Windows 8.1 Smart Search Receives Major Update, Gets Smarter

Microsoft updates its Bing-powered Windows search feature that does a better job of deciphering a user's intent.

Smart search

Windows 8.1 Smart Search is getting a major update this week, announced Microsoft on April 30.

This week, the software giant is rolling out an update that accepts natural language queries and delivers more relevant, action-based answers. The update builds on the Smart Search feature that launched with Windows 8.1. Smart Search allows users to find information and content, whether it resides on their PCs, the cloud, the Web or in an app.

"Based on the most common tasks people perform on Windows 8, we are taking steps to allow Smart Search to showcase results based on natural language understanding," said the Bing Relevance Team in a blog post. The aim is to give users more straightforward answers and guidance, helping them accomplish tasks faster.

Explaining how the new Smart Search works, a member of the Bing team provided the following example: "Now when I search for 'install a printer,' Smart Search will show me that the function resides within 'Device Settings' so I can take action with a simple click."

An accompanying screenshot shows how Windows 8.1 provides a shortcut to the device settings menu. Similarly, typing "get apps for Windows" into the search field generates a shortcut to the Windows Store while asking about deleting an app guides users to the appropriate control panel option.

A Bigger, Better Bing

Users won't have to wait for a big Windows refresh to experience the new functionality, indicated the company. Microsoft stated that the new Smart Search "demonstrates how the Bing platform makes our Windows product more useful and helpful without having to update the Windows client software."

Bing is emerging as an underlying intelligence engine for the company's expansive software and cloud services portfolio, rather than just a stand-alone search technology.

Apart from Windows 8.1, it powers the Xbox One's voice-enabled search and provides the machine-learning capabilities behind Cortana, the company's intelligent digital assistant. Cortana, which was officially unveiled at last month's Build developer conference, is the company's answer to Apple's Siri and Google Now.

During a demonstration at the developer confab, Cortana deftly (and sassily, on occasion) handled a variety of natural-language queries, requests and tasks while surfacing information (upcoming appointments, travel itineraries, traffic information and the like) that affects the user. Cortana will replace the standard search on upcoming Windows Phone 8.1 devices.

"Just like our speech work in Xbox or our constantly improving Cortana functionality, the power of Bing as a platform means products you use every day simply get more personal, helpful and intelligent every day," said the company in a statement.

Last year, Microsoft took the wraps off the new Bing Developer Center in a bid to help coders build more aware applications. Developers can leverage several services, including the Bing Maps, Bing Translator, the Bing Entity API and Bing Text-to-Speech.

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the network of...