Should the Start menu solve equations?


The other day I was adding some numbers up in my head and it didn’t take too long before I realized I needed some good old fashion digital help. But I was too lazy to fire up Calculator. The app’s somewhere buried in my menus. Actually with Vista it’s not that bad to launch Calculator, just type the “calculator” (or some portion of it) in the Search Box which appears when you click on the Start Button. But this time I was extra lazy. I didn’t want to go that far. I could have switched over to IE and typed in the equation to Google or Live Search and they would have given me the answer. But I didn’t even do that. And then it struck me: Why can’t the live results from the Search Box give me the answer directly?

Here’s what I mean. Why I’m typing some equation in the Search Box, why doesn’t the search results report a calculated answer? It can keep searching the index for matches, but in the meantime how hard and resource intensive would it be to report back the answer to let’s say 3+4*18+2?

Here’s a quick mockup of what I’m thinking:


It might be interesting give access to the Calculator app with the equation already “entered,” but I don’t know. My guess is getting the value to the clipboard is probably more useful. Whatever is done, it ought to make sense with other “answers” too, such as retrieving definitions, asking for unit conversion, requesting a word or phrase to be pronounced in a specific language–or even translated for that matter.

Is the textual Search Box the place for all this? To begin with I think so, but if more “quick” answers become more and more available it probably shakes the very question of what the best UI should be. Should you be able to copy/paste a handwritten equation from OneNote into the Search Box and get an answer? Is this merely one more access point to applications (whether on the machine itself or remote services) that might make sense? Food for thought.

There’s is an issue about purity of design here. Some argue that “search” should remain all about search. I argue that “search” isn’t the only goal here that makes sense. There are times when I want to graze. There are times when I want to compare different possibilities. And then there are times I just want an answer. Google and Live Search have been providing quick access to calculations, definitions, and the like for awhile. But why do I have to go to the browser to get them?

Actually, after thinking about this for awhile I realized I could get to a calculated answer (or definition or whatever) without too much pain through the Start Menu. All I need to do is type what I want in the Vista Search Box–as if I were typing it in the Google or Live search box and then click on “Search the Internet.” The query will then be sent to the search engine of choice and the browser will appear with the answer. It’s one extra click and a bit of an indirect solution, but I’ll see if I can get used to it. I might be too lazy 🙂