The current iteration of Microsoft Edge started out as a great browser based on the Chromium engine, but over time, Microsoft has added more and more bloat. Now there’s another new feature that doesn’t seem to be popular: visual search.
Microsoft Edge’s new visual search feature allows you to take any image on any website and search for similar images (or what the image depicts) using the Bing search engine. Google offers a similar feature in Chrome, and it can absolutely be helpful, but Microsoft’s implementation in Edge is strange. It’s accessible from the right-click/context menu and sidebar, but a button to activate visual search also appears when you hover your mouse over any image.
The feature first appeared in Edge 95, but it has started to roll out more widely, including in the WebView2 framework that some other Windows applications use to render web content (like Teams Chat in Windows 11). Sure enough, it’s causing headaches for both people using Edge and the web developers creating sites and web apps for Edge. It is limited to Edge on Windows, for now.
One person wrote on Microsoft’s support forum, “There is a good reason my default search engine is Google: It has results that Bing doesn’t find, especially images. 99 times out of 100 I get no matches when using Visual Search on an image.” There are also at least a few complaints on social media.
The feature is also unpopular with web developers, partially because it encourages people to leave the current website, but also because it distracts from the content of the page. One developer said, “We sell shaving razors and I have a cropped image of a razor blade that when searched suggests Toyota Tacoma door trims! I also have an image carousel and when you swipe through the images you see half a dozen little visual search indicators fly by.” Another person working on web apps for children with autism says the image search popups are “hugely disruptive to their concentration and learning.”
Microsoft Edge does have a setting to turn off visual search (Settings > Appearance > Context Menu), and administrators can turn it off for all the PCs in their company or organization with group policies. However, it shouldn’t be enabled by default in the first place, and there’s no way for sites to turn it off on their pages. Some sites are using the pointer-events CSS property to hide the popup, but that that also breaks any functionality that relies on clicking an image, and it also hides text descriptions.
There’s no reason for the visual search to appear as a popup (especially by default) when it can stay in the right-click/context menu, unless the primary goal is to boost usage of Bing services. Microsoft has certainly been guilty of that — just in the past few months, more clutter from Bing was added to the Windows 10 and Windows 11 Start Menus. It’s frustrating to see the Edge browser become more bloated over time, but at least alternatives like Firefox and Chrome still exist.
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