How to use Windows 11’s Search

How to use Windows 11’s Search

Windows Search is a feature that has been around for more than 15 years, starting from the ancient Windows Vista. It has evolved and matured over the years, and in the latest iteration of Windows 11, it is (theoretically) simpler, faster, and more efficient than in previous versions. Here’s how to access Search in Windows 11 and use it to find what you want:

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How to access Search in Windows 11

You can access the Search feature in several ways. The most obvious one is by clicking on the Search button on the taskbar next to the Start button. Depending on the version of Windows 11 you have, it can look like a small magnifying glass or like a magnifying glass together with the Search text next to it.

Windows 11’s new Search bar design, seen in the following image, is the latest one, introduced by Microsoft in Windows 11 22H2 with the KB5019980 update and only for select users. However, only the design is different, as the button’s functionality remains the same as in older versions.

The new Search bar in Windows 11

The new Search bar in Windows 11

If you’re using an older version of the operating system or if you’re not among the select users chosen by Microsoft to get this feature earlier, the button is smaller, as the Windows 11 Search icon shows only a small magnifying glass, like in the screenshot below.

The old Windows Search icon on the taskbar

The old Windows Search icon on the taskbar

If by any chance, the icon is missing from the taskbar, you can access Search by pressing the Windows key on your keyboard or by clicking or tapping the Start button on the taskbar. This opens the Start Menu, showing the Windows Search input field at the top.

The search field in Windows 11's Start Menu

The search field in Windows 11's Start Menu

You don’t have to select the field, you can just start typing immediately after you press the Windows key. Either way, as soon as you do any of these actions, Windows 11 automatically switches to the Search window where it looks for any results matching what you’ve typed.

Typing while on the Start Menu automatically triggers Windows Search

Typing while on the Start Menu automatically triggers Windows Search

Another way to access Windows Search is by pressing the keyboard shortcut Windows + S.

The keyboard shortcut for Windows Search is Win + S

The keyboard shortcut for Windows Search is Win + S

This opens the Search window shown below.

The Start menu contains an input field for Windows Search

The Start menu contains an input field for Windows Search

Finally, you have the option to enter search terms in File Explorer. You just have to go to the Search field on the top right and click or tap on it to start writing the search terms. However, this only searches for files and folders stored locally or in your OneDrive.

The Windows Search input field in File Explorer

The Windows Search input field in File Explorer

NOTE: In the Windows Search window, search results are displayed as you type. If you search for a term and press Enter on your keyboard, the first result opens automatically. When searching using Windows Search in a File Explorer window, you need to press Enter or tap the arrow next to the search box to begin the search.

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How the Windows 11 Search is organized

The Windows Search window has many useful links and settings. Starting from the top, you have the input field; if you didn’t enter any terms in the input field, the Search window shows you a list of Recent apps and searches. Next to it, you’ll also see Microsoft’s Featured on Bing picture of the day. Click or tap on it, and you’ll get additional information about using Microsoft’s default search engine Bing, in Microsoft Edge.

Recent apps and Featured on Bing image, in the Search window

Recent apps and Featured on Bing image, in the Search window

On the top-right side, above the Featured on Bing image, there are also three buttons:

  • The portrait icon allows you to sign in or select the Microsoft account you’re using; the Manage accounts option opens the Settings app.

Switch the account used in Windows 11 Search

Switch the account used in Windows 11 Search

  • The three dots button opens the Options menu, where you can configure the Windows Search settings and Indexing options;
  • The medal/badge icon shows you how many Microsoft Rewards points you’ve gathered next to it. If you click/tap on it, Windows 11 opens Microsoft Edge and takes you to your Microsoft Rewards page, where you can see more details about your points as well as redeem them. This program is available in the USA and several other regions.

The Options menu in the Search window

The Options menu in the Search window

After entering a search term in the input field at the top, you get several filters you can use to fine-tune your searches. Click or tap on the small arrow to the right to scroll through the filters and reveal more options.

The filters bar in the Search window

The filters bar in the Search window

Now let’s see what searching is actually like:

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How to interact with Windows 11’s Search results

When you search for an item, Windows Search shows the results instantly, displaying them in order of importance. It shows the Best match first, then Apps, Settings, Search the web results, etc.

Search results are categorized automatically

Search results are categorized automatically

There are several actions you can take at this point:

  • Pressing Enter on your keyboard after typing the search term automatically opens the result in the Best match category.
  • By default, the right pane shows a list of available actions for the Best match item. Clicking or tapping on the arrow (“See more information”) next to a result different from the Best Match shows the context menu for that result. You can also use the up and down arrow keys on your keyboard to navigate the results and get more details about each of them.

Actions can be accessed by clicking on the arrow next to a result

Actions can be accessed by clicking on the arrow next to a result

  • Right-clicking (or pressing and holding for devices with a touch screen) on a search result opens a contextual menu where you can choose other actions. For apps, you can run them as administrator, pin them to the taskbar or Start, uninstall them, access their settings, etc. The actions available vary depending on the item. Some items, like settings and web searches, don’t get a contextual menu.

Right-clicking a search result opens a contextual menu with other options

Right-clicking a search result opens a contextual menu with other options

Let’s now focus a bit on the Windows 11 search filters.

How to use filters in Windows 11’s Search

Windows 11’s Search does much more than search for files stored locally on your computer. Depending on the options you select in the Search window, it can search for the term on the internet and even in your emails.

By default, Windows Search shows the results in all categories, but if you are looking for a specific item, you can narrow the scope to search faster. You do this by first opening the Search window (Win + S). Then, enter the search term(s) and select the category you want by using the options shown under the search box at the top. You can choose between All (default), Apps, Documents, Web, Settings, People, Folders, and Photos.

How to make an advanced search in Windows 11 using filters

How to make an advanced search in Windows 11 using filters

NOTE: Web searches are done using Microsoft’s (Windows 11) default search engine: Bing. Furthermore, when using the Web filter in the Search window, you only get quick links to results from Microsoft’s Bing search engine, and they always open in Windows 11’s default web browser: Microsoft Edge.

The Web filter opens Microsoft Edge and searches using Bing

The Web filter opens Microsoft Edge and searches using Bing

If you want to get results from another search engine, your only real option is to use a web browser and navigate to your favorite search engine.

What’s your experience with Windows 11’s Search?

I believe that Windows Search is an essential tool for the day-to-day usage of Windows devices. But how often do you use Search? Is it daily or very rarely? Personally, there’s no work day without me using it at least twice. But what about you? Comment and tell me about your experience and whether you are satisfied with the Search in Windows 11.

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