Microsoft Edge’s new search feature is frustrating everyone

The current iteration of Microsoft Edge started out as a great browser based on the Chromium engine, but over time Microsoft added more and more frills. Today, there’s a new feature that doesn’t seem to be popular: visual search.

Microsoft Edge’s new visual search feature lets you take any image on any website and search for similar images (or what the image represents) using the Bing search engine. Google offers a similar feature in Chrome, and it can absolutely be useful, but Microsoft’s implementation in Edge is odd. It’s accessible from the context/right-click menu and sidebar, but a button to enable visual search also appears when you hover your mouse over an image.

Microsoft Edge improves your installed web apps

This feature first appeared in Edge 95, but it’s started rolling out more widely, including as part of the WebView2 framework that some other Windows apps use to render web content (like Teams Chat in Windows 11). Of course, it causes headaches for both Edge users and web developers building websites and web apps for Edge. The issue is limited to Edge on Windows, for now.

One person wrote on Microsoft’s support forum, “There’s a good reason why my default search engine is Google: It has results that Bing can’t find, including images. 99 times out of 100 I get no matches when I use visual search on an image. There are also at least a few complaints on social media.

The feature is also unpopular with web developers, partly because it encourages people to leave the current website, but also because it distracts from on-page content. One developer said: “We sell razors and I have a cropped image of a razor blade which when searched suggests Toyota Tacoma door trim! I also have an image carousel and when you scroll through the images you see half a dozen little visual search cues scrolling by. Another person working on web apps for children with autism says the image search pop-ups are “hugely disruptive to their concentration and learning.”

Microsoft Edge has a setting to disable Visual Search (Settings > Appearance > Context Menu), and admins can disable it for all PCs in their company or organization using group policies. However, it shouldn’t be enabled by default, and sites have no way to disable it on their pages. Some sites use the CSS pointer-events property to hide the popup, but this also breaks any functionality that relies on clicking on an image, and it also hides text descriptions.

There’s no reason for visual search to appear as a popup (especially by default) when it can stay in the context/right-click menu, unless the primary goal is to stimulate the use of Bing services. Microsoft has certainly been guilty of this – for the past few months, Windows 10 and Windows 11 start menus have been cluttered with Bing. It’s frustrating to see the Edge browser get cumbersome over time, but at least alternatives like Firefox and Chrome still exist.

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