Instant Search – Part 4: The New Search Lexicon

Search before Outlook 12

Search in Outlook 2003 had many issues that prevented users from taking full advantage of it as a primary means of interacting with their mail data.

The Find UI was not visible by default, and most users did not know how to turn it on.  Those that turned it off were unable to turn it back on.  It also had significant UI complexity, i.e. too many knobs and levers that blended in with each other and obfuscated their purpose.  The Advanced Find UI was very complicated and difficult to use for most users.

Most importantly, search in Outlook 2003 was slow.  The lack of speed was crippling to most users and compounded the problems with the UI.  It was very difficult to search across different store types, and that worked against Outlook’s goal of being able to access so many different types of data stores.

The New Search Lexicon

Search was never considered a primary means of finding information in Outlook.  We have taught our users to use folders and flagging systems to help keep mail organized and make it easier to find when needed.

Now that Search returns sub-second results, we can confidently state that Search is the predominant way we want our users to find their information.  Users can now move away from folder-based filing systems if they'd like and use Search to always find the items they need, no matter what folder or store they are in.  If you prefer to maintain a folder-based filing system (like I do), then our scoping model means you just click a folder and instantly search just its contents, with the ability to up-scope to All Mail Items with just one click.


The new Outlook 12 Search replaces the UI from Outlook 2003’s Find system with the new Search Pane.  Along with the Query Builder and view filtering, this new UI represents an entirely new way for users to interact with their Outlook items.  Scoped, item-level filtering means that using Search to pare down your view to see less items and find the one you want is a vast improvement over search in 2003.

Comments (8)

  1. Charlie Wood says:

    I can’t tell if the use of ‘Wicked’ is (a) inadventant, (b) a Boston reference, (c) an SNL/Boston metareference, or (d) an historical Mac IIfx cross-platform "we’re on on Intel now, punk!" hyper-reference. Points awarded in order of appearance.

    Regardless, as someone who sees Outlook 12 become the most important client software development since, um, Netscape .94, I’m (super-)happy to hear that search will be fast.

    Keep up the great work.


  2. Nektar says:

    A bug in current Outlook 2003 is that when you turn on the find ui by pressing ctrl+e or through the menu, it does not go away if you press the shortcut key again. So, when the find ui is visible then ctrl+e does not turn it off.

    I reported this bug and even after 2 service packs, it was never fixed. There are many more bug that I reported but nobody pays any attention.

  3. mnerec says:

    One thing that has always bugged me when using search in Outlook is how to type phone numbers.

    Did I enter someones phone number as 11 22 33 44 55 or 1122 3344 or was it 11223344, was it formatted using Bulgarian, Danish or American notation?

    It would be a great releif if the search disregarded the spaces!

  4. ssteele says:

    Will the search also search other storage items such as contacts and appointments. One of the most useful features of lookout was an easy way to find a contact by searching for part of their name. This always found the contact and/or e-mails from that person in super-quick time – I need this!

  5. Lex says:

    Well search has never been an option before in Outlook due to it’s poor performance and results. I use Windows Desktop Search which is immeasurably superior to the current Oulook offering (and I used LookOut before that).

    However I’m curious how the new version will work with Windows Desktop Search (both via the MSN plugin and in Vista), it would seem logical for Outlook to become a native provider for the window’s search engine (rather than the current index while running approach). If Outlook could push updates to the indexing engine that would be far superior – probably more so than improving the internal search capabilities of Outlook itself.

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