worth a look.


I found a search indicator similiar to Mac Spotlight, name is Indicator Synapse. I copied quote from noobslab.com

It creates virtual index of files and items which are on the system. It is designed to access files and items quickly. It also has ability to search in online dictionary/knowledge engine (WolframAlpha) and web.

Indicator Synapse It only works with Unity Ubuntu 12.04/12.10/13.04/13.10 and Gnome Classic

To install Indicator Synapse, open Terminal by press Ctrl + Alt + T and copy the following commands to terminal

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:noobslab/apps
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install indicator-synapse

After installation is finished, log out and log in back to see indicator synapse on the panel


If you're using Gnome (Ubuntu), then you could give Tracker a try. It's not perfect, but to my experience I don't notice that it's running in the background which I like a lot!

Tracker is available in the Ubuntu Software Centre, just look for it and install it.

It comes with a Gnome panel applet so that you can search directly from the top or bottom panel.

I said it ain't perfect because sometimes it doesn't find back some files I was searching for... But it does a decent job.

3 years ago, I had try Beagle (also available for Ubuntu), but either it was more power hangry or my computer was too old for that, but I did not have a pleasant experience with it. Nonetheless you could try it. 3 years is long, and my computer at that time was a really old one!


Tracker looks more like Spotlight, but I find it doesn't work as well. It also takes forever to index and creates a large index file.

Gnome Do is wonderful though. It is a launcher but it will do much more. Speedy, gorgeous, and tons of plugins. If you have used Quicksilver on the Mac it will be instantly familiar.


So for those of you that like using the command line then locate might be your cup of tea.


I use Kupfer.

It is an alternative to gnome-do. It was heavily inspired by Quicksilver.

It is available from a PPA here on Launchpad


For this I use Launchy on both Windows and (K)Ubuntu.

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    While this link may answer the question, it is better to include the essential parts of the answer here and provide the link for reference. Link-only answers can become invalid if the linked page changes. – Mitch Aug 30 '12 at 21:21
  • The OP was asking for software alternatives to Spotlight. I mentioned the name of a software I think might be a valid alternative, and I also provided a link. What else should I include in my answer? – MacThePenguin Sep 7 '12 at 16:28
  • A brief description of the software, citing your resources, just in case the link dies in the future. – Mitch Sep 7 '12 at 17:36
  • @MacThePenguin See this Meta.SO post for more information about what to include in link-based answers. – Eliah Kagan Oct 1 '12 at 22:34

If you're willing to go through the trouble of installing it, the Sezen applet uses zeitgeist and does pretty much exactly what you want, except for the fact that it only searches through used files and applications (I'm pretty sure at least).

http://mhr3.blogspot.com/ <- The blog of the guy who's making it


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