Given the ton of interest in the design of the new Start screen we wanted to dive deeper into the topic of search. There's a clear focus on efficiency and overall professional productivity in the comments. For professional scenarios, every keystroke matters. One new aspect of the Windows 8 platform is the ability for Metro style apps to deliver a customized search "contract." For this post we'll focus on the built-in search capabilities for files, settings, and apps, which update the Windows 7 search features. You can learn more from our //build/ session on search, which provides a detailed look at the topic of this post. With that lens, Brian Uphoff, a program manager on our Search, View, and Command user experience team, authored this post.Evolution of searching from Start.
The search box in the Start menu as we know it today first made its appearance in Windows Vista. It became easy for users to search for programs or apps, settings, and files on the desktop and in personal folders like Documents, Pictures, Music, and Videos. The search experience aggregated different types of results in one view with programs and settings combined in a single group. The results of a query displayed a small set of items in heuristically sized groups. You needed to click “See all results” to see the rest in Windows Explorer, which aggregated everything into one ungrouped and unsorted view.
Figure 1: Start menu search in Windows VistaIn Windows 7, we expanded results to include detailed Control Panel tasks in addition to the main Control Panel pages. We also separated out Control Panel items from programs into a unique group that allowed you to more easily focus on the type of result you were looking for.
The overall experience aggregated different types of items and had a fixed limit on the number of results that could appear. This was because the result set was limited to the size of the Start menu. Clicking a group header took you to Windows Explorer for programs and files or to Control Panel for settings. Each experience had a type-specific view, though the search results order diverged from what was shown in the Start menu. Showing an aggregated view in the Start menu required compromising on performance in addition to space because we would search all programs, Control Panel items, and files, even if you were looking for only one of these data types.
Figure 2: Start menu search in Windows 7When we look at the usage data of how people are using the Start menu to search in Windows 7, it’s clear that searching to launch programs is the most frequent and important activity users engage in with Start search.
Our telemetry data shows that 67% of all searches in Windows 7 are used to find and launch programs. Searching for files accounts for 22% of all Windows 7 Start menu searches, and searching for Control Panel items about 9%. Searching for email messages via Start Menu is very rare (less than 0.05%). The remaining 2% are searches executing the “Run” functionality.
Figure 3: Windows 7 Start menu search usage dataSearching via the Start menu has continued to evolve with each release. The Windows 8 Start search experience builds on top of search features available in Windows 7 and provides a unique view for each of the three system groups - Apps, Settings and Files. These search result views are a natural progression from the Windows 7 groups and are easily accessible from anywhere in the operating system via the Search charm or keyboard shortcuts. Separating the search results into views means we can tailor the experience for each data type. For example, the File search view provides you with filters and search suggestions while typing to quickly complete your query.
Searching from Start in Windows 8.
In Windows 8, we expect people will be acquiring and installing more apps than ever before. Had we continued using the Windows 7 Start menu search interface to search for a Control Panel item, you would always see app or program results before Control Panel results, displacing many Control Panel items from being the first match. This and other constraints on the existing design required us to develop a new approach—this is especially true as we consider the increasing use of larger monitors or higher DPI screens where longer menus become even more difficult to use and navigate. In Windows 7, the total number of results that could be shown in the Start menu was limited. Depending on the number of groups with matching results, an average of 3-4 results were shown per group. Very rarely did all results for a group show up, and the organization of the results was pretty unpredictable.
With Windows 8, on the other hand, we’re following an app-first model, where each app developer understands their data and users best, and knows the best way to present the information to them. Using the same model for search, we believe that always having a quick and consistent way to get directly to settings or file search results gives you precision and control over the type of results you’re looking for. In Windows 8, each view is tailored for the type of content you’re searching for, and shows all the results, instead of limiting them due to screen real-estate.
One change a few of you will notice is that file search results no longer include email messages and contacts. The inclusion of email search never got the generalized support from mail clients that we had hoped for, though at least one mail client did support it (one reason why email searches are rare in the Start menu <0.05% of total searches). With the app-first approach in Windows 8, Metro style email apps will use the search contract to provide a rich set of filtered search results in a view customized for email. In comparison, email clients and other apps in Windows 7 have no control over how their search results are presented.
We paid special attention to ensuring the number of keystrokes required to find and launch apps, settings, or files is at parity with or better than in Windows 7. We’ve introduce a set of keyboard shortcuts to help users quickly and efficiently get to settings search results (WIN key + W) or file search results (WIN key + F), thus reducing the total number of keystrokes needed to find and launch settings or files. We’ll cover how we maintained and increased keyboard efficiency across these views in more detail later in the post.
App search results show the full set of apps (both their “friendly” names and executable names) for which the search term matches the name. As the number of installed apps increases, it becomes difficult to browse through a large list to find an infrequently used app. Search helps quickly filter and reduce a large list of apps down in just a few key strokes. We wanted to make sure we preserved the same keyboard usage patterns as Windows 7. You don’t have to first click on the Search charm to begin searching – simply start typing in the Start screen and you’ll see your list of apps filter down to the one you are looking for.
Figure 4: Full-screen app search results
Also note that the Most Frequently Used (MFU)-based ranking of app search results from Windows 7 is preserved in Windows 8. For example, if you type “paint” in the developer preview you get 2 apps back as search results – PaintPlay and Paint. If you predominantly just use Paint, it will be ranked higher than PaintPlay as you use it more often. So, launching Paint (or other apps you frequently use) becomes more efficient the more you use app search.
Some of you have pointed out that many users won’t discover that they can simply type to start searching in the Start screen. Search is closely associated with typing— the most common pattern to search in the Start menu is to bring up the Start menu by using the Windows key or by clicking the Start button and typing. That exact and efficient behavior is preserved in Windows 8 as we have observed and found that pattern is what users care about most. Our experience in user tests, and even when people at //build/ tried the Develop Preview for the first time, shows that people tend to serendipitously discover this feature early in using Windows 8, and so we're confident it will not be a hindrance to usability. Nevertheless the Search charm is highly visible, and selecting it shows the Search box.
The Windows 7 Start menu also included “Run” functionality for commanding and navigating Windows. This has been carried over to Windows 8 as well—tasks like running scripts and .exes in the user’s PATH are still possible and supported in App search. Search continues to support launching folders in Windows Explorer by typing in full paths. For example, typing “C:\” in Start search results in the set of folders in the C: drive appearing below the search box. Pressing the Down Arrow key moves selection through the list and autocompletes the folder name in the search box, allowing users to continue typing to further refine the path. You can do the same with UNC (\\foo\example) paths as well. And of course WIN key + R will switch to the desktop and bring up the classic Run dialog, just as you would expect.
Figure 5: Typing a path into Start search