The IE8 Smart Address Bar Part II: A Few More Features

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:’

IE8 Smart Address Bar Search for xbox

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:

IE8 Files and Folders Mode

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:

Tip Section in Dropdown

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 “” 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:

IE8 Smart Address Bar with Arrow to Open Dropdown

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
Program Managers

Comments (41)

  1. Great stuff.  One issue that I’m having is that my Search Provider doesn’t seem to be returning suggested results into the Quick Pick results.  For example, if I type either of the following:

    In the Address bar – ‘? xbox’

    In the Search box – xbox

    The Search Suggestions returns the following:

        ‘No results’

  2. Troll says:

    Are you planning to update this blog to have a visual recognition system for posting in order to avoid all the "pingback" stuff ? I guess these guys are looking for a better ranking in search engines and advertising by the same way.

  3. Seth [MSFT] says:

    @Darren: This sounds like there might be a problem with your search provider. Try changing to a different provider that also supports suggestions. You can find more search providers from the IE Gallery (

  4. @Seth: I’ve just cycled through the 4 default providers:

    Live – doesn’t provide results

    Amazon – doesn’t provide results

    Google – DOES provide results

    Wikipedia – doesn’t provide results

  5. @Seth: sorry, I submitted too early.  I’ve also just replaced my Live Search provider with the one from the gallery and no change.

    Do you know how I might debug/repair this? ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. rad says:

    In IE How do i prevent ISP program from forcing me to use their own search provider. I’m stuck with a crappy search

  7. rad says:

    yes i have netzero yahoo search on smart address bar and in the search box i have live search. I want live search in smart address bar but the netzero program have no option to change search.

  8. Will Shaver says:

    Really enjoying beta 2 of IE8, many quality improvements over beta 1.

    I like the different color tabs for site groups. Can we get certain domains to stay the same color if possible during one session. Frequently when browsing a site and pulling up results on a separate tab the tab colors will cycle through several different colors.

    Just remember the last color used by that domain for that session. If it isn’t available, get the next one. ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. Sebastien Zimmermann [MSFT] says:

    @Darren: Hi. Try closing IE, checking in task manager that no iexplore.exe processes are running (alternatively, log off then on again), then restart IE. Please let us know if this fixes your issue.

  10. Sterling says:

    IE Team,

    This post is the best since the announcement of IE8 Beta 2 being available for download!

    Just a few minutes ago I started to search from the Smart Address Bar (I knew this feature was available before) but I didn’t know that I could also use great new features such as visual search from the Smart Address Bar. Great!

    I love the Tab/keyboard tip! It works great in solving an issue I had in that whenever I hit Enter from the dropdown list in the Smart Address Bar, it would instead of displaying the Favorite’s URL, it would display the path to the shortcut in my hard drive. I really hated that!

    Finally, the post also solved another issue I was wondering about: why IE was displaying entries from History, Favorites and Feeds after I had installed Windows Search, but would not if I uninstalled it. I’m not sure I like this feature but, we’ll see…

    Excellent post guys!

    PS I hope you’ll make an IE8 Quick Reference Guide like you did with IE7 –

  11. Soum says:

    "With Windows Search installed, this will show you your โ€˜topโ€™ sites from each group โ€“ the places, sites, and Feeds you read, select, and visit most often. Without Windows Search installed, this will show you your โ€˜most recently usedโ€™ list of History and Favorites."

    Isn’t there a way to get the "most frequently used" listing rather than an MRU list? I don’t want a site I visited during a random browsing session to clog up the list. And please break into categories (History, Bookmarks, Feeds etc). Like the "View by most visited" option in History, only presented much better. And please enable middle click in the address bar dropdown so that links open in a new tab.

    And is there any way to NOT have local items clogging up the History? The "My Recent DOcuments" menu (XP) and the "Recent Documents" smart folder (Windows Vista). Both are pretty handy. So why do I need a similar list in my browser?

  12. @Sebastian: IE restart did the trick.  Cheers!

  13. Real Estate says:

    Great work guys. Really enjoying beta 2 of IE8, many quality improvements over beta 1. Thanks a lot.

  14. V4BO says:

    I want to hide a favorite website plus it’s history from smart address bar and windows search. This is something FF3 never included and some user was upset about it.

    I notice in screenshot shown here that the NBC icon is displayed. Use different icon when user type in smart address bar.

  15. Thomas says:

    I have noticed that after a while you learn that some common sites that you visit will be the ones available through shift+enter. This then becomes a nice shortcut. For instance, I just type "reader" and press shift+enter to go to Google Reader. However, I have found that sometimes it takes a short while before the list comes up and I press shift+enter too early. What happens then is that I attempt to go to "http://reader", which is not what I wanted.

    Wouldn’t it make sense to either postpone the action of shift-enter or make nothing happen if you press it too early? If you actuall want to go to the url you have entered, you can always press just enter instead.

  16. zzz123 says:

    super jest ten blog …

    orginalne tematy i ล‚adny wystruj …

    podoba mi siฤ™ bardzo – pozdrawiam wszytskich


    blog is super – yes

  17. PatriotB says:

    @Soum — it does show "most frequently used" — provided you are on Vista or have Windows Search installed.  It’s not really practical (or performant) to try to get most frequent if you don’t have that information indexed, so it makes sense that it’s only available with Windows Search.

  18. Alex says:

    cool. The question mark works in IE7. Didn’t know ๐Ÿ™‚

  19. Soum says:

    Sorry, my bad. I didn’t realize I had Windows Search not running. So no wonder I didn’t get the grouping feature in the address bar dropdown.

    But the other requests still stand: make the entries in the address bar dropdown middle clickable – so that they can be opened in a new tab. And not include the local desktop items in the history list. The local items "pollute" the list and more often than not pushes the URLs out of the Top 5 list (and cluuter up the Top 20) list. Same with feeds. There is already a section for feeds, so why do we need them duplicated in the history?

  20. Sam says:


    This sounds very cool and everything … BUT

    Don’t you think that it kinda mimics Firefox 3 address bar? and since it does, why are you making all that fuss about it as if it was a breakthrough that no other person ever thought about … I think it’s time IE team started inventing original ideas of their own … firefox is way ahead of you guys ๐Ÿ˜‰

    … just thoughts

  21. Sam, you Firefox fanboi says:

    Gee Sam,

    Don’t you think Opera 9 released this feature before Firefox did?

    And so it does, isn’t it fanboi-ish of you to claim that Firefox released it first?

    So by your logic, I think it’s time the Firefox team started inventing original ideas of their own…

    And you should stop being a fanboi ๐Ÿ˜‰

    … just thoughts

  22. Tim says:

    I forsee a huge issue with abuse here.

    If I was "naughty" (I’m not, but many are), I would now start publishing a pile of content on the web that was bogus.  For every common keyword that users might search for (xbox, ipod, car, house, etc.) and either have images that match the keyword, but link to pages with no relation (e.g. p o r n pages or v i a g r a pages).  Or worse yet, use the naughty images instead… so when a child goes searching for "barbie" or "lego", they get a thumbnail list of the "dark" side of the Net.

    I’m not sure how this feature is implemented, but it just cries out to be abused.  Favicons for the sites in question would be a much better option.

  23. Max says:

    "weโ€™ve found that itโ€™s the address users are looking for over 2/3 of the time"

    That’s a great statistic.  Unfortunately, it’s also very deceptive.  It makes it sound like for anything you type, 2/3 of the time IE will give the "correct" suggestion.  It’s more likely that 2/3 of the testers simply kept typing until the autosuggest finally showed the suggestion they wanted.

  24. PatriotB says:

    @Tim — The images are coming from the search provider that is being used, thus you should only install and use search providers that you trust.

  25. Max, that’s true, but isn’t that how it’s supposed to work? You have to type to get where you’re going. Why is it bad that IE8 is helping those users out? And IE8 does provide a way for users to get what they’re looking for without typing anything (just click the dropdown arrow).

    I think what’s interesting is that it’s more likely that this means that 2/3 of the time, the user knows where they’re going (because they typed enough to get their hit on the list), and 1/3 of the time, they’re searching for something, but they can’t remember what. We’ve tried to make IE8 great for both cases.

  26. hAl says:

    Firstly when I installed IE8 the in IE7 already default present Live Search was listed as having suggestion enabled.

    No suggestions however.

    Removed and readded Live search as provider and now it says that suggestions are not even available.

    That is just terrible.

  27. Orl says:

    It seems like you have done a great job on the smart address bar, but I would like to have my list of previously visited sites back like in IE7, instead of just 5 in IE8 beta 2.

    Is there anyway I can disable the smart address bar, or at least customize it so I can get a longer list of previously visited sites?

  28. Kin says:

    I really miss the Domain History in the address bar.  Basically I want MORE listing of my the domains I visisted, instead of the current few.  May be simply I don’t know where to set that.  If so, please do tell.  Also I would like to easily get rid of the various sections such as Feeds and Favorites.  

  29. Esben2000 says:

    This is a question to the IETeam

    This has nothing to do with this post ("Address bar"), but I don’t know where else to write it.

    First I would like to say that the new IE8 Beta 2 is REALLY great! And I’m looking forward to the final release.

    But I have a big problem that I hope is just a bug in the Beta version.

    In my company we have started using the X-UA-Compatible HTTP Header with IE=EmulateIE7 on all pages. But now when we view the page source ("View source" from the context menu) the source is not the same as the source send to the client? The source you see has all tags in uppercase and most values in attributes are not quoted? What happens? Is this going to be fixed in the final release?

  30. Esben2000 says:

    I have just seen that you seem to have the same problem here on this blog. If I view your html source in Firefox the code is nice with lowered tags and attributes quoted but when I see the source in IE8 beta 2 the tags are all in uppercase and attributes are often not qouted?

  31. anony.muos says:

    Awesome this will replace my gl (Google’s I’m feeling lucky) search URL shortcut I created till IE7. Now only if the keyboard tip would also stick. Give users a choice. If they expand it, it means they want to see it expanded every time. Does the visual search work with image searches?

    Also, this won’t affect the shell/Explorer’s inline autocomplete right?

    Best of all, the relevant/applicable smart address bar functionality should make it into Windows Explorer’s breadcrumb bar in Windows 7.

  32. hypotheek says:

    Fabulous replacement for the long bar, great work guys. But what i do miss is the domain History in the address bar. Is it possible coming back? Or was it just me that is having that problem? Regards, Bob

  33. Kin says:

    I failed to mention that because of the domain history in the URL bar (even though only 5), I switched back to using IE8 instead of Chrome, even though it’s really much faster.  It’s a habit that’s ingrained by many years of surfing.  Please don’t take it out;  or at least let us set the # of domain history entries.

  34. Tim – PatriotB is correct, the images are provided by the search provider. Your standard providers (Google, Live, Yahoo) will filter out spam/porn, etc for you.

    Orl, Kin, & hypotheek – Thanks for the feedback, we’ll consider this post-Beta 2.

    Someone – We’ll consider allowing the keyboard tips section to stick open post-Beta 2. Our Visual Search feature was designed with image searches in mind – try it out! None of these changes affect the shell’s inline autocomplete feature. To answer your last point, we can’t talk about Win7 features at this point in time.

  35. Jon says:

    I run Windows Server 2008 (yeah, as workstation) and suggest does only work with google and no images like your screenshot (I’ve tried the same query)

  36. AngelOchoa says:

    I understand why you use the windows search but been an external application it tends to be very slow sometimes, perhaps you could have some kind of "search cache" that gives you a fast-first result that could be enhanced when the results from the windows search arrives.

  37. NoBar says:

    Search bar’s Live Search Suggestions always says "No results" for me. I installed over a pretty default install of IE7 on Vista. My provider, unmodified, is "Live Search (Default)", and I have no other options.

    It hasn’t worked on any of the five machines I’ve installed IE8 on so far.

    I’m in Australia. Bet it’s a feature.

  38. Jan says:

    The ? operator is nice, but I would like to be able to specify an operator for each search provider I have installed.

    goog <Search term>

  39. Larry M. says:

    how can I TURN OFF the autocomplete suggestion?


    IE8 beta

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