Tag Archives: search

All about Search in Windows 8: a feature every user has to understand

Windows 8 is a frustrating experience until you work out how Search works. Once it is discovered though, it is an elegant and powerful feature.

A confusing aspect of Windows 8 apps (on the tablet side) is that features such as menus and toolbars are hidden by default. There can be menu bars at top and bottom of an app, but you have to display them either by right-click or by swiping in from top or bottom. There is a philosophy behind this. Microsoft has called it the “immersive user interface”, one which puts content first and hides anything distracting.

Even this will not generally show Search though. Rather, Search is in the Charms bar, which you show by swiping from the right or pressing Windows key and C. There are also better shortcuts for Search, which I will come to in a moment.

When you click or tap Search in Windows 8, you are really in a kind of search centre. Take a look at the following screen, where I have displayed Search and typed “Keyboard”:

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Note that the active search is restricted to Apps which have the word keyboard in their name. However, if you look at the right column, you can also see numbers: 25 against Settings, and 911 against Files.

This means Windows has found 25 settings for the keyboard, and 911 files. If you click or tap the different context, you see the new results.

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Even this is not everything. The column below shows apps which have a search feature, such as Wikipedia, Store, Maps and Bing. If I tap or click Wikipedia, for example, I see encyclopaedia entries for keyboard.

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Bing of course would give me an Internet search. Even Tunein Radio gives me results, and I can hear a broadcast about How does a QWERTY Keyboard work:

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What this means is that the Search feature is a fast and efficient means of navigating the Windows user interface, finding documents and files, and discovering information from a variety of sources.

To get the most our of search, learn the following shortcuts:

  • Windows key and Q: Search apps
  • Windows key and W: Search settings
  • Windows key and F: Search documents and files

These shortcuts save you some clicks. If you use the mouse or Windows key and C to show charms, you have to then click or tap Search, and then choose the context you want. The shortcuts on the other hand get you a cursor ready to type your search. Search is incremental, so often just a few letters will do.

There is one subtlety. If you are  in the Start screen or on the Desktop and press Windows key and Q, you will search for an app by default. However, if you are in a Windows 8 tablet app, the shortcut will search within the current app by default. This is an inconsistency, and annoying if it comes up “This app can’t be searched”, but you can understand why it is designed that way. Otherwise, we would have four shortcuts to learn.

Google: a search engine, or affiliate site?

According to my current web stats, 95.6% of those using a search engine to find a post did so using Google. That represents market dominance, and power to make or break a business which depends on web traffic.

Google’s search engine is the best in my experience, but I am increasingly concerned about the quality of the results, which are noticeably worse today than they were in the early days.

Ideally (from the user’s perspective) its search results should be objective as far as possible; for example, it should not favour sites which spend more money advertising with Google, nor should it favour Google’s own web properties above rivals.

I noticed an article in the Guardian stating that this is not the case:

A Google search for credit cards returns with an advert at the top of the screen, far bigger than the rest and bigger than any other website link. Adverts of this size and prominence will attract a high click-through rate. This will prevent searchers going via other affiliate sites or applying directly for a credit card.

I tried it. Here is what I got:

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The most prominent results is the one with the images, admittedly marked “sponsored” but in a grey, small font that you could easily miss. This is actually an ad for Google’s own affiliate site for credit cards, just click Apply:

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I do not get the same issue with Bing, although I do think the designation of which results are ads is too small:

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Still, at Bing has not awarded itself a large ad with images that links to its own affiliate scheme.

Of course I can choose not to use Google. Unfortunately though, businesses cannot choose what search engine their customers or potential customers use to find their sites.

I am one of those who believes regulation should be as light as possible, but considering the power Google currently exerts and the lack of fairness in examples like this, it seems to be that some kind of regulation is needed.

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