Beware the (Microsoft) Edge
Whether you like or loathe Microsoft's Edge browser, it's worth knowing about some changes Microsoft is making regarding how Edge works and is managed. Microsoft officials say they are making these adjustments in the name of giving users a smoother, more productive experience. But the way the company is going about implementing these shifts is anything but smooth.
Microsoft has begun notifying some customers that it plans to make web links in Outlook and Teams open by default in the Edge browser, regardless of the browser on which organizations have chosen to standardize. Earlier this year, this seemed to be a change that would affect only those with Microsoft 365 Personal or Family subscriptions. But now, Microsoft has made it clear that it plans to also make this change for commercial customers with Azure Active Directory and Microsoft Accounts.
In a message in the Microsoft 365 admin center, as noticed by Petri.com, Microsoft has started informing some customers that web links from emails in the Outlook for Windows app will open side-by-side with the email message in Microsoft Edge to spare customers from having to switch back and forth between apps. This will happen in Edge even if it's not the organization's default browser in Windows.
In Teams, web links shared in chat messages will also open in Edge, though there's seemingly no published date as to when this is going to happen. And in Outlook for iOS and Android in the coming months, users will see a prompt asking them to choose their default browser and configure that option in their Outlook mobile settings, even if they've already made a choice (Edge or otherwise).
Only links set to open in a web browser will be affected; those set to open in a client app or in Outlook itself will continue to work as usual. Reports say the Message IDs detailing these changes are MC548092 and MC541626 and not every commercial M365 admin can see them yet.
Microsoft's official justification for these changes, according to a spokesperson, is improved usability.
"This change is designed to create an easier way for Outlook and Microsoft Teams users to reduce task switching across windows and tabs to help stay focused. By opening browser links in Microsoft Edge, the original message in Outlook or Teams can also be viewed alongside web content to easily access, read and respond to the message, using the matching authenticated profile. Customers have the option to disable this feature in settings," the spokesperson said in an emailed statement.
Microsoft is telling admins this week they have 30 days' notice that this change will be rolling out in Outlook for Windows for all business customers. IT pros can configure policies to manage this for Microsoft 365 apps. But those with Microsoft 365 Business plans need to control this on individual client PCs can do this by going to Outlook, File > Options >Advanced > Link handling and selecting their preferred browsers from the drop-down menu, according to a report from Neowin.net.
Update: The Microsoft spokesperson added this bit about how admins can control this setting: "Organizations who do not want web links from the Outlook for Windows app or Teams to open in Microsoft Edge can manage this change using the Choose which browser opens web links policy in the Group Policy Management Console or in Cloud Policy service for Microsoft 365."
If this weren't enough, Microsoft also has added a new setting in the April Patch Tuesday updates for Windows 10 and 11 which results in the Default Apps Settings page popping up every time a web link opens with Google Chrome. While customers still can make Chrome their default (at least for now), Microsoft has made the process more difficult. I asked the aforementioned spokesperson why Microsoft opted to do this but did not hear back.
These kinds of strongarm tactics aren't the only way that Microsoft is trying to convince users to adopt its Bing search engine and Edge browser. Microsoft has been touting new AI capabilities delivered via the new Bing and Bing chatbot, powered by OpenAI's GPT and ChatGPT, as lures to win over new customers, too. On May 4, Microsoft announced more new Bing and Edge AI capabilities to sweeten the deal further.
Among today's announcements:
- The "new" AI-powered Bing is moving from Limited Preview to Open Preview so that more people can try it
- More visual search capabilities are "coming shortly"
- The ability to maintain Bing chat history and persistent chat with Edge, as ChatGPT does, also is on the "coming shortly" list
- Third-party developers "soon" will be able to add "actions" to help customers complete tasks that result from answers to their queries. (Example: Search for a restaurant reservation for a set time in Bing Chat and it will open OpenTable to help book the reservation, similar to what OpenAI has been doing on the ChatGPT plug-in front.)
There are some interesting capabilities that using the new Bing, Bing chatbot and Edge together can unlock, but Microsoft's attempts to force customers to use Edge could end up backfiring.