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.

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.

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.

Windows 7 Start menu search usage data

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