How to Search for Programs/Apps in Windows 8.1 - dummies

How to Search for Programs/Apps in Windows 8.1

By Woody Leonhard

If you know that you’re looking for a program (er, an app) in Windows 8.1 or you think that you’re looking for a program, keep in mind that you need to know the program name, or at least part of the program name.

With that caveat, here’s how easy it is to search for an app:

  1. Press the Windows key on the keyboard or the Windows button on your tablet to go to the Start screen. Then press or tap the down arrow in the lower-left corner of the screen. You see the Metro Apps list.

  2. Do one of the following:

    If you have a keyboard, type the first few letters of the name of the program.

    If you don’t have a keyboard, swipe from the right to bring up the Charms bar, tap the Search charm at the top, tap inside the Apps search box, and use the touch keyboard to type the first few letters of the program name.

    Windows immediately starts searching for programs that start with the characters you type. Mostly. Sort of.

To better understand your search results, it helps to know that Windows looks at the names of all the programs, and it tries to match the characters you type with the beginning letters of the program names, or the beginning letters of each of the words in the program’s name. Sometimes, though, the name of the program isn’t the same as what’s displayed on the screen.

Confused? Here, follow an example:

  1. Press the Windows key and then press or tap the down arrow in the lower-left corner. When you see the Apps list, type win.

    Windows finds all the programs with names that start with win.


    Some of the results are obvious, but many are not. For example, Store is on the list because it’s short for Windows Store. Word is on the list because the program that runs Word is winword.exe. Heaven only knows why some of the others are there. The point is that you can search for something and get results that are utterly inscrutable — and very different from what you may expect.

  2. Hit Backspace a few times and then search for in.

    If Windows were searching for all the apps with the characters in in their names, you’d see a long list. But that isn’t what Windows actually searches for. It looks for full words in the program names that start with in. So, for example, searching on in draws hits for Internet Explorer and Math Input Panel, but it doesn’t get a match on Windows Defender.


    Windows search results are largely based on the first characters of a program name, but program names are inconsistent. For example, there’s a Windows system program called Windows PowerShell. Because there’s no space between Power and Shell in PowerShell, if you search for shell, you won’t find the program. Similarly, you’ll never find Microsoft OneNote by searching for note, or Microsoft InfoPath by searching for path.

    If you’re accustomed to search using most programs on most computers, you would expect that searching for no would match anything with the letters no in the name. That isn’t the case with Metro Start screen Search. The letters no must appear either at the beginning of the name, or after a space in the middle of the name, before you’ll reliably get a hit.

Now you see why the search term path doesn’t match InfoPath, for example, but the search term notes matches Sticky Notes. Bizarre, but true — and the source of endless confusion for people who are looking for programs that they know are sitting on their computers.