Category Archives: smart scopes

Good Ideas Catch On: Windows 8.1 Adds Unity-Style Search Feature

The next major update to Windows 8 will add a new search experience to the Windows 8 desktop – one that Ubuntu users will already be familiar with.

Windows 8.1 overhauls the inbuilt Windows Search feature to offer results not just from local apps, files and settings on the computer but also from the web and online media sites.

A bit like Unity’s Dash.

“You can see everything you can do on the PC in one pane. I can launch apps, play music; it brings back web results.” – Microsoft

‘Not Exclusive to Ubuntu’

The idea of fetching and presenting a mix of online and offline results is a logical one in light of the dividing lines between desktop and web blur into irrelevance elsewhere on the desktop (e.g. Unity Web Apps; Chrome Packaged Apps).

So while Microsoft haven’t ripped off something exclusive to Unity it is fair to say that Ubuntu was the first OS to pursue and make the ‘search anything, anywhere’ concept a key part of the Ubuntu desktop.

Idea aside, that’s pretty much where the similarities end.

Where Unity presents its results in the Dash, making use of Unity previews to add actions and further information, Windows 8.1 has what it calls “Search Heroes”.

A ‘Search Hero’ is created ad-hoc when a users types a search query. Described by Microsoft as being ‘app like’, they offer a contextualised view of results returned for a search term.


Unity is aiming to do something similar with the new Smart Scopes Service, which aims to find what it is you’re searching for then offer up results that match it.

Given that Microsoft have the advantage of owning an entire search engine, not to mention a series on media-content sites, there’s no doubt that its results will be incredibly finely tuned.

The most important point about the feature’s arrival is that it shows that good features catch on; it’s nice to see Ubuntu’s Unity vision being vindicated by its competitors.

Ubuntu 13.10 Readies Arrival of Smarter Unity Dash


Unity’s much-delayed Smart Scopes Service is preparing to land in the daily builds of Ubuntu 13.10.

The feature aims to add a more comprehensive and relevant search experience to the Ubuntu desktop. Over 50 new ‘Scopes’ – a data-specific search backend – will come installed by default. Some of these deliver results from popular websites like Wikipedia, Yahoo!, and Google; others deliver data from locally installed applications, like music players and installed apps.


It’s Like Source City in the Unity Dash

Each of these scopes can be disabled individually by right-clicking on it:

Disable a Smart Scope in Unity

Disable a Smart Scope in Unity


The Smart Scopes feature was originally intended to debut in Ubuntu 13.04, but was eventually considered ‘not mature enough’. Whilst this was a shame, it was necessary. The version about to arrive in 13.10, and now available in Saucy-Proposed-Updates, is faster, more intelligent, and more featured than that targeted for 13.04.

Admittedly many remain suspicious about how useful it will be. Over the coming months eager testers will get to find out. But, if you found yourself aggrieved by the “irrelevancy” of Amazon shopping results when looking for a local file or application, prepare for much of the same – just on a larger scale:

empathy search

Searching for a locally installed app returns all this…

As bad as the image above might look to some the Dash is doing what it’s meant to. Empathy, the app I was searching for, is in top spot. I don’t have to scroll or wade through to find it.

For source specific searches you can use modifiers. Want to quickly search Wikipedia? Prefix ‘wiki:query’.

modifiers in unity smart scopes

It’s Possible to Search A Specific Service

Modifiers are great, but they are a power-users tool. Do you use them on Google? I don’t. And that means that for me the “default” set of results returned will be more important.

That’s where the “smart” in ‘Smart Scopes Service’ will come in. The relevancy of results will be determined by people like us. As we search and click on results the ‘smart scopes server’ that delivers the results will learn which types of results are more relevant for which terms.

Given that the feature is only just gearing up to arrive in 13.10 the results are not as finely tuned as they will be by October. If you’re using Saucy already, just keep that in mind when using it.

Other than that, the feature adds an insane amount of potential to the Unity desktop. A world of results, and the ability to interact with them, will be only the tap of a Super key away…

Enhanced Previews, Scope Toggles Added to Unity Testing PPA


It might not have been mature enough to ship in Ubuntu 13.04, but work on enhancing the Smart Scopes Service for Unity continues apace.

Over in the more ‘development-y’ of the development PPAs enhanced previews are now available for most results, including those from DeviantArt, Launchpad and Wikipedia:

launchpad preview
Deviant Art Preview
Wikipedia preview

It’s also now possible to see what ‘Scopes’ – thinks ‘content-specific search engine’ plugins – are installed by way of Applications Lens > Filters > Search Plugins (see image at top of post).

Right-clicking on one of the Scope results shown opens a Preview with further details and, more interestingly, a toggle for enabling/disabling it.


Install Smart Scopes in Ubuntu 13.04

Installing the Smart Scopes Service and upgrading the various bits and pieces that are needed to make use of it, is easy to do but not recommended.

It didn’t make it into 13.04 for a reason. Parts of it are buggy, slow, and in varying stages of completion. If you value a stable, productive desktop (or you’re allergic to web results appearing in the Dash) you’re better off sticking with stable Unity.

Stern talk over, upgrading to the smarter version of Unity requires the addition of one of two PPAs.

The first is called ‘experimental-unvalidated’. This is the most frequently updated but also the one most likely to break your desktop. It’s the pre-validation PPA that the above changes are currently in.

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:ubuntu-unity/experimental-prevalidation
sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get dist-upgrade
sudo apt-get install unity-lens-* unity-scope-*

The second, much safter option is ‘experimental-certified’. While this is generally more robust to use as packages are tested before being pushed to it, it is also updated far less regularly. The features mentioned above are yet to land in it at the time of writing.

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:ubuntu-unity/experimental-certified
sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get dist-upgrade
sudo apt-get install unity-lens-* unity-scope-*

Downgrading back to stable Unity is possible using the PPA Purge tool available from the Ubuntu Software Center.

Enhanced Previews, Scope Toggles Added to Unity Testing PPA OMG! Ubuntu! – Everything Ubuntu. Daily.

Raring’s Smart Scopes Service Arrival Delayed, Coming April 1st

Raring testers expecting to find Ubuntu’s new ‘Smart Scopes’ feature landing on their desktops today (March 25th)  will be disappointed – it’s arrival has been pushed back to April 1st.

Although such delay will irritate many tester’s impatience streak, it’s fair to say that nifty new the feature is in need of some extra development time.

The experimental builds available through a PPA are, at the moment, more ‘Good effort!’ smart than ‘You’re a genius!’ smart.

Such is the nature of development; tracking work in progress means you really do get an overview of progress – from those early stages of ‘not working’ to the joyous moment where it’s ‘working well’.

And having played with these builds for a while, the feature is certainly edging ever-nearer to the latter.


If you’re interest is piqued in how the feature looks, below is a short real-time video of how the service is today, March 25th. If you’re viewing this on March 26th, April 3rd, or December the 29th 2056, you’ll want to seek out a more ‘up-to-date’ example.

Again, I stress that this is a development snapshot and not indicative of the final, finished product due in April.