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Microsoft to unify search across Windows 10, Office 365 and Bing with Microsoft Search

Microsoft is both refining and expanding its unified search mission, so as to deliver a single smart search box across Windows 10, Office, Bing, Edge and more.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

Microsoft has a new 'North Star' for search: One, unified, smart search box that will span Windows, Office, Bing and more. For the past several years, Microsoft been working to unify and personalize its search experience across Office 365. But now the company is going a step further and bringing Windows 10 the same search experience.

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At Ignite last year, Microsoft said its holy grail for search was to enable people to search from wherever they were without interrupting their workflow. Bing for Business -- a way to turn Bing into an Intranet search service -- also debuted last year.

At this year's Ignite, Microsoft is refining and expanding that search mission. Microsoft's plan is to put the search box "in a consistent, prominent place across Edge, Bing, Windows and Office apps, so that search is always one click away." The company also is "supercharging" the search box so that users can more easily find people, related content, commands for apps and more before they actually start typing in the search box, as it will be contextually aware and offer proactive search results and suggestions.

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Today, September 24, Microsoft is starting to roll out a preview of this Microsoft Search feature to Office.com, Bing.com (where it's no longer called Bing for Business, but, instead Microsoft Search in Bing) and the SharePoint Mobile app. Microsoft Search will be coming to Edge, Windows and other versions of Office in the coming months, going into 2019.

Credit: ZDNet

The addition of Windows and Edge to Office's personalized search mission is interesting and not too surprising, given Microsoft's focus on Microsoft 365 -- its bundle of Windows 10, Office 365 and Enterprise Mobility + Security -- plus its corporate-wide reorg earlier this year which resulted in some of the Windows team moving under the head of the Office organization.

There were a few leaks this past year of a possible new search experience coming to Windows 10 which would decouple Cortana from search and possibly make cleaner the distinction between local PC search results and Web search results. Since those leaks happened, Microsoft split its Windows team in two, with part of the team moving to the Microsoft 365 organization.

I asked Senior Product Manager Naomi Moneypenny if the unification of Microsoft Search across Microsoft's properties meant this type of Cortana-free search experience would come to Windows 10. She said (in an emailed response): "Microsoft Search as a cohesive capability will manifest through many different search experiences across Microsoft 365 (in Office, Windows and more). Cortana could use Microsoft Search as a resource in her interactions with you, depending on your query."

MORE FROM IGNITE: Microsoft tries again to win developers with new Cortana Enterprise Skills Kit | What's next for Teams | Microsoft staggers rollout of Surface Hub 2 | Microsoft readies previews of Azure Digital Twins, Azure Sphere secure-edge service

Moneypenny added that "Understanding user intent is part of our work here. Right now in experiences where the web and work come together, we are displaying them differently, for example organizational results separate from web results."

As Microsoft officials explained last year, it's a combination of the Microsoft Graph, the company's centralized application programming interface, plus semantic knowledge from Bing, that will make this more personalized and unified search experience work. The Microsoft Graph is what contributes an understanding of users' work life, meaning the documents, the entities, the people they work with regularly and other everyday signals. Bing contributes an understanding of the world outside an organization, with acronym and entity extraction, machine reading comprehension and computer vision.

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Officials said the combination of these Microsoft Graph and Bing capabilities will allow Microsoft Search not just to answer simple queries, but more complex ones, as well, such as "Can I bring my wife and kids on a work trip?" by using machine reading comprehension coupled with an understanding of an organization's internal documents.

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