The browser extension will be deployed in the Monthly Channel (Targeted) updates for Office 365 subscribers in February 2020, before moving to the Monthly Channel update stream in early March 2020. It will also be included in upcoming releases for Semi-Channel (Targeted) and Semi-Annual Channel.
The updates will apply to subscribers within Australia, Canada, France, Germany, India, the United Kingdom and the United States.
All new installations of Office 365 ProPlus will include this extension.
Microsoft's official explanation why it is taking this unprecedented move of forcing itself on user’s experience of non-Microsoft software is to aid users in accessing Microsoft Search directly from the Chrome browser address bar when they are signed in with their Microsoft account. Microsoft Search is part of Microsoft 365 and is on by default for all Microsoft apps that search it. This product provides contextual work-related information from data sources in SharePoint, OneDrive for Business, Exchange and other products.
Thus, Microsoft says the extension will silently install, silently change user’s search engine, and give all the benefits of Microsoft Search when one searches within Google Chrome.
Microsoft adds it is planning to roll out a similar extension for the Firefox browser in the future.
Software that bundles additional applications like third-party toolbars has long been ethically-dubious, inflicting programs that leak user data or, at best, slow down the computer. Even reputable companies like Adobe and Oracle have resorted to adding third-party “offers” in the free Adobe Reader or Java runtime installers. In these cases, the company is receiving payment to bundle products with its installer. Clearly, Microsoft is not being paid by anybody else to push its own products but it is still a betrayal of trust when an update to the Office application suite takes it upon itself to modify your non-Microsoft web browser’s behaviour without opting-in.
Systems administrators can prevent this from installing but must do so in advance. Options include updating the Office Deployment Tool configuration, modifying Group Policy, or modifying a setting in Microsoft Endpoint Configuration Manager or Microsoft InTune.
These options are explained online by Microsoft.
Alternatively, if you are happy to embrace this change you can use the Microsoft Search in Bing Adoption Kit to communicate the change in advance to your organisation.