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article imageOp-Ed: Why search must succeed and be cohesive in Windows 10

By James Walker     May 10, 2015 in Technology
If Windows 10 is to do only one thing right, it must be getting searching down to a finely-tuned art. After the disastrous full-screen interface of Windows 8, the new Start menu in Windows 10 needs to deliver the cohesive search once offered by Windows 7.
Searching in Windows 7 was brilliant and loved by many. Tap the Start button and just begin typing. Files, folders, programs, games, email and notes all appeared in one concise list with web results just a button away. In Windows 8, the feature was destroyed.
Indeed, Microsoft managed to kill Search so spectacularly with Windows 8 that it was forced to completely rethink the feature for Windows 8.1. Windows 8 had forced users into searching within predefined categories — "Apps," "Settings" or "Files." There was no unified search experience and each of the three scopes had their own, separate keyboard shortcuts.
Even more aggravating was how the results were displayed. The horizontal scrolling worked well for tablets but on a desktop computer it just never made sense. Many mourned for what seemed to be the end of decent Windows searching as Apple introduced Spotlight.
In Windows 8.1, Microsoft seemed to realise their catastrophic failure of 2012. A unified search experience returned that looks through "everything" by default. It became easier to find images and results from the web. And mercifully to desktop users, results are now displayed in a vertical list along the side of the display without returning to the full-screen Start experience.
There is still work to be done though. By this point, many people had already grown tired of Windows 8's obsession with choosing where you searched. Alternatives to Windows Search began to gain fame with products such as X1 Desktop Search promising the quick and unified interface that the Start menu once offered. Many Windows 8 users also installed docks or launchers to make opening applications easier than going back to the Start screen.
There is a reason for all this and you can easily experience it yourself. Studies have conclusively proven that the Start screen actually directly interrupts productivity. By pressing the Start key on a Windows 8 or 8.1 computer, you are whipped away from your work on the desktop into a completely different environment. You can't see what you were doing before so you lose attention. Your gaze is likely to be drawn to the news or weather, flashing up on a vivid live tile.
Windows 7 never had this problem. The Start menu was unobtrusive and lay dormant until needed. When you pressed it, you could view hundreds of search results or programs to open in one list without your work disappearing. The transparency offered by Windows Aero ensured you never lost sight of your work.
This explains why so many people claim to have experienced increased productivity after switching back to Windows 7. Placebo or not, I personally find that the Start screen hinders my productivity on desktop systems. I am still a massive fan of the Start menu I have on my old Windows 7 laptop.
I am going to be interested to see what Microsoft does about this in Windows 10. It seems as though they are creating a strange sort of combination of 7 and 8. The Start menu will let you search for things without obscuring your view but live tiles will still overlay it and take your gaze.
At least a proper cohesive search experience seems to have returned. Cortana promises to be your personal assistant and will do what the Start button of Windows 7 did so well — deliver you results from the web, your computer, settings and programs in one place.
All of this makes me wonder if perhaps Windows 7's vertical, two-pane Start menu was perhaps the best interface ever made for an operating system. Nobody has ever found serious fault with it, to the best of my knowledge. It could be themed, customised and expanded with as many pinned shortcuts and icons as you want and yet it never obscured anything more than the very edge of the display.
Opening it showed you your most frequently used programs at a glance but this, of course, was customisable. You could start typing immediately to get search results from everywhere while still monitoring your programs on the desktop.
To me — and probably many others — the Windows 7 Start menu feels like it is the search feature that Microsoft is trying to create today. In my belief, the cohesive search that the company is desperately trying to deliver to consumers has already been made but is currently just unemployed. Meanwhile, a far more unproductive worker is doing the tasks that the Start menu once did so well — until it became so successful that it had to leave.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about Microsoft, Windows, windows 10, Search, Windows 7
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