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.
In our previous related posts (Evolving the Start menu
, Designing the Start screen
, and Reflecting on your comments on the Start screen
) we discussed the evolution of the Start menu and the reasoning behind the design. We also discussed how organizational mechanisms and search are powerful tools that make it easier to find and launch apps. As you install more and more apps, these tools become increasingly important. For the past several releases, searching from the Start menu has been established as the quickest way to find and launch apps, particularly for keyboard users.
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. Before we dive into the details of the new experience, let’s take a quick look at the evolution of search from the Start menu, and how people are using it today.
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 Vista
In 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 7
When 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 data
Searching from Start in Windows 8
Searching 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.
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...