IE8 Smart Address bar: What’s new

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IE8 Smart Address bar: What’s new

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During the IE8 beta periods, we unveiled a bunch of exciting new changes to the address bar. Throughout the beta period, we observed how the feature was being used and listened to your feedback. Two major themes developed from this feedback: performance, and control.

Performance

Although the Smart Address bar performance during the beta periods was acceptable for the most part, in some cases the address bar performed a bit slowly, and sometimes incredibly slowly. We made several changes under the hood with the net result of improved performance by 50% on average, and over 98% in some scenarios. Most of these changes don’t affect the actual behavior of the address bar, but I’m going to call out two that do.

First, when you type a single character into the address bar, you will now see only typed addresses:

IE8 Smart Address bar with just one letter typed.  Only typed addresses are shown as results.

Second, when you type two or more characters, we look for results from typed addresses and other local data (history and favorites by default) just like we did before. The difference is that you may see typed addresses first, followed shortly by the other results.

This is due to the fact that typed addresses are stored in the registry while history, favorites, and feeds are indexed using Windows Search. Accessing data from a small, fixed list of registry keys is quicker than querying a database such as Windows Search. Instead of waiting for all the returned results, results are now shown dynamically as they become available.  In most cases you will still see all results populate in the address bar simultaneously. Depending on your machine configuration and the size of your Windows Search index, there may be times where you see typed addresses first follow by a slight pause and then items from history and favorites.

Control

The second major theme we heard in Beta 2 feedback was the desire for more control over the contents of the address bar. I’m pleased to announce that we now offer much greater control over what you see in your address bar. The AutoComplete settings dialog in Internet Options has changed to provide these new settings:

Autocomplete settings dialog which allows you to contorl what you see in the address bar.

Feeds off by default

As part of this change, we chose to turn Feeds off by default. We saw that most users preferred to interact with feeds through the Favorites Center instead of the address bar, and turning Feeds off in the address bar allowed us to provide a more streamlined experience. If you really like to see feeds in your address bar, you can quickly turn them back on. Just open Tools -> Internet Options -> Content tab -> AutoComplete settings.

If you have Windows Search installed (it comes with Vista and later by default), you can now explicitly control whether Windows Search is used to index your data. Please see our earlier post to read the benefits of using Windows Search. Note: once again, if you disable Windows Search, you will not be able to view feeds in the address bar.

If you do not have Windows Search installed, you’ll now see an install link in the address bar which will let you take advantage of this technology.

IE Smart Address bar with a link to install Windows Search

More typed addresses

As part of the request for more control, many of you desired to see more typed addresses. The other sections (History, Favorites, and Feeds) are expandable to show 5-20 items, but in Beta 2 we limited typed addresses to 5. I’m excited to announce that we now offer the option to see more typed addresses.

Turning off one address bar section (ex: feeds) will increase the number of typed addresses from 5 to 12. If you decide you really just want typed addresses and turn off all the other sections, you will now see up to 25 typed addresses. Coupled with the change to turn feeds off by default, you will now see up to 12 typed addresses in the default case.

Enhanced SHIFT+ENTER shortcut

The Shift+Enter shortcut was designed to give you fast access to our “suggestion” – the item in the address bar we thought you’d most likely want to go to. In Beta 2, we gave preference to history items. Throughout the Beta, however, we observed that it was more common for users to pick a typed address than a history item. So we made the obvious change to prefer typed addresses. You’ll notice we also removed the section header “AutoComplete Suggestion” to reduce noise and streamline the UI.

IE8 Smart Address bar, there is no "AutoComplete Suggestion" title and the shift enter item in in the autocomplete section.

Revamped TAB key behavior

Since there are multiple sections within the Smart Address bar, we initially thought it would be best to use the TAB to let users quickly jump down the list, from section to section. This fit with general Windows UI principles (TAB should cycle between UI controls) and seemed like it would speed up access to items in the address bar dropdown list. The arrow keys function to move through each item, line by line, in the address bar dropdown list. This was a change from previous releases and other similar products - in Internet Explorer 7 (and Windows Explorer), pressing TAB allows users to cycle through each item in the address bar dropdown. 

The feedback we heard centered around two main points: “I’m used to TAB working one way, why did it change” and “I prefer using TAB instead of the arrow keys because I don’t have to take my hands off the keyboard home row – it’s just faster”. We carefully considered this feedback and weighed it against real usage data which helps us see which items in the address bar users select most often. The usage patterns that emerged from this data supported the feedback – users are most interested in getting to items at the top of the list, and TAB should help speed this up.

With the feedback and usage data in hand, the decision was clear. We changed the TAB behavior back to function as it did in Internet Explorer 7 and other, similar products.  

Conclusion

In Internet Explorer 8, we improved performance and provided greater control over what you see in YOUR address bar. We’d like to personally thank everyone for sharing their thoughts and opinions on the Beta 2 and RC1 releases – your feedback was invaluable for implementing these changes. Happy browsing!

Seth McLaughlin
User Experience Program Manager
Internet Explorer

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