Fluent Search: Maybe Microsoft is trying to make such a launcher
Regardless of the operating system, search and launcher functionality is one of the key entry points to build. On macOS, the native Spotlight works well, and the third-party tool Alfred is a must-have out-of-the-box product. On the other hand, Microsoft seems to be in trouble with search and launcher: the Windows system search has not been much of a presence since the beginning, and people still prefer Everything to search for files; the Start menu, a launcher that has undergone several twists and turns, has not made users happy, but the reputation of Listary and uTools is growing.
Microsoft must have noticed that they are really weak in this area, so they offered the official plug-in PowerToys Run to try to find another way. It combines search, launcher, and quick actions, a form that is more similar to the mainstream products on the market, which will be more familiar and easier for users to accept. In fact, many users do consider it as the Alfred of Windows platform and think that it should be the default search tool for Windows.
Since the market feedback is good, should Microsoft stop here? The answer is of course no, because there is already a product “more Microsoft than Microsoft” on the market, namely Fluent Search, which in my opinion is the product that Microsoft “should have” made.
Perhaps it’s a historical problem that every single application of the same type seems to integrate with the system on macOS, but on Windows it’s a major problem. So even though the tools mentioned above are great, they always feel like “these tools are outsiders”.
One of the features of Fluent Search is that it is exactly what it sounds like. It adopts the Fluent Design advocated by Microsoft: the translucent frosted texture called “mica” effect, the rounded graphic design, the clean and simple icons and the color scheme, which are closer to the native Windows effect and make me ignore the fact that Fluent Search is also a third-party application to a great extent.
Fluent Search fades in and out for the pop-up and disappear process, and the animations are closer to the Windows 11 window animations. So I would recommend you to experience Fluent Search on Windows 11 rather than Windows 10, and maybe you will think of it as a native Windows 11 launcher at some point, as I did.
The third-party application carries the flag for Microsoft, which feels like a fire in the backyard and the homeowner is watching dry, while the spectators are throwing water to put out the fire, after all, even Microsoft’s own products are still “not Fluent enough”. Of course, Fluent Search also allows users to customize its appearance, including changing the mica effect to acrylic glass, or modifying the window color scheme to match the appearance on Windows 10.
We can think of the search launcher as a “wormhole” where users can get to their destination directly without going through a mountain of mountains, and the search function is the map that guides us through the wormhole. It will become more accurate in terms of keyword completion, result association, etc. over time.
Now that we have a map, how can we find the exact wormhole that corresponds to our destination? When searching, you can use the Tab key to lock the content under that tab, and the preview window will show you which tabs are currently available for that item.
In terms of file search, Fluent Search supports more search engines than PowerToys Run. It has its own built-in search service, but it also supports Windows system search for those who don’t want to burden their system with extra work. Also as a third-party tool, Fluent Search necessarily supports calls to Everything, so you don’t have to worry about whether the search is good or not.
In addition, Fluent Search also provides a quick preview of the search bar, including images, text, web pages, or a quick look at the folder directory. Fluent Search also supports Quick Look, a third-party preview application, as well as file search, and for me, I have both plug-ins installed, Fluent Search gives me a feeling of “third-party applications for warmth”.
In terms of program search, in addition to directly launching applications that are already registered in the system, Fluent Search can also jump to a system setting item, even if it is not part of the first level menu. For example, when I searched for the word “reboot”, another program of the same type could only operate the power button, while Fluent Search could also jump to the reboot option in the system update menu. In addition, Fluent Search can pass command line arguments directly to CMD or PowerShell without specific symbols, which makes it easier to use.
Besides being a portal to the application, another killer feature of Fluent Search is to operate the application directly from the keyboard. We can do this through two features, “In-App Search” and “Screen Search”. The former resolves the UI elements available in the focus window and uses the Fluent Search search box as the entry point. The latter includes all the actionable content within the visible range of the current screen, which can be found in the search box or directly display keyboard shortcuts in the corresponding location on the screen, similar to the screen actions in Windows voice recognition.
For example, when browsing the web, we can switch browser tabs directly through in-app search, click hyperlinks and images through screen search; if you can’t remember the shortcut keys in Office suite, you can also use Fluent Search to switch toolbar buttons through the keyboard, and even some operations without shortcut keys can be done using the keyboard.
Expanded productivity is not a problem either
Fluent Search is not enough to compete with its older competitors, if only because of its sophisticated search and launcher features, but it can also provide you with productivity support.
Command line delivery, calculators, Chrome content search, and more are already commonplace, and Fluent Search can also be linked to a Microsoft account to sync settings to OneDrive, and when linked with Microsoft To Do, it can directly manipulate to-do items that have already been added, including checking off completion, renaming, and jumping to the web version, though you can’t add to-do items or edit delegates yet.
Fluent Search also supports plug-in extensions, which are currently on the shelves including translation, clipboard, unit conversion, Youtube video search and reading preview plug-ins for several websites, although the number is small, but the good thing is that users can write their own using C# language, development gurus can develop a perfect response to their needs.
And there’s no way for an average user like me, who has no development skills, to improve productivity with Fluent Search? This brings us to another killer feature of Fluent Search: custom tasks. This feature is very similar to Alfred in that it uses a graphical interface, modularizes the trigger conditions and execution actions, and adjusts the execution branches and steps through “connect” actions to form an automated workflow.
Fluent Search divides tasks into 10 categories, each with many sub-categories, and you can specify triggers and execution modules according to your needs. For example, I need to type the phrase “Fluent Search” frequently while writing this manuscript, but the editor I’m used to doesn’t have a snippet clipping feature, so I can create a “quick entry of common words” workflow in the Fluent Search task.
The most direct way to trigger the workflow is to use the search box to execute the workflow by entering the specified phrase. In the Execute module, due to some limitations in the current version of Fluent Search, it cannot continue executing the workflow after hiding the window, so we have to save the day by manipulating the clipboard to get the phrase, and then we need to paste the phrase into the editor manually after executing the task. If you want to make it even better, you can also connect a “Show Notification” module to remind yourself that you need to paste manually.
Although it’s a bit troublesome, the good thing is that the specified phrase will be topped every time it is executed, so that the phrase will not be overwritten due to copying other contents. In fact, Fluent Search itself can already match the process name and window title, but now it only provides the function to switch to other processes, maybe with subsequent updates, it can support switching to the specified window, then we can use the “Send Shortcut” module, or even output text directly to the edit box.
As an example, we can also create tasks such as “Use PowerShell to quickly execute commands” and “Adjust Word format”.
As a new product, Fluent Search lacks the polish that comes from users compared to older tools. However, in my opinion, Fluent Search has found its starting point, relying on Fluent Design to catch the eye and having the potential to grow in terms of productivity features. I have a sneaking suspicion that maybe Microsoft will buy Fluent Search one day.
If you’re interested, you can download and install Fluent Search on the official Fluent Search website and Microsoft Store, and ask questions via Github issues.