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I have long been baffled by Microsoft's UX choices. From the Windows 8 full screen Start menu, forcing Candy Crush onto your fleet of Windows 10 machines, or—let's be honest—Windows Vista*, they have often left system administrators pondering what they are smoking in Redmond. (I actually liked Windows Vista, but it's an easy target.)
The latest improvement they have rolled out is called search highlights or search enhancements. Little icons are appended to the Cortana search bar.
Microsoft announced this back in March, but it wasn't until the icons started to appear on people's task bars that I heard about it.
This is Microsoft's official explanation of the feature:
...Designed to help Windows users discover more information and related content, search highlights present noteworthy, informative, and interesting information of what's special about each day—like holidays, anniversaries, and other moments in time both globally and in your region…
It's not clear how they determine what is informative, noteworthy, or interesting, but what is clear from the feedback I have received is that it's an unpopular distraction on the taskbar.
Fortunately, a GPO setting exists for such a task, which is in the linked article:
Group Policy > Computer Configuration > Administrative Templates > Windows Components > Search > Allow search highlights.
For environments without Active Directory or Azure Active Directory, we can roll this out via the registry with two lines of PowerShell.
New-Item "HKLM:\SOFTWARE\Policies\Microsoft\Windows\Windows Search" -Force New-ItemProperty "HKLM:\SOFTWARE\Policies\Microsoft\Windows\Windows Search" -Name "EnableDynamicContentInWSB" -PropertyType DWORD -Value 0
Disable search enhancements in the registry
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After a policy refresh and the Windows search highlights are disabled.