Microsoft quietly announced last week that it will change the default search engine of Google’s Chrome to Bing – Microsoft’s own search service – on personal computers running Office 365 ProPlus, the productivity applications that serve as the heart of the enterprise-grade subscriptions.
The swap of search defaults within Chrome will begin next month and wrap up in July, the timing dependent on when corporate IT administrators have scheduled Office 365 ProPlus’ upgrades.
“Starting with Version 2002 of Office 365 ProPlus, an extension for Microsoft Search in Bing will be installed that makes Bing the default search engine for the Google Chrome web browser,” Microsoft said in the support document announcing the switcheroo. “This extension will be installed with new installations of Office 365 ProPlus or when existing installations of Office 365 ProPlus are updated.”
Microsoft upgrades Office 365 ProPlus, like Windows 10, twice a year: in the late summer (around August) and the late winter or early spring (February or March). Also, like Windows 10, ProPlus is tagged with a four-digit label in the yymm format. Thus, ProPlus 2002 marks, not a version of the productivity suite from 18 years ago, but the one first issued in February of this year.
ProPlus is included with higher-end Office 365 subscriptions, including Office 365 Enterprise E3, Office 365 Enterprise E5, the corresponding academic and government plans, and the even more sweeping Microsoft 365 E3 and Microsoft 365 E5 subscriptions. (Office 365 ProPlus also comes in a stand-alone version that omits the usual subscription plans’ services.) It is not part of Office 365 Business Premium, Office 365 Business Apps or Microsoft 365 Business – all designed for small businesses – or the consumer-grade plans Office 365 Personal or Office 365 Home.
Also omitted from the switch: the “perpetual” license versions of Office, like Office 2019 or Office 2016.
Google’s gone, but why?
“By making Bing the default search engine, users in your organization with Google Chrome will be able to take advantage of Microsoft Search, including being able to access relevant workplace information directly from the browser address bar,” Microsoft said.
That will put Chrome on an equal level with Microsoft’s Chromium-based Edge browser, which launched a week ago. Edge, which not surprisingly has Bing as its default search, can look up certain internal-to-the-company information – notably documents and other files stored on OneDrive or SharePoint – but also search through Teams chats and the like, from the browser’s address bar.
Users must be logged in to their account – the one that lets them access their personal computer as well as Office 365 – to use these search tools.
IT admins can preempt Microsoft’s move and block the Chrome add-on from installing by setting a group policy or configuring Office 365 using Intune or Configuration Manager. This must be done before Office 365 2002 arrives with the extension. IT can uninstall the add-on once it’s present using a script or through Configuration Manager; individual users can also switch Chrome’s default search engine back to what it was before Microsoft interceded (Google, most likely).
Microsoft said that the Chrome search switch would occur, at least initially, only on devices in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, India, the U.K. and the U.S.
Because Office 365 ProPlus 2002 will be the final upgrade on Windows 7 PCs – after that, Microsoft will provide the retired OS only with security patches for the applications – the changing of Chrome’s default search to Bing will presumably happen on those machines as well. It was unclear if Macs running ProPlus – those systems covered by Office 365 Enterprise plans, in other words – would also receive the Chrome add-on.
Microsoft also said that it had plans to swap out the default search in Mozilla’s Firefox at “a later date” but was not more specific than that. “We will keep you informed about support for Firefox through the Microsoft 365 Admin Center and this article,” the support document stated.
User: ‘Are you out of your mind?’
Not surprisingly, initial feedback on Microsoft’s plan was almost universally negative. People really don’t like others mucking around with their software settings.
“Are you out of your mind?” asked someone identified as thx1200 in a comment appended to the Microsoft support document used to announce the swap. “Who greenlit this? This is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard of. And I say that as a Bing daily user. Nobody wants an app to change the default search engine. Remove this ‘feature’ or you might find a lot of people suddenly switching to Google Docs.”
“Browser hijacking like in the 90s. Are you nuts?” questioned kgbvax in another comment. “Words fail me. When will [Microsoft] stop shoving unwanted ‘features’ down our throats? The Old Microsoft is back it seems. Please don’t go through with this.”
Others used phrases like “insanely stupid,” “keep smoking that good stuff, Microsoft,” and “sick joke” in their comments.
Elsewhere, users criticized the scheme on reddit.com as did IT administrators on the PatchManagement.org mailing list. An item on Microsoft’s Office Deployment Insiders user voice – where testers can up-vote feedback or feature requests – also gained momentum Wednesday, doubling the vote tally in less than a couple of hours. As of 5 p.m. ET Wednesday, the “Do not force push Bing as the default search engine” item had collected 160 votes, accompanied by nearly three-dozen comments.
“This is a malware-esque change, Microsoft,” asserted someone identified only as Michael.
“Dumbest, most hostile thing Microsoft has done in years,” decried Anonymous.
Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.