Posey's Tips & Tricks

Office 365 and Edge: What is Microsoft's End Game?

Here's a speculative look on how Microsoft's new browser plays into its Office 365 strategy.

Microsoft has recently updated the Browsers section of the Office 365 System Requirements to address the Edge Browser.  The short version of it is that Microsoft recommends that Office 365 users use the latest version of the Edge browser. Microsoft also states that "Office 365 is designed to work with the current or immediately previous version of Internet Explorer" and that Internet Explorer 9 will become unusable with Yammer after January 12, 2016. Microsoft also states that customers will have a diminished experience if they attempt to access Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, OneDrive for Business or Office Online from Internet Explorer 8 or Internet Explorer 9.

On the surface, this browser support information seems really mundane and unimportant. However, there may be more going on than meets the eye. For starters, the page hints that some sort of change is coming to Yammer (although I haven't been able to find any information on what this change is).

The bigger story is that there have been a number of Web sites alleging that this update is Microsoft's way of pushing customers to adopt the Edge browser.

It isn't exactly a secret that Microsoft would prefer that its customers use Edge. After all, Windows 10 comes with Edge (and with Internet Explorer, but Edge is much more prominently featured). Internet Explorer is included primarily for backward compatibility purposes. As such, I think that the most relevant questions are why does Microsoft care which browser you use, and how far are they willing to go to ensure that you use their browser of choice?

Before I address these questions, I want to point out that my answers are based on pure speculation. I have no inside information regarding Microsoft's plans or strategy.

So with that said, I think that Microsoft's reason for pushing customers to use the Edge browser with Office 365 is fairly obvious. If customers use Edge, then Microsoft can control the experience, end to end. After all, it owns the Office 365 software, the operating system and the browser. This allows Microsoft  to deliver the best possible experience to its customers.

Another way of looking at this is that Microsoft's decision to push customers toward using the Edge browser might have more to do with security. Internet Explorer has a long history of security vulnerabilities, and many of these vulnerabilities have been addressed in Edge. Think about it this way --no organization wants to suffer a security breach. Microsoft knows that its customer store sensitive data on Office 365, and therefore wants to do what it can to ensure the security of that data. Sensitive data could theoretically be exposed through a browser security flaw, even if Office 365 itself is never breached. Recommending that customers use an up-to-date browser that is perceived to be secure is a good way of helping to prevent security breaches.

So how far is Microsoft willing to go in order to ensure that customers use the Edge browser? Honestly, I don't know, but I can take an educated guess. My prediction is that Microsoft will eventually phase out support for Internet Explorer in Office 365, but will not take action to prohibit the use of non-Microsoft browsers such as Chrome or Firefox.

My main reason for making this prediction is based on simple economics. Office 365 is revenue generating. Edge is not.

So what does that have to do with anything? If Microsoft suddenly tells its customers that they can't use their browser of choice with Office 365, some customers are sure to revolt and switch to a competing solution. Microsoft makes money off of Office 365. To the best of my knowledge, they do not make money off of the Edge browser. As such, Office 365 is more important to Microsoft's business model than the Edge browser is. Consequently, Microsoft may discontinue support for older versions of competing browsers, but I seriously doubt that it will tell its customers that they can't use Chrome, Safari, or Firefox.

Another reason for this prediction is the fact that the Office 365 System Requirements Web page that I mentioned earlier does not mention competing browsers. The page provides granular information on which Microsoft browsers are and are not supported for use with Office 365, and what the experience may be like with various browsers, but the page does not reference third party browsers.

I'm sure that naysayers and conspiracy theorist will disagree with me, but I honestly believe that Microsoft's browser recommendations are intended to drive Windows 10 and Edge adoption for the sake of providing the best possible experience with Office 365, rather than being a nefarious attempt at hijacking the browser market.

About the Author

Brien Posey is a 16-time Microsoft MVP with decades of IT experience. As a freelance writer, Posey has written thousands of articles and contributed to several dozen books on a wide variety of IT topics. Prior to going freelance, Posey was a CIO for a national chain of hospitals and health care facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the country's largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox. In addition to his continued work in IT, Posey has spent the last several years actively training as a commercial scientist-astronaut candidate in preparation to fly on a mission to study polar mesospheric clouds from space. You can follow his spaceflight training on his Web site.

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