In an earlier post, we introduced the new IE8 Smart Address Bar dropdown functionality. Now we thought we’d spend some time discussing some of its less obvious features in more detail.
More about the IE8 Smart Address Bar Autocomplete Suggestion
With Windows Search installed, IE8 makes an attempt to determine what site you’re trying to get to. The site that it determines is most likely the one you’re looking for is called the “Autcomplete Suggestion.” This entry is given the SHIFT+ENTER shortcut, so it’s very easy to go to your most recommended site. But how do we determine what’s most relevant?
We use a variety of factors to determine what site you’re trying to get to. IE8 takes into consideration what you’re typing in the Address Bar and weighs the results based on how well what you’ve typed matches against a variety of fields. For example: an exact match against the domain is ‘worth more’ than a match against a fragment down in the querystring part of the URL. We’re not going to give the exact rules for our algorithm (to avoid people gaming the system), but basically, some parts of the URL are more important than others. All matches are returned as part of the potential set of results, but “how good” a match helps determine the order.
Once IE has narrowed down the set of hits based on what you’ve typed, it uses a bit more data to determine what you’re looking for, including how often you go to a particular site, and whether or not you’ve selected it from the list before. All of these are part of the relevancy model.
But what’s most important to any user? Their History, a Favorite, or a Feed? Since your History tends to be a super-set of all your other data (every Favorite you visit, or Feed you read also ends up in History), IE8 gives precedence to the top History item. If no matches are available in your History, the Autocomplete Suggestion will return your top Favorite. If no Favorite matches, it will return your top Feed.
This feature was designed as the replacement for Inline Autocomplete, which was removed in IE8 Beta 1. Inline Autocomplete had no smarts: it just completed what you were typing with the first complete match from your history, sorted alphabetically.In IE8 Autocomplete Suggestion is essentially the same thing (only now you use SHIFT+ENTER instead of just ENTER), and because of relevancy, we’ve found that it’s the address users are looking for over 2/3 of the time.
Search from the IE8 Smart Address Bar
For those of you who may or may not have noticed, whether you type in the Address Bar or Search Box, the dropdown underneath is the same control. Although it looks a little different depending on where it is, it’s all the same code running. One difference in how the dropdown acts is that, for example, under the Address Bar, it shows the keyboard tips section at the bottom, but under the Search Box, it shows the QuickPick menu.
But did you know that you can flip the dropdown into Search Box mode, even when typing from the Address Bar? Just type a question mark followed by any word, string, or phrase, and it will act just like you opened the Search Box, with one exception: the keyboard shortcut section is visible and the QuickPick menu is not. Otherwise it’s the same – you get search suggestions (if available) from your default search provider and IE8 only shows you matches from your typed addresses and History. If you don’t rely on the QuickPick menu, it’s a great way to quickly do a search. Here’s a screenshot of Visual Search results coming back from an Amazon search for ‘xbox 360:’
If you typed multiple words in IE7, it would assume you’re searching for something, so it would pass what you typed along to your auto-search provider. To do that in IE8, just type ‘Find,’ ‘Search,’ or ‘Go’ as the first word, type the word or words you’re looking for, and then hit ENTER. Side note: this works in IE7 too. “Find” and “Go” don’t flip the Address Bar dropdown into search mode, it just tells IE to treat your string as a search when you hit ENTER.
Files and Folders mode
There’s also a Files and Folders mode in IE8. Just type any local or network path, and we’ll enumerate your local (or networked) files and folders. This is a handy way to quickly find and launch a local resource, but remember: IE will probably hand launching the file, directory or executable off to the Windows shell to handle, since IE may not know what to do with, say, a random DLL on your machine. If it’s a file format that IE understands (JPG, text file, etc.), then it’ll likely open in the frame. Note that in Files and Folders mode, IE8 does not do any hit highlighting and there are no keyboard shortcuts:
Navigating with the keyboard
We made sure that the Autcomplete dropdown in IE8 was as accessible to keyboard users as to those of us who use the mouse. It’s very easy to use the keyboard in the dropdown:
- Use the UP and DOWN ARROW keys to move between items; the arrow keys will skip over section headers.
- Use the TAB key to move between section headers; the TAB key will skip over items. If you want to expand or collapse any section with the mouse, just TAB to it, then hit the SPACE or ENTER key.
Both the ARROW and TAB keys ‘wrap’ at the top and bottom of the dropdown, so if you keep hitting TAB (or its reverse, SHIFT+TAB), you’ll keep cycling through the group headers. To advance focus to the control immediately after the Address Bar, just hit ESC to close the dropdown, then TAB will advance normally.
For users with a screen reader, it should not only announce the name of the group you’ve selected, but also how many items are available. As you select individual items, it will not only announce the item’s Title and URL, but the position of the item in that group as well.
The keyboard tip section at the bottom of the dropdown will show you various key combinations for quick navigation with IE8. The arrow beneath the keyboard tip sections is counted as its header row for expanding or collapsing it. Here’s the tip section in its expanded state:
We’ve typed ‘microsoft’ in the IE8 Smart Address Bar for this example. IE has supported the CTRL+ENTER keystroke for some time, but it never advertised this keystroke to users before. Now you can easily see what happens, and tune the behavior of IE, just by choosing the right combination of keystrokes. The middle option in the screenshot (the “microsoft.net” option for CTRL+SHIFT+ENTER) only appears if you’ve selected a custom suffix, which can be done via the “Languages” button on the General Tab of IE’s options screen. If that option is left blank, then this line will not appear.
The keyboard tip section always defaults to its collapsed state (it won’t ‘stick’ open). We do this because most users don’t need to see all the keyboard tips all the time. Since they don’t change, once you learn them you don’t need to be constantly reminded about them, and the advanced users who user keyboard shortcuts more tend to want the UI to take up as small amount of real estate as possible.
Open the dropdown without typing anything
The Autocomplete dropdown can be opened even if you don’t type anything – just click the down arrow to the right of the address bar:
With Windows Search installed, this will show you your ‘top’ sites from each group – the places, sites, and Feeds you read, select, and visit most often. Without Windows Search installed, this will show you your ‘most recently used’ list of History and Favorites.
Christopher Vaughan & Seth McLaughlin