It was time to download Google Chrome on a new Windows 11 computer.
I typed “Chrome” into the Microsoft Edge search bar.
I was greeted with a full-screen Microsoft Bing AI chatbot window, which promptly told me it was searching for... Bing features.
Not Chrome, the thing I’d asked for.
I picked my jaw up off the floor and tried again. Same result every time.
Same exact text, too. This is clearly not Microsoft’s GPT-4 powered chatbot at work — it’s a completely canned interaction. Here’s how much of my screen it took up, and what it looks like zoomed in:
I get it to work on a different computer. Across the country, a colleague tells me he saw the exact same thing setting up his wife’s gaming laptop. Across the ocean, another colleague pulls it up on his mobile phone. It’s not universal, but it’s absolutely not a tiny experiment in a single region, either.
Maybe this doesn’t seem like a big deal to you. I’m using Microsoft’s search engine in Microsoft’s browser on Microsoft’s operating system, after all — why should Microsoft willingly link me to a competitor?
Let me put things a different way: Microsoft just gave itself a full-screen ad in search results by faking an AI interaction. This “search result” is juicing Microsoft’s own product instead of respecting its users’ intent.
Yes, Microsoft has previously plugged Edge when you search for Chrome — but not like this. Let’s compare:
Even if you don’t agree with me that Microsoft is yet again shoving its Edge where it doesn’t belong, this kind of move makes a mockery of the company’s AI ambitions.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella claims he wants Edge to genuinely compete. “Let’s build first a product that is competitive in the marketplace that’s actually serving user needs,” he told us in a February interview, when my editor-in-chief Nilay Patel asked whether the Bing AI browser integration was partially an attempt to “capture marketshare from Chrome”.
“It’s not just a search engine; it’s an answer engine,” claimed Nadella earlier in the show, “because we’ve always had answers, but with these large models, the fidelity of the answers just gets so much better.”
Would you call replacing a “Chrome” search with a juiced “news articles about Bing features” search as “better”? I know where I land on that.
But it’s important to both Microsoft and Google that their answers are seen as “better,” because they’re pushing aside the ten blue links that have dominated search for so long. We recently worried out loud whether Google’s new Search Generative Experience would prioritize ads over actual answers, but it looks like we won’t have to wait to see how brazen these companies can get. Unless there’s strong pushback, I would expect the ads to win whenever it’s profitable or convenient.
When asked for comment, a spokeperson forwarded this generic statement from Microsoft product marketing director Jason Fischel:
We often experiment with new features, UX, and behaviors to test, learn, and improve experiences for our customers. These tests are often brief and do not necessarily represent what is ultimately or broadly provided to customers.
Shortly after we published this story with that comment, Fischel confirmed Microsoft has pulled the plug on this particular idea. “The experience is no longer flighting.” Sure enough, I no longer see it.
Some open questions: Did this represent what Microsoft wants to provide to customers? Would it have just been an “experiment” if I hadn’t put Microsoft on blast? And given we personally saw this on the other side of the country and the other side of an ocean, what is the company’s definition of “broadly?” I asked Microsoft a few such questions, and I’ll update you if we receive answers.
As we keep saying every time Microsoft pulls this kind of shit, it’s a shame because Edge is actually good. I was just beginning to try Microsoft’s browser again because I found Bing fascinating. Now, Bing is the reason I’m boycotting Edge once more.
Update, 9:59 PM ET: Added that Microsoft turned off this “experience” shortly after we published this story.