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”:


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.


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.


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:


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.