Designing for efficiency and dexterity is a core goal of the Start search feature team. As such, using the keyboard to launch apps, settings, and files from search is a very important part of the Start search experience. We also put a lot of thought into preserving existing keyboard patterns, which both average and advanced users have come to rely on, and have built muscle memory around.
Our telemetry data shows that many users leverage the Start menu as a means of commanding Windows. They use specific key-combinations to efficiently launch apps. For example, pressing the WIN key, typing “calc”, and pressing ENTER launches Calculator. Many advanced users know that typing “cmd” and then CTRL+SHIFT+ENTER opens an elevated command, and that typing “notepad c:\mynotes” creates or opens a .txt file. If you watch the keyboard demonstration from the //build/ keynote, you will see many of these used.
These keyboard patterns continue to work in Windows 8 just as well as in previous versions. Pressing the WIN key takes you to the Start screen. Simply start typing in the Start screen and the Search pane automatically opens with the search term in the search box, and the view filtered to show apps that match the term.
The fastest way to search settings and files from anywhere in the system is to use a set of keyboard shortcuts introduced to increase efficiency. These Windows 8 shortcuts reduce the number of keystrokes needed to launch a setting or file to a number equal to (or less than in many cases) what was required in Windows 7. Alternatively, you can also use the Search pane, which indicates the number of results matching the search in each view, to switch between apps, settings, and file searches.
Figure 11: Windows 8 Start search keyboard shortcutsBased in part on the feedback here, we are working on a change that we hope to have available in our beta release, which will take you directly to app search results when you select the Search charm in the desktop.
The efficiency of using the keyboard doesn’t stop at just typing to start a search. Sometimes the app, setting, or file that you want to launch is not the first result shown. You can use the arrow keys to quickly move down to the desired app in the results list, and then press ENTER to launch it. The white box that shows keyboard focus tells you which app will be launched on ENTER. This enables you to efficiently launch any app, setting, or file matching a search. In Windows 7, you could only launch one of the top 3-4 results with this kind of efficiency.
When we looked at some of the common Control Panel items people were searching for (for example, searching for power options using the term “power”), it quickly became clear that because we favored app results first in our Windows 7 design, “Power options” was the fourth result, below all the power shell app results. If you installed Office and frequently used PowerPoint, you saw PowerPoint along with Power shell (32 bit, 64 bit, and the Help file) ahead of ”Power options.” Extending a similar design in Windows 8 would have meant that the position of the “Power options” result would continue to fluctuate as you installed more apps on your system. This forces you to scan through increasingly large result-sets every time you search for a particular app or setting or file.
In Windows 8, we also provide the count of results per system view, so you immediately know how many apps or settings or files match the search term. Switching search views is also designed so you can easily switch views without taking your hands off of the keyboard. In the example shown below, to switch to settings search, press the Down Arrow key and the focus shifts to settings in the search list. Press ENTER and you will see settings search results. As mentioned before, you can continue to use the arrow keys to choose the desired item and press ENTER to launch it. Pressing TAB allows you to quickly switch between the search results list and the Search pane.
Figure 12: No results for apps – but use the arrow keys to switch to settings view, which shows 17 results
Figure 13: Use the arrow keys to choose a settings search result
To add to our earlier point on preserving search efficiency, here are some comparisons of the number of keystrokes for launching frequently used apps via search. In Windows 7, you would press the WIN key, start typing in your search term, and then press ENTER to launch the program. We count all the keystrokes end to end. In Windows 8, you can apply the same pattern for searching for apps (WIN key, type in the search term, press ENTER to launch). Launching Word, Calculator, Paint, or Media Player by pressing the WIN key and typing "word", "calc", "calculator", "paint", "player", or "media" in the search box takes precisely the same number of keystrokes in Windows 8 as it does in Windows 7.
To launch settings in Windows 7, you would press the WIN key, type in the query, arrow down to the result you wanted, and press ENTER to launch it. In Windows 8, you can use WIN key + W to launch settings search, type in a query, and press ENTER to launch. Typing WIN key + W and typing "uninstall", "device manager", or "defender" gives you the same results with precisely the same number of keystrokes in Windows 8 as in Windows 7. In some cases, it takes even fewer keystrokes than in Windows 7 (for example, pressing WIN key + W, typing “power” and then pressing ENTER to launch power options).
This dexterity-focused design isn’t all we have done to make search more efficient. We have also made key performance investments across the system. In current testing of Windows 8, our search performance improvements have cut app search time in half for desktops and laptops. The improvements are even larger on netbooks.
Figure 14: Performance comparison showing % decrease in execution time of app searchWe discussed the details of designing search for dexterity while using the keyboard, but this design works equally well for touch. To begin searching in Start, simply swipe the edge and tap on the Search charm. This opens the full list of installed apps. You can use the touch keyboard to search for a program to launch, but you can also use semantic zoom to zoom out, and then tap on the section that contains your app. Start search is lightweight, fast, fluid, and quickly gets out of the way as you pan through your list of apps, settings, or files.
Designed for touch, too.
The Search pane makes it easy to continue searching for the same term in other system views or Metro style apps with just one tap. Touch-friendly search suggestions minimize typing on a touch screen, and the search contract provides a framework for search suggestions that developers can use for their own Metro style apps as well. In addition, we designed touch-friendly filters with result counts in the file search view to help users quickly refine the search results set.
The new Start search experience makes it easier than ever to search for content in your PC or in apps from anywhere in the system. It’s been designed to work seamlessly and efficiently across the range of devices that Windows will run on, and across different input mechanisms such as the mouse, keyboard, and touch. Start search brings apps, settings, and files together with other Metro style apps that implement the Search contract, creating a unified and consistent search experience. We will talk more about the search experience and the search contract in a future post. In the meantime, you can get more information from our talk at //build/ on the Search contract.