Microsoft is making it harder to switch default browsers in Windows 11

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.

The default app prompt in Windows 11 that you’ll only see once.

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.

Windows 11 will also prompt you to reconsider switching away from Edge.

“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.”

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.’”

How to change default apps on Windows 11.

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.

Windows 11 widgets also ignore browser defaults.

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.

Comments

Yes, I noticed this in Windows 11 and was hoping it was just because it was still in beta. I really hope that Microsoft makes it easier to change the default browser, because this is insanely confusing for the average user.

Microsoft is data mining off their browser. So its not only control (I.E. in the old days), its $$$ now. The fact that you pay for the OS in the first place is beside the point.

Seems like MS execs view their OS more from a (Windows can do anything to its users that Android does) perspective than its former noninvasive background on the PC. (Windows 10 brought data mining to the OS itself and back ported it to 8 and 7 via updates). So this snowball has been rolling for a long time, lots of plaudits for their CEO.

Since when do you pay for their OS? I mean really…I get that you pay indirectly when you buy the laptop but they’ve been doing free upgrades for close to ten years now.

You pay indirectly when you buy the laptop.

Windows division has a ridiculous 45 billion dollar renevue. Clearly someone is paying.

OEMs are paying a licensing fee to Microsoft. Only consumer upgrades are free. B2B sales of Windows are very much not so.

I said you were paying it indirectly when you buy a computer but you are correct that, if you’re a business and you’ve got Enterprise licenses for your Windows devices and you aren’t a M365 customer then you’re paying for upgrades (or simply not doing them).

Wow, the addition sounds very much like something Windows 3.1 or 95 would do. I’m fine with doing it but it’s tedious as hell so I hope MS gives a way to make it easier like before.

Why is it confusing? Its pretty similar to how it works on Android.

Android isn’t nearly as confusing. You just select the browser and not for each file type.

Definitely noticed how confusing everything was for default settings. It’s not clear at all. If you pick one, I think it auto picks associated things (like htm will automatically do html too). But this is messy and will confuse users. Wonderful.

This is annoying and I imagine this will be addressed, but at least Edge is actually good.

I imagine this will be addressed

Probably not.

I bet Microsoft has telemetry showing them users are generally happy with Edge, but switch to Chrome anyway because Google incessently spams them with the "Change to Chrome" advertisements on every Google propertly.

Who cares? The vast majority of users use whatever the desktop overlord puts conveniently in front of them. Teams dominates, Edge will too, OneDrive as well, etc., and that’s how it should be.

That’s how we end up with garbage like IE and Teams (I will concede that at the moment Edge is quite good)

That’s how we end up with garbage like

iMessage, Facetime and iTunes

"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?

I mean, Microsoft didn’t promise to listen to competitors. Just customers.
(not that I expect them to do that either)

I think they did kind of pitch themselves as the best place for developers, when they were shamelessly attacking Apple’s policy on other app stores on their platform.

On windows, you have an endless number of marketplaces. You can also sell on your own website. No gateway like for Apple.

You can install anything on Mac from any vendor. There’s no gateway.

Yes, I was referring to the iOS App Store, because that was what I got that they was comparing their choice with.

I am not sure if dirtyvu is talking about.

I am referring to the iOS App Store. On Mac, you can install anything.

"we’re constantly listening and learning, and welcome customer feedback that helps shape Windows"

"Our users have told us they don’t want to use our software… so let’s make it harder to not use it!"

Microsoft treats customer feedback as you should treat thoughts during meditation – acknowledge it and let it go.

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