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Wednesday, February 21, 2024

How to Get macOS’ Live Text Feature in Windows

Every website is, at this point, a place to share screenshots from other websites. Reddit is full of pictures of Twitter and Facebook posts, for example, and those sites are full of pictures of Reddit threads. Then there are the infamous Notes App screenshots.

I could talk for hours about the economic forces at play here—how the incentive structures of social networks prioritize posts that keep people on the site as long as possible, which means screenshots from other websites are prioritized over actual links. A good chunk of the “text” you read on a given platform is stored in image files, so we’re all using far too much bandwidth browsing TXT files needlessly encoded as images, and that's not even speaking of the accessibility issue of having text buried in images where screen readers and other tools can't read them aloud for people who are blind or just prefer transcripts.

You probably don’t care about all that, though. You just want to copy text from these freaking images.

And you can’t—unless you’re on an Apple device. Recent updates gave Macs, iPhones, and iPads the ability to highlight and copy text from a photo. It’s called Live Text, and it’s basically magic.

But what if you’re on Windows? It turns out Windows sort of has this feature. Let’s take a look at that and another (better) way to copy text from any image.

Use the Built-In “Search With a Screenshot” Tool

It’s far from slick, and not exactly easy to find, but Windows does have a feature that can copy text from images. Click the Search bar or button in the taskbar and click the “Search with a screenshot” button, which is just above the search box on the right side.

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You’ll be asked to take a screenshot of part of your screen. This will be sent to Bing, Microsoft’s search engine, which will extract the text for you.

You can copy the text from here. I first tested this with a photo of some street art, and it worked. I also tested it on a longer excerpt.

I think this works well. It’s not pretty, and you need to be online to use it, but this feature works without the need to install anything.

Capture2text: a Free Tool That’s Easier to Use

Sending images to Bing for processing is a little cumbersome, plus you can’t trigger it with a keyboard shortcut. That’s why I recommend a free app called Capture2Text. This software runs in the Windows system tray and is basically a screenshot tool. Instead of taking a screenshot, though, it just grabs whatever text it can find. Like this:

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Capture2Text is triggered with a keyboard shortcut—Windows Key + Q by default, but you can configure it to be whatever you want. The app takes a screenshot, and an optional window with your text shows up. The text is also copied to your clipboard, meaning you can paste it wherever you want.

This is, in some ways, better than live text on a Mac because it’s not limited to image files. Anything on your screen can be converted to text with this tool, providing you can take a screenshot of it. You could pause a video, for example, and copy the text, or you could copy a paragraph from a website that blocks right-clicks.

It would be nice if the option built into Windows worked more like this, and maybe someday it will. For now, though, Capture2Text is a great tool to have around.


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