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Microsoft pushes users to the Edge in Outlook, Teams

The 1990s are back, baby

Microsoft plans to make web links in the Outlook for Windows app and Teams open by default in its Edge browser, regardless of the default browser chosen in Windows Settings.

In accordance with Redmond's declaration in March that customers should "be able to control their default applications such as their default browser through consistent, clear and trustworthy Windows provided system dialogs and settings," Outlook users will "have the opportunity to choose [their] preferred browser for opening links from Outlook the first time [they] launch in Edge."

That is to say, they can choose to make a choice they've already made again.

In February, Microsoft announced the web link behavior change, which is intended to help customers avoid switching between Outlook and Edge.

Liat Ben-Zur, corporate VP of Microsoft 365 consumer and web experiences, explained that customers with a 365 Personal or Family subscription will be able "choose to open browser links from the Outlook app in Microsoft Edge right alongside the email they’re from in the Edge sidebar pane, so you can easily access, read, and respond to the message using your matching authenticated profile."

The first time a user clicks on a link in Outlook after this feature is activated, it will open in Edge

This behavior has become the new default. In its support documentation, Microsoft says "browser links from the Outlook app will open in Microsoft Edge by default" in Edge's sidebar pane.

"Outlook in Edge displays a view of the Outlook Web App optimized for the dimensions of the pane, similar to opening two tabs side-by-side," a Microsoft spokesperson told The Register. "This is in contrast to WebView2, which displays web elements inside standalone desktop apps."

Microsoft spokesperson explained, "The first time a user clicks on a link in Outlook after this feature is activated, it will open in Edge. Upon launch, they will be prompted to elect between continuing to use Edge or opening future launches inside their default browser."

Judging by a screenshot of the way this will work on mobile devices, the interface appears to favor Edge, which gets described as "Fast & Secure Browsing," compared to the drab "Default Browser" option, which is unadorned by adjectives.

The same shift to Edge is planned for Microsoft Teams – links from Microsoft Teams messages will also open in Microsoft Edge by default, though not immediately.

"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," said Microsoft's spokesperson.

"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."

In short, Microsoft has chosen this behavior for its customers, and customers can choose to undo that decision.

Microsoft's explanation of the new default behavior in its support docs makes it seem as if Edge's interception of web links has no bearing on the user's chosen browser:

Will this replace my default browser setting in Windows?

No, this only impacts links opened from Microsoft Outlook on Windows and you have the option to turn off this feature in Outlook settings.

But it does override default browser settings specifically for web links in Outlook and Team messages, which now will be governed by Outlook settings that take precedence over Windows Settings. Essentially, the territory governed by the default browser in Windows Settings has been seized by Outlook and delegated to Edge.

In order to open links using the browser set as the default in Windows Settings – if that's not Edge – you have to visit File > Options > Advanced > Link handling in Outlook and select a different browser.

Ben-Zur said Microsoft users or devices in managed environments would not see the change immediately.

That was three months ago. Now it appears Windows users with Azure Active Directory (AAD) accounts and Microsoft (MSA) accounts should expect the new regime soon – in the next month or so.

A note posted recently to the Microsoft 365 admin center, in what appears to be a staggered rollout, outlines the pending behavior revision for the Outlook for Windows app and for Teams.

"Web links from emails in the Outlook for Windows app will open side-by-side with the email in Microsoft Edge so users can easily reference the link and email without switching back and forth between apps," the note says. "The email will open in the Outlook app in the Edge sidebar. Links will open in Microsoft Edge even if it is not the system default browser in Windows."

This will affect only links set to open in a web browser and not links in messages set to open in a client app or within Outlook.

Speaking of Microsoft... On Monday it put out, in preview form for US and Canada-based users, a Teams app that allows meeting organizers to collect payments from those present. The idea being that if you – a lawyer, doctor, or some other small-biz type – hold an appointment, class, or event within Microsoft Teams, you have the option of taking fees from participants via PayPal, Stripe, and GoDaddy.

Enterprise Windows admins are advised to configure the "Choose which browser open web links" policy via the Cloud Policy service for Microsoft 365 or the Administrative Templates for Microsoft 365 Apps. For organizations with a Microsoft 365 for business plan (< 300 seats), it appears admins will have to manage these settings individually, which won't be fun.

Similar changes in Outlook for iOS and Android, that prompt the user to choose a default browser for Outlook web links, should appear over the next month or so.

Microsoft's spokesperson said the new Outlook behavior is being deployed slowly so the company can gather feedback. The changes have already reached some customers with Microsoft 365 Personal or Family subscriptions. Commercial customers, we're told, have been receiving notifications and can expect the change in Outlook for Windows at least 30 days after the notice date.

Edge is, according to StatCounter, cruising along at just about five percent of global browser market share, versus Google Chrome's 64 percent, across all platforms. ®

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