Windows 8 to offer new Metro-based search feature

The company has tweaked the search capabilities available from the Start screen in an attempt to offer users an easier way to find applications, settings, and files.

Lance Whitney
Lance Whitney Contributing Writer
Lance Whitney is a freelance technology writer and trainer and a former IT professional. He's written for Time, CNET, PCMag, and several other publications. He's the author of two tech books--one on Windows and another on LinkedIn.
3 min read
Windows 8's new Metro-based search feature.
Windows 8's new Metro-based search feature. Microsoft

Microsoft has revamped the Start screen's search feature in Windows 8, hoping to help users more easily find and view specific apps, settings, and files.

Like most features in Windows, search has evolved over the years.

In Windows 7, users can type the name of an item in the search field at the bottom of the Start Menu to locate programs and other files. But by default, the initial search results are limited to what can fit in the window, forcing users to click on a link to see more results in a full window. The results also show files from a range of categories, including applications, documents, music, images, e-mail messages, contacts, and even Control Panel settings.

In Windows 8, Microsoft has endeavored to both enhance and streamline the Start screen's search feature, according to the latest edition of the Building Windows 8 blog written by Brian Uphoff, a program manager on Microsoft's Search, View, and Command user experience team.

"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," noted Uphoff.

Users can kick off a search in Windows 8 simply by typing the name of the item when the Metro Start screen appears. A full-screen window of search results automatically pops up. As in prior versions of Windows, the new Search feature displays suggestions as you type the first few characters of your search term.

But instead of displaying individual results amid all the different categories, the new Start menu search initially shows you the results for just one category--applications. Microsoft gave priority to apps based on its own data indicating that 67 percent of all searches in Windows 7 are run to track down programs. The apps themselves are listed in order of those used the most frequently. Users can then easily tap on the app they need to launch it.

The right side of the full search window then breaks down the search into three main categories--Apps, Settings, and Files for searching beyond just apps. A number shows you how many items were found in each category. Tapping on a specific category then drills down to reveal the actual items on the left side of the screen. Hovering over an item displays more details about it.

Users who like to search for e-mail or contacts are out of luck, though. Microsoft removed those two categories from the search results based on data showing that few people searched for those items in Windows 7. Those of you who want to search for messages or contacts will need to use a Metro style e-mail app to do that.

Like many new features in Windows 8, the search functionality seems to take special advantage of touch-screen devices. But for PC users, Microsoft has added a variety of keyboard shortcuts to initiate and control searches. As examples, holding down the Windows key and typing your search term finds only apps, holding down the Windows Key and the W key looks for settings, and holding down the Windows key and F key hunts down files.

Though some users may not be happy with the new search options as they rely on the controversial Metro-based Start menu, Microsoft obviously sees the feature as a much-needed enhancement.

"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," Uphoff said. "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."