With the update/install process behind me now on a couple of laptops (2/3s of my Windows 8 test machine bench), I’m starting to find my way into the latest OS release from Microsoft. What’s struck me most forcibly — and favorably — so far is its new so-called “Smart Search” capability. It used to be that running Windows 8.0, search results — from typing some string onto the Start screen, for example — would provide results segregated by category: by Apps, Settings, and Files. You could carry your search into Bing simply by clicking Bing next and view those results separately.
All this changes very much for the better in Windows 8.1: Smart Search still provides links to local stuff on your PC, but it integrates them into a single search results display that also includes search info online as well. This not only makes it faster to find stuff, it also speeds ( or perhaps “blurs” is a better choice of words here) the transition from local to Internet in finding useful information. This is one of those kinds of things that doesn’t sound like much, but that really helps with work and leisure pursuits.
Let me explain, first from the work perspective: say I wanted to run the useful desktop utility known as the Driver Store Explorer (rapr.exe, a CodePlex project that jumps into your Windows Driver store and tells you what it finds there, and even lets you delete unwanted or superfluous drivers from the store). By searching on the filename, rapr.exe, the search results will provide a link right to the program if it’s on my PC. If it’s not, it will take me to the home page for the product documentation, where I can click the “download” link there to grab what I want with a single click. Incredibly convenient.
Another explanation, this time from the leisure angle: say I wanted to watch a video of “Young Indiana Jones.” If I search on that term, and there’s a video on my PC that matches the search term already, it will take me straight to it. If not, I will be able to access any of a number of download links on YouTube from whence I can grab whichever of the 23 episodes that are available online that I might care to watch. Way cool!
But wait, there’s more: in addition to searching your PC and the Internet for hits, Smart Search on Windows 8.1 will also search SkyDrive and your Video and Music apps as well. I agree with PCWorld’s Brad Chacos (see his excellent story “The top 5 reasons to upgrade to Windows 8.1” for some other eye-openers about the new MS desktop preview /beta OS) that “If Microsoft had added only Smart Search to Windows 8.1, it would’ve been enough to convince me to install the update.” I predict that if you give it a try, you won’t want to go back to the old Windows 8.0 Search capability at all. If you need more convincing, check out Paul Thurrott’s recent post “Hands-On with Windows 8.1: Smart Search.”