Microsoft’s upcoming release of Windows 11 will make it even harder to switch default browsers and ignores browser defaults in new areas of the operating system. While Microsoft is making many positive changes to the Windows 11 UI, the default apps experience is a step back and browser competitors like Mozilla, Opera, and Vivaldi are concerned.
In Windows 11, Microsoft has changed the way you set default apps. Like Windows 10, there’s a prompt that appears when you install a new browser and open a web link for the first time. It’s the only opportunity to easily switch browsers, though. Unless you tick “always use this app,” the default will never be changed. It’s incredibly easy to forget to toggle the “always use this app” option, and simply launch the browser you want from this prompt and never see this default choice again when you click web links.
If you do forget to set your default browser at first launch, the experience for switching defaults is now very confusing compared to Windows 10. Chrome and many other rival browsers will often prompt users to set them as default and will throw Windows users into the default apps part of settings to enable this.
Microsoft has changed the way default apps are assigned in Windows 11, which means you now have to set defaults by file or link type instead of a single switch. In the case of Chrome, that means changing the default file type for HTM, HTML, PDF, SHTML, SVG, WEBP, XHT, XHTML, FTP, HTTP, and HTTPS.
It’s an unnecessarily long process compared to Windows 10, which allows you to quickly and easily switch default email, maps, music, photos, videos, and web browser apps. I tested the latest versions of Firefox, Chrome, Opera, Vivaldi, and Brave, and only Firefox was able to set defaults without sending users to the default apps section of Windows 11. Either way, competitors aren’t impressed with Microsoft’s changes to Windows 11 here.
“We have been increasingly worried about the trend on Windows,” says Selena Deckelmann, senior vice president of Firefox, in a statement to The Verge. “Since Windows 10, users have had to take additional and unnecessary steps to set and retain their default browser settings. These barriers are confusing at best and seem designed to undermine a user’s choice for a non-Microsoft browser.”
Mozilla isn’t alone in its concerns, which it has been highlighting for years. “Microsoft has a history of doing this, and it seems they are getting progressively worse,” says a Vivaldi spokesperson in a statement to The Verge. “With every new version of Windows, it is getting harder [to change defaults]. They understand that the only way they can get people to use their browsers is to lock them in.”
Opera, another rival to Microsoft Edge, is also unimpressed with Microsoft’s changes to Windows 11 default apps. “It’s very unfortunate when a platform vendor is obscurifying a common use case to improve the standing of their own product,” says Krystian Kolondra, Opera’s head of browsers in a statement to The Verge. “We would like to encourage all platform vendors to respect user choice and allow competition on their platforms. Taking away user choice is a step backwards.”
This from the company that claims to be the most open, with "the most choice." I hope this is just a developer preview thing, and the shipping version of Windows 11 lives up to their claims. This is far from "choice." https://t.co/vkGQAoHZgE— Hiroshi Lockheimer (@lockheimer) August 18, 2021
We also reached out to Google to comment on Microsoft’s changes to Edge, but the company did not respond in time for publication. While Google didn’t comment directly to The Verge, Hiroshi Lockheimer, the company’s head of Android, Chrome, and Chrome OS, did respond to the changes on Twitter.
“This from the company that claims to be the most open, with ‘the most choice,’” said Lockheimer. “I hope this is just a developer preview thing, and the shipping version of Windows 11 lives up to their claims. This is far from ‘choice.’”
Default app choices aren’t the only issues affecting browsers in Windows 11, either. Microsoft has been ignoring default browser choices in its search experience in Windows 10, and the company introduced a taskbar widget that also ignored a default browser and forced users into Edge.
Windows 11 continues this trend, with search still forcing users into Edge, and now a new dedicated widgets area that also ignores the default browser setting. “It appears that Windows 11 widgets will ignore a user’s default browser choice and open Microsoft Edge for the content instead,” says a Brave spokesperson in a statement to The Verge. “Brave puts users first and we condemn this Windows 11 approach, because the choice of a default browser has many implications for individuals and their privacy. Users should be free to choose.”
It’s not clear yet whether Windows 11 will also continue Microsoft’s trend of forcing Edge onto people through Windows Updates, with regular prompts to switch. It all seems rather unnecessary, as the Chromium-based version of Edge is a great browser that many probably won’t need or want to switch away from in the future anyway. Microsoft wouldn’t be happy if Google or Apple ignored browser defaults like this with iOS or Android, so this blatant disregard is troubling.
Microsoft justifies these changes as allowing Windows users to have more control over default apps. “With Windows 11, we are implementing customer feedback to customize and control defaults at a more granular level, eliminating app categories and elevating all apps to the forefront of the defaults experience,” says a Microsoft spokesperson in a statement to The Verge. “As evidenced by this change, we’re constantly listening and learning, and welcome customer feedback that helps shape Windows. Windows 11 will continue to evolve over time; if we learn from user experience that there are ways to make improvements, we will do so.”
It’s not long until Windows 11 ships, and competitors are very clear these changes aren’t welcome. Is Microsoft really listening, though? We’ll find out in a couple of months.
Update, 10:45AM ET: Article updated to include details about Firefox setting its own default file types in Windows 11.
Update, 1:45PM ET: Article updated to include comment from Google’s head of Chrome.