Using Windows 11

Using the Start menu to search

Search is built into Windows 11 as an integral feature that gets prime real estate. Unlike its predecessor in Windows 10, however, the search box isn’t built into the taskbar. Instead, it exists as an alternative view of the Start menu, which you can trigger by tapping the Windows key or clicking the search button (to the right of Start if you have opted to show it using Settings > Personalization > Taskbar) and then typing your search request. If the Start menu is already open, just click in the search box at the top of the menu to change the view.

For most simple tasks, such as searching for an app or a setting, the fastest route to success is to tap the Windows key and begin typing. The results, as shown in Figure 3-7, are businesslike and efficient, with no personality.

Figure 3-7

Figure 3-7 Type a word or phrase in the search box, and you get a categorized list of results that match the search term, including apps and settings. Use the options at the top to change the search scope.

The list on the left shows search results by category, including results from the web, with a Best Match item at the top if Windows believes it knows exactly what you’re looking for; the larger pane to its right shows details for the currently selected item from the results list. That list also includes local files available to the currently signed-in user as well as files stored in OneDrive or OneDrive for Business. Click the profile icon in the top right to search using a different OneDrive account.

If you click Search without entering a search term, you see a list of recent searches on the left, with a Today view to its right. That view shows a highlight from the Bing search engine if you’ve selected a Microsoft account from the profile menu; choosing an Azure AD account shows search results from your school or workplace, including recently edited files and comments by coworkers to shared work files.

As mentioned earlier, you can narrow the scope of the search by choosing a category from the list above the results pane. The Apps, Documents, and Web categories are visible by default; click More to expand the list of available categories to include Email, Folders, Music, People, Photos, Settings, and Videos. Choosing one of those categories immediately changes the search results list to show only the category you selected.

Choosing a category has a simple but powerful action: It inserts a prefix in the search box, before the search term. If you’re more comfortable with the keyboard, you can accomplish the same result by typing the category prefix manually: folder: or photos:, for example.

Windows highlights the top item on the results list, but you can use the arrow keys to scroll up and down through the list. You can also use the mouse to select the arrow to the right of any entry and make its properties or Jump List options visible on the right side of the results pane.

When you enter a word or phrase in the search box, results from the web can appear directly in the results list in a panel that pops out to the right of the initial display of search results in Start. This feature enables you to get instant answers to questions in a wide array of categories. If your question is clear and unambiguous and you have a working internet connection, your answer appears immediately, as shown in Figure 3-8.

Figure 3-8

Figure 3-8 When the best match for a search term is on the web, you might see a detailed info box like this one to the right of the results list.

You can use this same technique for the following types of queries:

  • Dates and times Use the search box to check the dates of upcoming holidays and events. (”When is Thanksgiving this year?” and “What time does the Super Bowl start?”)

  • Biographical details If someone is famous enough or holds a public office, you can ask for more information. (“How old is Bill Gates?” or “Who is Governor of New Mexico?”)

  • Definitions Not sure of the meaning of an unfamiliar word? You can view a definition in the results pane, with an option to hear the word’s pronunciation or jump to an online dictionary. (“What does phlegmatic mean?”)

  • Sports scores You can see scores and standings for any team or league, even for games that are in progress.

  • Stock prices To get the current price and a chart for any stock or index on a major exchange, enter a dollar sign followed by the ticker symbol: $MSFT, $DJIA.

  • Weather Type weather followed by a city name to see a five-day forecast that can help you decide whether to pack an umbrella or extra sunscreen for an upcoming trip.

The expanded results pane can also display interactive controls. Enter an arithmetic problem, and Windows search shows the result in a calculator where you can continue your number-crunching. If you ask how to convert units of measurement, the resulting display enables you to choose from an enormous number of conversions, including length, volume, and even fuel efficiency. Figure 3-9 shows a conversion that might not be as practical as gallons to liters but could help settle a bet over your favorite space opera.

Figure 3-9

Figure 3-9 An interactive widget appears in the search results when you ask a question that involves calculation or conversion.

Besides conversions, you can also do basic math by entering an appropriate query in the taskbar search box. Enter any valid mathematical format—addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, exponentiation, and more, with support for using parentheses to group operations—and see the answer directly in the results pane.

The search box is also able to look up current exchange rates and convert any amount in one currency to its equivalent in another. Specify the amount and the target currency—for example, $195 in GBP—and then use controls in the widget to change the amount, choose a different currency, or enter a new value in the second box to reverse the conversion.

The results can change with every character as you type, so feel free to use the backspace key and change your input slightly to help Search understand what you’re asking.