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 content. Now there’s another 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 be absolutely useful, but Microsoft’s implementation in Edge is weird. It can be accessed from the right click/context menu and the sidebar, but a button to activate visual search also appears when you hover over it. any picture.
The feature first appeared in Edge 95, but has started to roll out more widely, including in the WebView2 framework that some other Windows apps use to render web content (such as Microsoft Teams). Effectively, it’s causing headaches for both people who use Edge and web developers who build sites and web apps for Edge. It’s limited to Edge on Windows, for now.
One person wrote on the Microsoft support forum: “There is a good reason why my default search engine is Google: it has results that Bing doesn’t find, especially images. 99 out of 100 times I don’t get a match when I use Visual Search on an image.” There are also at least a few complaints on social networks.
@bing @Microsoft okay, I’m done. I can’t stand any more of your popups and ads on Bing. The Edge ads that keep popping up, the popups in image search (even in opposite corners!), and now the ads for the products I search for. i’m going back to @Google
– THINK⚙️PLEX (@thinkoplex) January 5, 2022
The feature is also not popular with web developers, partly because it encourages people to leave the current website, but also because it distracts from the content on the page. 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 swipe through the images you see half a dozen little visual search prompts go by.” Another person who works on web apps for kids with autism says image search popups are “hugely disruptive to their concentration and learning”.
Microsoft Edge has a setting to disable visual search (Settings > Appearance > Context Menu), and administrators can disable it for all 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 disable it on their pages. Some sites are using the pointer-events CSS property to hide the popup, but that also breaks any functionality that relies on clicking an image, and also hides text descriptions.
There is no reason for visual search to appear as a popup (especially by default) when it can stay in context menu/right click, unless the primary goal is to increase usage of Bing services. Microsoft has certainly been guilty of that: In the past few months alone, more Bing clutter has been added to the Windows 10 and Windows 11 start menus. It’s frustrating to see the Edge browser get more bloated over time, but at least it’s still there are alternatives such as Firefox and Chrome.