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Office365 Pro Plus won’t hijack your search engine after all

Enlarge / Stop trying to make Bing happen, Microsoft. It’s never going to happen.


In late January, Microsoft announced that a near-future Office 365 update would roll out a Chrome extension forcing all searches to run through Bing, regardless of the user’s configured search engine preference. Several weeks of torches and pitchforks from sysadmins and users alike seem to have convinced the company that this was a tactical error, and today Microsoft announced a change of plans—although they couldn’t resist prefacing it by announcing how exciting the original, unpopular change really was.

On January 22, 2020 we announced in advance that the Microsoft Search in Bing browser extension would be made available through Office 365 ProPlus on Windows devices starting at the end of February. Since then, we’ve heard from many customers who are excited about the value Microsoft Search provides through Bing and the simplicity of deploying that value through Office 365 ProPlus. With Microsoft Search integrated, Bing becomes a single search engine for users to find what they need – both from inside their organization and the public web.

But we’ve also heard concerns about the way we were planning to roll this value out.

The Microsoft Search in Bing browser extension will no longer be deployed by default to Office 365 Pro Plus users. Instead, administrators will get a new toggle in the Admin Center allowing them to deploy the extension to their organization—and, importantly, the toggle defaults to off.

For now, even when an admin decides to toggle the feature on, it only affects managed (Active Directory domain joined) devices—employees’ personal and home computers won’t get Binged as a result, even if they’ve used some of the five legitimate installations per license to put Office 365 Pro Plus on those devices. (Microsoft does plan additional settings to allow more granular control of unmanaged devices in the future, so BOFHs will simply need to be patient.)

Those few organizations that decide to toggle the feature on will likely receive a lot of flak from their own users about it. With the Microsoft Search in Bing extension installed, the user-controlled default search setting becomes irrelevant, and every search in the bar goes through Bing regardless. Confusingly, this can be overridden—but only within the extension itself, not in the browser’s own configurations.

To be completely fair to Microsoft, its demo screenshots of Microsoft Search do look fairly compelling—in one screenshot, an employee profile visible only inside the corporation pops up in a search for that employee’s name; in another, a link out to a company vacation scheduling tool shows up on a search for “vacation policy.” Of course, even aside from search engine preferences, this does raise a question of how much work is required to get Bing to find these types of resources in the first place.

The employee profile in the screenshot could be lifted directly from Active Directory user information, but we’re not sure Bing would automatically find every oddball spreadsheet, Web form, and third-party scheduling tool you might find in use in real-world companies. If Microsoft Search for Bing ends up providing results no better maintained than the typical internal SharePoint intranet site, the value proposition would be sharply reduced.

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