Learning Windows Search

Search is well integrated into Windows nowadays. So much so that if you’re using a keyboard, you can pretty much control your entire computer with a few key presses. In this lesson, we’re going to begin showing you how to do just that, putting you well on your way to becoming a search master!

We’re going to cover all things Start Search related, but mostly the Start screen and the Search Heroes feature found in Windows 8.1. There’s a lot of cool stuff here so if you use Windows 8.1, and you don’t know what we’re referring to, you may find this interesting.

In short, searching from the Start screen can seem limited and frustrating at first because it doesn’t seem to offer anything that extends the experience you get from the Start menu. It’s not until you dig in further and see firsthand just how much work Microsoft has put into it, you realize that you can actually do a lot with it.

Moreover, if you couple searching from Start with tools like Advanced Query Syntax (we’ll explain more in Lessons 4 and 5), then you can really find stuff that matters in very short order. That said, as things are right out of the box, searching from Start will give you a great deal of power and flexibility.

We’ll start things off by explaining where you can search from Start, and then move on from there to how to search before diving fully into full screen search results, known as Search Heroes. We will close things out by briefly touching upon Search Settings.

Where You Can Search from the Start Screen (and Start Menu)

So let’s begin with the easy stuff, searching from Windows’ Start feature. Whether it’s the old style Start menu search or the new Start screen, finding anything from Start is just a few keystrokes away so you don’t have to interrupt your workflow to use your mouse.

To begin, it’s always important to remember that you can always open the Start feature by hitting the WIN key. That will open either the Start menu or Start screen after which you can simply start typing your query.

When we type the word “control” you can see that the most relevant results appear at the top. In the case of the Start menu (above), you see that the first result is the Control Panel, followed by control panels with the word “control” in them. Thereafter, you get a list of files with content-related results containing the word “control” somewhere in them.

By contrast, the Windows 8 results are much more name and contextually-related. For example, the top two results are PC Settings (the Start screen’s “control panels”) followed by the actual Control Panel.

The rest of the results have “control” in their name, or in the case of Default Programs, you find the word “control” in its contents.

We’ll show you how you can see extended search results from the Start screen in the section on Search Heroes.

Keyboard Shortcuts

Since we’ve spent so much time emphasizing how great it is that Search allows you to save time since you rarely need to lift your fingers from the keyboard, we want to cover the few keyboard shortcuts that pertain to it.

Remember, to open the Start feature on both Windows 7 and Windows 8.1, you can press the WIN key. At that point, you can start typing your search query and see instant results.

On Windows 8.1, you can further constrain your search with the following keyboard shortcuts:

  • WIN + F allows you to Search your files.
  • WIN + Q allows you to Search everywhere, or within an open app if the app supports Search.
  • WIN + S allows you to Search Windows and Internet.
  • WIN + W allows you to Search your settings.

And, there you have it. All the latest Windows keyboard shortcuts that pertain to Search.

How to Constrain and Refine Searches

Windows 8.1 allows you to constrain searches so you get more refined results. For example, you can search “Everywhere,” which gives you results for apps, settings, and files. Basically everything from all over your device’s indexed locations.

Or you can immediately restrain your search to return results that only feature settings. In the following example, we see the result from a “control” search. You see you can open the Control Panel, control panels with the word “control” in them, and settings that contain the word “control” in them.

In the next example, we see a file search, starting with all the files on our system that have the word “control” in their name.

You’re probably wondering where the files are that have content that contains “control.” If you hit “ENTER” or click the search icon, you’ll get a full screen of results that you can scroll through.

You can in fact, do this for all Start-based searches. This is called a Search Hero. If you hover over a result, you can see more information about a file’s properties.

In the above example, there are plenty of files on our system that have “control” in them and in fact, we can see that the indexer has managed to even include this lesson in its results as well, which just goes to show how current these results are!

To see further results from these files types, you simply click or tap anything that says “See all # file type” at the bottom.

Types of Search Heroes

So let’s then logically move on to Search Heroes because they’re actually kind of cool and certainly easier to manipulate on a touchscreen than desktop search results.

Everywhere is Really Everything

The type of hero you see is contingent upon what you search for and, as such, will center on how you constrain your results. Additionally, there are further ways to narrow your results to find even more relevant information.

In the following screenshot, we see a search for “control” not only everywhere on our device, but because Bing results are enabled, from across the Internet as well. In the middle of our results is a link to launch the Control Panel.

The Search Hero gives results are displayed horizontally so you can scroll or swipe right-left to see all your results. Results to the left are going to be the most local, relevant results, while swiping right will display web results (provided you have Bing integration enabled).

If we zoom in our results, you can note where you have opportunities to open sub results such as we see enclosed in red. Thus if you click on “See all 19 settings” you will see a full screen of the 19 settings that have the search query (control) in their name or contents. Same goes for documents, photos, videos, and music.

You could simply cut to the chase and search for settings and files outright by constraining your search (discussed in the previous section).

If you continue to scroll, you can see further results for our “control” search. Bing will display top web results and videos. Again, here you see that the videos results provides us with an option to see more by clicking the link, “See all videos,” located below the top results.

If you continue to scroll to the right, you are given further options. You see the top results for apps in the Windows Store that match the search query, and you can see all the related apps in the store.

Further, you can see related searches, images and videos (discussed shortly), and then remaining web results, which will just continue on and on and on until Bing runs out of them.

Files and Settings

The following heroes harken back to our discussion on restraining your results. In the following screenshots, we see the results provided for file searches with the word “control” in them. You can see documents, photos, videos, and songs, along with links to open sub heroes at the bottom.

Remember you can also do a direct search for settings from the Search pane as well. Searching for settings will return results not only for the Control Panel but PC Settings. Conversely, if you search for settings from the Control Panel (discussed in the next lesson), you will only see results from the Control Panel.

Further, with the power of Bing, you can return results for images and videos, which opens up quite a few fun filtering tools.

Image and Video Search Heroes

So let’s get to that then shall we? In order to conduct image and video searches from the Start menu, you of course need to make sure you’re getting Bing results, which are enabled by default. By the way, we’ll show you how to turn off Bing integration in the last section “Search Settings.”

You can see the option to constrain your searches to images or videos from the Search pane.

In the following example, you see the results from an image web search for “control.” This is great but you can spend hours scrolling through these trying to find the perfect one. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could return results that adhere to a particular size or color or type?

Actually, you can. Right-clicking in an image or videos search result will show you an options pane that allows you to further filter results.

In the screenshot below, we see how this looks if we filter by color, in this case blue.

Filters can be layered, meaning that you can add more and more to further narrow down and refine your results. So if you want results say that are blue, have faces, and are photos only, you can add these filters, which will give you much different results.

With that in mind, let’s turn briefly to video searches, which work much similar to images but have much fewer filters.

It’s possible then to further refine your videos results by length and resolution.

For example, in the following screenshot, we see videos that are 720p or higher, which means you can quickly find higher quality results without having to click through on each one to judge for yourself.

As we said, Search Heroes are a pretty unique and fun way to look stuff up and with the addition of the aforementioned filters, you can fairly quickly find stuff that matters to you.

Opening Results in Apps

Before we wrap up our Search Heroes discussion, let’s point out just briefly how app results work. As we mentioned, whenever you do a search from the Start screen, you will also see relevant apps in your results too.

Look back at our example with our “control” searches. In those results, the Search Hero gave us a fairly big option to launch the control panel. Note though to the left are also results to open various apps that pertain to control, such as having the word in their name or contents.

So, not only can you locate files and settings, you can also launch apps too!

You can also quickly find apps in the Windows Store without opening the Store itself. In the following example, you can search for Twitter, which will return Store results and allow you to go right to the appropriate app page or open a page that lists all the results pertaining to Twitter.

With such power at your fingertips, you can probably quickly deduce that using Search well can save you time and make your productivity far more efficient.

Search Settings

We’ve learned about the PC Settings before, and we covered the Search Settings in detail in our Windows 8.1 series. For the sake of thoroughness, let’s briefly cover them again for this series.

In the following screenshot, we see the Search settings. The very first option lets you clear your search history, easy enough, but this is an important security option because as you search over time, your queries will be stored and appear as recent searches when you begin to type. If you share your computer with anyone, you may want to keep your history cleared.

The second option returns results from Bing and displays them in local searches (the previously discussed Heroes). We imagine there might be quite a few people who might not be easy with this, though we think it’s largely harmless. Nevertheless, you can quickly disable Bing with this setting.

If you do decide to leave Bing integration enabled, you can select how personalized the results are. You can get highly personalized results that use you location, results that are personalized but don’t use your location, and finally results with no personalized Bing results at all.

SafeSearch gives you the ability set filtering levels in your search local results.

Strict filtering removes adult text, images, and videos from your search results (assuming you have Bing integration enabled).

Moderate filtering allows adult text results to appear but images and videos are blocked. Moderate filtering is enabled by default.

Finally turning off SafeSearch will allow everything to appear.

Finally, if you’re using a metered connection, such as with your mobile provider, you can turn off search suggestions and web results from Bing, as well as while you’re roaming.

That’s it for Start search and Start search settings. You can really do a great deal with it, so it’s well worth trying it with Bing enabled, especially with Search Heroes, but as we pointed out, you can always turn it off.


Well that was actually a lot of fun!

As you can see, Microsoft has put a lot of good stuff into Start searches and as a result, users have even more power than before. We think Search Heroes in particular are a really unique feature that extend and improve the user experience.

Of course, you don’t have to search this way. In fact, you can still search from the desktop same as in Windows 7. In the next lesson, we’ll talk about desktop search from top to bottom, which will logically lead us to our final two lessons on Advanced Query Syntax.

Your homework today is to open up your Start menu and start playing around. That’s the best way to acquaint yourself with all this new information. If you are using a system with a keyboard, make sure you use the previously-discussed keyboard shortcuts as well!

Profile Photo for Matt Klein Matt Klein
Matt Klein has nearly two decades of technical writing experience. He's covered Windows, Android, macOS, Microsoft Office, and everything in between. He's even written a book, The How-To Geek Guide to Windows 8.
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