New in 22H2: Search

Posted on June 11, 2022 by Paul Thurrott in Windows 11 with 18 Comments

Windows 11 already offers numerous entry points to its integrated search functionality, so Microsoft went in a different direction with version 22H2: it’s adding a distraction called Search highlights to increase traffic to its online services.

It is perhaps too easy to get lost in the muck of the two underlying issues presented in that previous paragraph: why there are so many ways to access search and why Microsoft is forcing its users to use its products (Microsoft Edge) and services (Bing, MSN) even when they have explicitly chosen not to do so. But the motives are pertinent here.

A bit of history to explain.

When Satya Nadella became the CEO of Microsoft, he tasked Terry Myerson with adapting Windows to make sense within the firm’s new cloud-focused strategies. Myerson’s solution to this problem was multi-fold. He instituted Windows as a Service (WaaS), a system by which this legacy codebase would be updated continually like an online service, and he argued at the time that, with its expected 1+ billion users, Windows 10 would be, in effect, one of the biggest online services in the world. Myerson also allowed Microsoft’s various online services—Bing, MSN, and advertising—to be exposed directly in the Windows 10 user interface, driving usage and, it was hoped, revenues.

Myerson is gone, but Microsoft continues to expand on the ideas he championed, often in unwelcome ways. For example, Windows 11 makes it impossible for users to truly switch to the web browser they prefer because certain actions—clicking a web result in search, accessing the stories in the new Widgets interface, and so on—will still open in Edge and can only access Microsoft online services.

With all that in mind, Search highlights is yet another way to expose Windows users to Microsoft’s web browser and online services. To see it, open the system search interface but don’t type anything. (To do so, type WINKEY + S, open Start and select the search box, or click the default Search icon in the Taskbar.) It appears as a set of tiles on the right side of the Search window that opens.

Search highlights isn’t meant to be useful, per se. That is, what you see there is in no way related to previous searches or your preferences, and it disappears when you start typing. Instead, this interface is meant to be interesting, something that may distract you from whatever you were searching for and convince you to click a link, which will open in Microsoft Edge and take you to a Bing search or MSN story, pumping up the usage stats of each in the process.

The good news? You can disable it. To do so, click the Options (“…”) link in the Search window and then “Search settings” from the pop-up menu that appears. (Or, open Settings (WINKEY + I) and navigate to Privacy & security > Search permissions.) Then, scroll down until you find the option “Show search highlights” under More settings and turn it off.

When you do so, the Search window will display the same dumb links it did in Windows 11 version 21H2, with Quick searches and Top apps sections instead of Search highlights. A minor victory at best, to be sure.

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Comments (18)

18 responses to “New in 22H2: Search”

  1. Daninbusiness

    Thank you for the tip on disabling this nonsense!!!

  2. red.radar

    Maybe the future of Windows is in the hands of third party’s that work on new shells and start menu alternatives. Perhaps that tones the madness down some.

  3. brettscoast

    Thanks for the tip Paul but Microsoft, why?

  4. lindhartsen

    It's good the toggle isn't terribly hard to find for this. On a separate note, this is one of the few times where the 11 version of this feels less intrusive seeing people with Windows 10 machines where the search box is now illustrated with random items as part of Search Insights implemented there.

  5. anderb

    This is pretty much the point of the Windows 11 taskbar rewrite isn't it? The ability to push out these sorts of (junk) changes without a major O/S update?

    • Paul Thurrott

      I feel like that is one of the main goals. I vaguely appreciate the notion of starting over with fresh, clean code. But the sheer number of missing features makes it less desirable.

  6. anoldamigauser

    Why is it hard for Microsoft to understand, that when I choose to use Search in the OS, on the computer, that I am looking for something on the computer? If it was simply expanded to look in network locations and/or cloud storage, that could be useful. The one thing I do not need when searching for a file or program is suggestions of rabbit holes I can dive into on the internet. That is not only not useful, but unproductive. If I want to search the internet, I will use a browser.

    If they want to increase usage of Bing, why don't they improve the product?

    • rob_segal

      Search can search for local files, apps, and on the web. Spotlight Search on macOS does this really well and fast. It's about the user experience.

  7. vladimir

    The comparison between search on windows and search on MacOS is just embarrassing for Microsoft. It’s the main reason I’m so tempted to go back to a Mac

    • rob_segal

      Spotlight Search is so great. It was introduced in 2005 with OS X 10.4 Tiger. 17 years later, it's still far ahead of Microsoft Windows' search. It shouldn't still be that way. Search needed to be better on Windows more than a decade ago. Almost two decades ago.

  8. davidblouin

    Oh the humanity, i'll have to look at search suggestion for a second and a half when i do a search on 22H2...

  9. SherlockHolmes

    Its great that I dont have to deal with this nonesense right now.

  10. navarac

    Because Microsoft could revoke the ability of disabling this, it becomes another reason to hate Windows, not love it. Every post here seems to be just another reason why I have stuck to Linux since the arrival of W11. Such a shame, Nadella; you are killing a decent OS just to be an "Apple" or Chromebook look-a-like.

  11. nine54

    Microsoft's cloud-focused strategy = Azure. Edge has a place (like Safari for Apple), but MSN, Bing, etc., are side hustles that Microsoft has supported with varying degrees of enthusiasm over the years.

    How can Windows make sense within the company's cloud-focused strategy is the wrong question. A better question is how can Azure add value to Windows and to consumer PCs more generally. Approached from that perspective and more possibilities open up--possibilities that don't involve intrusive content or ads.

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