As mentioned in the first post on this topic, the IE8 Smart Address Bar works better with Windows Search installed. However, IE8 does not require Windows Search, and IE8 will still provide a superior experience to IE7 if it’s not there. We are going to go through and detail the differences between IE8 with and without Windows Search so people can understand the trade-offs.
To start with, we made a choice to use Windows Search as our index & query engine when we began work on IE8 almost two years ago. We could have written our own engine, or we could have used a different engine, but it came down to a simple realization: we have a team of people here at Microsoft who are dedicated to creating a great search & indexing experience, and it’s called the Windows Search team (formerly known as “Windows Desktop Search.” And to avoid any confusion, we’re talking about the local search index team, not the folks who run live.com – those are separate organizations). The people on that team are experts at what they do, and by leveraging their technology, we get the benefit of all of their hard work and expertise. We consider the folks on the Windows Search part of the extended IE team (the same way you can consider, say, the folks on the networking team, who write TCP/IP for Windows, as part of the IE family).
Once we made the decision to use Windows Search, the next question was simple: what happens to IE8 when Windows Search is not installed? Well, on one hand, you could argue that IE8 should work just as well with as without Windows Search, but then we’d just be duplicating Windows Search inside IE, which reverses the decision we just decided not to make. So, while it was clear we would have to make some trade-offs in IE8 when Windows Search was not present, we still wanted to make sure that IE8 without Windows Search was superior to IE7.
This screenshot shows IE8 on Windows XP, where Windows Search is not included by default:
As you can see, even without Windows Search, you still get the new look with Titles, URLs, grouping, and hit highlighting. Typed addresses are still available, and you also get the expandable keyboard shortcut section at the bottom. This is one of those areas where we think the IE8 experience is better than IE7: IE8 is providing richer data back to the user in an easier-to read format. An IE8 user in front of the keyboard of this machine will instantly recognize this as IE8, and therefore should be familiar with the other IE8 features (all of which you can read about here on the IE blog). Despite the new look, underneath, IE8 acts a lot like IE7 did when you type in the address bar.
Here are the details about what’s different in IE8 when Windows Search is not available, but first, a primer about Windows Search. Windows Search has two basic parts: an index and a query engine. We’re not going to go into detail about these here, but IE8 works with both parts to return results to users quickly. The part of Windows Search that we rely on when the user types in the address bar is the query engine. It’s fast, and it does a bunch of hard work (like word breaking) for us. It’s the presence of this fast and flexible query engine that enables us to take what you type, search across a huge amount of disparate data, and return results in time measured in milliseconds. Remember that Favorites are file objects, History is represented in an internal WININET container, typed addresses are stored in the registry, and RSS uses structured storage. That’s four different storage mechanisms for four different data types, all of which are first class citizens in IE. Windows Search allowed us to standardize how we search across these four data types, and made it fast. Best of all, by not changing the underlying data types, we incurred no compatibility costs. People can continue to XCOPY their Favorites around or roam them with 3rd party services, and IE8 will continue to work just fine.
Windows Search allows for smarter searches (because of word breaking)
Without Windows Search, IE8 loses the ability to do word breaking when it searches.
“Word breaking” refers to taking a string (say, “http://www.microsoft.com/windows/products/winfamily/ie/default.mspx”) and splitting it up into individual words or elements (“http” + “www” + “microsoft” + “com” + “windows” + “products” + “winfamily” + “ie” + “default” + “mspx”). Word breakers know to split up strings not just at spaces (which typically don’t occur in URLs), but at characters like slashes, hyphens, and question marks (which are common characters in a URL). Without word breaking, my example URL is just one long big unbroken word, and all IE8 can do quickly in the address bar is strip away the prefix (the “http://www.”) and match against the domain (Microsoft.com).
IE7 (and earlier) did not do word breaking when it tried to match what you typed against URLs in your history.
For matching against Favorites, I can type “Microsoft at” to match against the string “Microsoft At Home,” but I won’t get a match if I type “Home.”
Windows Search allows IE8 to search across multiple fields for matches
One of the benefits of Windows Search is the ability to quickly search for matches across many fields or properties, all at once. For instance, for Favorites, IE8 can match what you type against a variety of properties of that Favorite: the Favorite’s URL, the Favorite’s local name (whatever you called it when you saved it), and the folder(s) the Favorite is saved in.
Without Windows Search, IE8 is limited to just searching for the Favorite by name. For History items, we’re limited to just searching by URL. This is how IE7 worked as well. One improvement we made in IE8 without Windows Search is that, unlike in IE7 where it only checked the top level of your Favorites folder for matches, with IE8, we’ll search your entire hierarchy of Favorites for title matches.
Windows Search allows IE8 to search for Feeds and Feed Items
Without Windows Search, IE8 won’t return any Feeds or Feed Items in the dropdown. That means the entire Feeds section of the dropdown will never be present on a machine without Windows Search. If you read a Feed Item in the browser, its URL and Title will be in your History, so it will show up in the list as a History item. This is how some of the other browsers (including IE7) already treat Feeds and Feed Items: they show up once they’re in your History.
Windows Search allows IE8 to provide relevancy sorting
Because the rich data about a site you visit is stored in the Windows Search index, without it IE8 can’t quickly save and compute the relevance of any given address compared to another. Instead we’ll fall back to alphabetic sorting, which is how IE7 sorted its results.
Unfortunately, without relevancy, we also cannot provide an Autocomplete Suggestion. For that reason, this option (and its SHIFT+ENTER shortcut) will not be visible when Windows Search is not installed.
Without Windows Search, History entries will be sorted alphabetically by URL, and Favorite entries will be sorted alphabetically by Title.
So in summary, here’s what you get when you use IE8 without Window Search:
- The new look, including page titles, URLs, grouping, highlighting, typed addresses, and keyboard shortcuts
- The ability to do simple matching against domains for History items, like IE7 did
- The ability to do simple matching against Favorite names, like IE7 did (although IE will search your entire Favorites folder hierarchy with IE8)
- Alphabetic sorting of sites & Favorites that match
For the corporate IT people out there, there are no policies (or preferences) in IE to enable or disable using Windows Search separately. IE8 will use Windows Search if it’s available and running.
As a reminder, IE8 works with either Windows Search 3 or 4. Windows Vista ships with Windows Search 3, and Windows Search 4 is available as a free download for users running Windows XP, Windows Server 2003 & 2008, and Windows Vista (with some restrictions on service pack levels).
For users who choose to run IE8 without Windows Search, we hope this post clears up any questions about how IE8 should act. And for others, we hope it’s convinced you to try out Windows Search to see what IE8 can really do!
Christopher Vaughan and Seth McLaughlin