Microsoft Outlook logo

Microsoft has dropped a new Search box into Outlook’s title bar. At first glance, it’s very similar to the old Search box, but it has a lot of new tricks up its sleeve. Here’s how to use the feature effectively.

Microsoft Outlook, along with the other Office apps, now has a new Search box in the title bar. This is called Microsoft Search, and it’s available in both the client apps and the web apps in Microsoft 365 (M365)/Office 365 (O365).

The Search box works the same way in all of the apps, but previously the only Office app that really had Search was Outlook. So, if you’re used to the old style, then this is a bit of a change.

Previously, the Search box was located under the ribbon and above your emails.

The old Outlook Search box.

The new Search box is in the title bar instead.

The new Outlook Search box.

The new Search bar gives you more vertical space, which is very handy if you’re using a smaller screen like a laptop or tablet, rather than a larger monitor. For people who have the muscle memory of clicking just above the email folder to search, this will take a little getting used to, but it’s not a huge positional leap.

Microsoft has also added two keyboard shortcuts to help you adjust—CTRL+E and ALT+Q—which is a welcome addition for those of us who like to avoid switching between keyboard and mouse where possible.

When you click into the new Search box (or use the keyboard shortcut), a menu that shows recent searches, people, and actions will appear.

The new Search box menu.

We have mixed feelings about this. On one hand, it’s pretty useful to have what feels like a clipboard of recent activity in the app at your fingertips. But on the other hand, it covers up a lot of the tools found on the Search tab ribbon. There’s no way to change this behavior, and we don’t expect Microsoft to make it configurable.

If you want to see the Search tab, you’ll have to click on a blank piece of the ribbon to hide the drop-down Search bar menu.

The blank part of the ribbon.

As you type in the Search box, the menu will filter down search terms, people, and actions to match what you type. Regardless of anything else, this is the biggest change in Microsoft Search: it no longer just searches through email. The new feature searches everything in Outlook, including Outlook functionality.

This change is particularly useful for finding out how to do things. If you want to know how to move emails, for example, type “move” in the Search box and, below any emails that match the word, the menu will display relevant commands.

Outlook actions shown in the Search menu.

Although you can still type commands like “from:contact@howtogeek.com” like the old Search, Outlook now has a much better and easier user interface for constructing your search. Click the arrow next to the Search box and a simple search menu appears.

The filter arrow in the Search box.

Type into these filters and Outlook will automatically add the correct syntax to the Search box, which means you no longer need to remember the right commands to type.

The Search box showing filter options.

You can still change the default search location, but now you can change the default search fields as well. If you want to search for things that aren’t in the default fields, click “Add More Options.”

The "Advanced Search Options" panel.

This will bring up additional options you can turn on, as well as switching off fields you don’t use. Check or uncheck the boxes and click “Apply” when you’re done.

RELATED: How to Tag Your Emails For Maximum Searchability

And if you’re not a fan of the new dropdown, the Search tab on the ribbon is still there, although now it only appears when you click into the Search box.

The Search tab on the ribbon.

If your place of work uses O365 with a business license, you’ll get some extra functionality like the ability to search across shared mailboxes and seeing results from Bing.

All in all, we quite like the new Search box. It has more power and functionality than the old Search box and provides more screen space for your actual emails. Yes, the automatic menu dropping down over the Search tab is a bit annoying, but it’s hard to see how the company could avoid that while still providing the History list. Overall, it’s a definite improvement, which is no bad thing.

Rob Woodgate Rob Woodgate
Rob Woodgate is a writer and IT consultant with nearly 20 years of experience across the private and public sectors. He's also worked as a trainer, technical support person, delivery manager, system administrator, and in other roles that involve getting people and technology to work together.
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