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Windows 8 Search UX: Quickly Launch Apps, Settings, and Files Using Keyboard

Brian Uphoff, program manager on Windows Search, View, and Command user experience team, authored a blog post “Designing search for the Start screen” discussing about the built-in search capabilities for files, settings, and apps, which update the Windows 7 search features.

“When planning Windows 8, we wanted to make sure the efficiency and dexterity of the Windows 7 Start menu search was carried forward into the new Start screen. 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.”

Windows 8 Search: Full-screen app search results

Uphoff said “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 you’ll notice is that file search results no longer include email messages and contacts. 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.”

“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,” he said.

“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.”

“Also note that the Most Frequently Used (MFU)-based ranking of app search results from Windows 7 is preserved in Windows 8.”

Windows 8 continue with the “Run” functionality for commanding and navigating Windows, as well–tasks like running scripts and .exes in the user’s PATH are still possible and supported in App search.

Windows 8 Search: Typing a path into Start search

The settings search experience brings together all settings and Control Panel items across the system in one view.

Windows 8 Search: Full-screen settings search results

As the number of files on PCs increases over time as users continue to acquire and create more documents, music, photos, and videos. The file search experience, make it seamless and complete so you can achieve your task of quickly finding a file without having to transition to Windows Explorer.

In File search, you’ll also see search suggestions as you type to help you quickly and efficiently complete the search. The indexer provides these search suggestions based on the content and properties of files it knows about.

Windows 8 Search: Search suggestions based on the content and properties of files

Windows 8 Search: Full-screen file search showing results

“In Windows 8, hovering a mouse over a result reveals a rich tooltip with some additional details. Windows 8 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,” revealed Uphoff.

Windows 8 Search: ich tooltip reveals additional details in file search

Windows 8 also let you do a pattern 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.

“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,” he said.

Here are some screens and a video showing how easy and efficient it is to quickly launch apps, settings, and files from anywhere in the system using the keyboard:

Windows 8 Search: Keyboard Shortcuts

No results for apps – but use the arrow keys to switch to settings view, which shows 17 results:Windows 8 Search: Arrow Keys to switch search settings

Use the arrow keys to choose a settings search resultWindows 8 Search: Arrow Keys to choose search settings

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