On January 22, Microsoft revealed a plan to install a browser extension to make Bing the default search engine for Google Chrome. I didn’t like the plan then and no one has persuaded me of its benefits since. In fact, this plan was decried by every Office 365 customer I spoke with.
But Microsoft has seen the light of day and announced they have pulled back from the original plan. Curiously, Microsoft claims that many customers are excited about the prospect that “Bing becomes a single search engine for users to find what they need – both from inside their organization and the public web.” I’m clearly not moving in the same circles as those who wrote the post. Nor have any of the purported excited customers expressed those views in Twitter or blog posts.
In any case, Microsoft now says that they won’t deploy the Microsoft Search in Bing browser extension automatically alongside Office ProPlus, starting with version 2002 (due for monthly channel targeted users on patch Tuesday). The original plan was limited to specific geographies (U.S., U.K., Australia, Canada, France, Germany, and India). I still don’t know why Microsoft choose those countries and decided, for instance, not to include places like Ireland, Denmark, or Switzerland, just to choose three other countries.
Tenants will also see an opt-in toggle in the Microsoft 365 admin center to allow them to decide if they want to use the extension. Tenants who opt-in are likely to have experimented with Microsoft Search in Bing and understand how search results from SharePoint, Teams, and Yammer can be presented alongside web results. Being able to see results from searching email remains the missing piece in the Microsoft Search in Bing puzzle.
Microsoft also say that when a tenant opts-in, the extension will only be deployed to Active-Directory joined devices. Later, they plan to add more settings to control deployment to unmanaged devices.
Although Microsoft has revoked its original plan, a bad feeling remains. Here’s why.
First, forcing something like a browser extension down the throats of Office 365 users is not the kind of behavior that customers expect when they sign up for a service. Indeed, the Microsoft 365 trust center says that: ”When you use Microsoft business cloud services, you are entrusting us with your most valuable asset—your data. You trust its privacy will be protected and that it will only be used in a way that’s consistent with your expectations. Well, if GDPR can consider an IP address to be private data, it seems like altering a browser to point it away from someone’s preferred search engine is certainly not respecting customer privacy.
Second, Microsoft is developing a track record of announcing horrible customer unfriendly decisions affecting the operation of Office 365 tenants and then recanting after a deluge of protest. The October announcement of unfettered self-service purchases of Power Platform licenses by end users is also in this category. Going back to 2017, the attempt to create Office 365 Groups for managers and their direct reports and clutter up tenant directories was another tone-deaf decision. Asking partners to pay for licenses to use Office 365 applications was another.
It almost seems like the folks in Redmond think it is valid to float a balloon by announcing something outrageous to see how many complaints ensue before they decide how to proceed. It’s possible that we’ve hit a bad run of unfortunate missteps where the entire world misunderstands the good intentions behind Microsoft tactics, but I have difficulty swallowing that concept.
Instead, I think some people in Microsoft make decisions without thinking through how their calls will be perceived by customers or affect customer operations. I hope Microsoft can do better in the future, but I have some doubts. Let’s hope that the world’s largest software company proves me wrong.