Visual Studio 11 Developer Preview: Quick Launch

Visual Studio 11 Developer Preview: Quick Launch

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In the past, finding things deep in the IDE has been a challenge. Visual Studio 11 Developer Preview introduces search abilities at almost every level of the product. Perhaps the biggest change is the introduction of Quick Launch which specifically addresses how to dig inside Visual Studio to find features you need. Let’s take a look.

Shortcut: CTRL + ` [back quote]

Versions: Visual Studio 11 Developer Preview

Quick Launch: Basic Use

You can find Quick Launch in the upper right corner of the IDE:


The most basic scenario for using Quick Launch is finding an item that you have forgotten (or don’t know) the location of. Let’s say you are interested in something deep in the menu system like viewing your white space. You know what it’s called but can’t remember where it is at. Just press CTRL + ` [back quote] and enter the word white:


All searches are contains operations so the results will show anything that has the word white anywhere in it. The results are grouped into categories and you simply either select the item from the list using your keyboard, mouse or, if there is a keyboard shortcut listed, take advantage of the shortcut. In this case, you could press CTRL+R, CTRL+W to show the white space and then go on with your work.


There are four categories that your results will fall into when using Quick Launch. Let’s take a look at each of these categories.

Most Recently Used


Pretty self-explanatory; this category is at the top of the dialog and will show up to the last 5 most recent items that match the current search criteria. Pay attention to the last part of that sentence. Only if it (a) was used by you before from this dialog and (b) matches the current search criteria will an item show up in the MRU list.

You can search just your Most Recently Used items by preceding any search with @MRU (case doesn’t matter):



The commands area is a little misleading. It doesn’t actually refer to commands that you might, say, type in the Commands window but instead refers to menu items. So if I type in build for a search the commands that are shown are menu paths:


You can filter results to show only commands by preceding any search with @CMD (case doesn’t matter):



The Options category does what you might expect--it shows items that can be found by going to Tools | Options on the Menu Bar:


As with the other categories, you can filter your search to just options by preceding any search with @OPT:


The only real limitation to keep in mind is this type of search doesn’t go beyond two levels deep and the description. For example, if I type the word document here is the result in the options category:


Which corresponds to Tools | Options | Environment | Documents:


Notice the search went two levels deep (Environment | Documents) but didn’t list out the items to the right that contain our search term in it.

Open Documents

This category is somewhat interesting. It searches file names and paths of open documents for the search criteria but not the text inside the files themselves. There are plenty of tools that can be used to search inside files and the context for Quick Launch is at a higher level. This feature is useful for finding a file when you have several files open:


As with the other categories it, too, can be filtered to search just show open files by putting @DOC at the front of your search:


Turning Categories Off

You can selectively turn off categories you don’t want to see by going to Quick Launch in Options:


Note: For the old school folks this can be found at Tools | Options | Environment | Quick Launch

Then deselect the special search providers you don’t want:


The next time you run a search it will not show the categories you have turned off in your result set.


Large Result Sets

As you may have noticed when playing with this feature it doesn’t show all the items in the initial results but does have a number indicating how many items it found:


Clearly not all 126 items in the Options are being shown but notice the message at the bottom of the list. If the results are too large to show we can just press CTRL+` [back quote] to show them all. Additionally, if you continue to press CTRL + ` [back quote] it will cycle through showing all items in all categories and filtering by each category:



Search Results from Previous Search

By default the search term you use is not persisted between search sessions. So if you search on something:


Then place move the cursor outside the Quick Launch area and go back the search term has been cleared from the area:


Personally, this is annoying to me and thankfully the VS team has a fix. Just go to the Quick Launch in the options area:


Then select Show Search Results From Previous Search When Quick Launch Is Activated option:


The next time you run a search, leave the Quick Launch area, and come back it will retain the search term last used and show you the search results as well.

Turning It Off

If for some reason you don’t like the Quick Launch feature, you can always turn it off by going to Quick Launch in the options:


Then unselect the Enable Quick Launch option:


This will remove the Quick Launch area from the IDE. To bring it back just go to Tools | Options | Environment | Quick Launch and select Enable Quick Launch.


I absolutely love this feature! My passion is around helping people be more productive in the IDE and I think Quick Launch is probably one of the biggest steps forward for discovery of VS features that I have ever seen. I’ve been using it for several weeks and am at the point now where I can’t imagine not having it. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Zain Naboulsi
Senior Developer Evangelist (Blog)

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  • Why didn't you assign the shortcut Ctrl+E to Quick Launch? This is the same shortcut that Windows Explorer and Internet Explorer use and I expect other apps to behave the same.

  • I installed VS11 Developer Preview, and the shortcut for this seems to be ctrl+' (single quote) instead of ctrl+` (back quote). Helpful that it states that in the textbox!

    On first run I chose to import settings from other installations, with the C++ defaults for everything else. I had VS2005 Standard, VC++2008 Express, and VC++2010 Express on the machine at that time.

    If this is a new feature, I wouldn't expect the keyboard shortcut for it to be altered by importing settings, unless the default clashes with something from the imported settings I suppose.

    So, is the shortcut different from your default because of importing settings, or because I've got a UK keyboard layout? Where is the ` key on US keyboards anyway? For us it's top-left, to the left of '1'.

  • @Ooh: We're still discussing what the final keyboard scheme will be for the new search features added in VS11. Most people wanted Ctrl+E to be used for Windows Search (those search windows in Solution Explorer, Toolbox, etc), and not for Quick Launch. That being said, for the moment Ctrl+E could not be used for any of these because it's already used as a first-key of a lot of two-key-shortcut sequences (to see those, open Tools/Options, Environment/General/Keyboard and press Ctrl-E in the Shortcut text box there), and those commands don't belong to the shell.

    Personally I think Ctrl+` is better choice for QuickLaunch: it's easier to find and hit on kbd - keys are in bottom+top left of keyboard, somewhat similar to Ctrl+Esc to open the StartMenu for search in Windows 7/8.

    @Andrew: BackQuote on US keyboard is also on top-left, to the left of 1. That being said, the shortcut is not hardcoded as Ctrl+`, instead it's defined as Ctrl+VK_OEM_3 (which is backquote/tilda on OS keyboard, and from what you're saying it sounds like it's single-quote on UK keyboard). There is also Ctrl+Shift+VK_OEM_3 to navigate backwards the results' categories.

    You can change the keybinding in Tools/Options dialog, Environment/General/Keyboard (search there for quicklaunch).

  • on many international keyboards, the back quote is not there, requires some modifier keys, or otherwise behaves oddly. Please consider that not all your users are in the US (and please don't just say "you can just rebind it". If it's worth finding a convenient default for your US-based customers, surely it's worth finding a default that works for the rest of us as well)

  • As Alin mentioned, we couldn't get this into PDC but are definitley looking to make the keyboard shortcut universally usable.

    Radhika Tadinada - MSFT

  • How to select result in few keystrokes without using mouse (default way of scrolling through list with up/down arrows is not very convenient)?

  • @Fahrenheit25391: Type more letters from what you're searching. With the right search query, the list of result will be reduced to only the item you're looking for, so you can just press Enter to execute it.

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