Windows 11 has been in the news for many reasons this year, not all of those have been positive. The recent Windows Update that was released last week brings yet another unwelcome change, it effectively removes Mozilla’s workaround to set Firefox as the default web browser.
But we should have seen this coming. It all began when Windows 11 made it more difficult to change the default apps, it requires a few more clicks. The unaware user won’t know where to look for the setting, and will have to rely on Edge, not by choice, but because they had no idea how to change the browser.
In September, Mozilla found a fix by reverse engineering the default apps protocol, thus allowing users to set Firefox as the default browser. So far so good, right. The workaround didn’t go unnoticed, and a Microsoft spokesperson released a statement to The Verge, which said that a fix would be issued in a future Windows Update, to correct this improper redirection.
Soon after this, the developer of the open source program, EdgeDeflector, discovered a new problem. The Windows 11 build released at that time, Build 22494, changed the way how file associations are handled. His software could no longer intercept the microsoft-edge:// links, meaning the program could not be used to redirect the URLs from the Start Menu’s search results, to open in the default browser.
This was the “fix” from Microsoft. Mozilla wasn’t pleased about this, and cried foul, again!. It wasn’t alone in this regard. Microsoft’s antics attracted the ire of many, and Vivaldi’s founder slammed Microsoft Edge’s practices as anticompetitive. Browser wars have never been pretty, but Microsoft is just being petty.
Windows Update prevents Mozilla’s workaround to set Firefox as the default browser
A new build that was released in the Windows Insider Preview program does simplify things a bit, it allows you to change your default browser with a couple of clicks. That’s not exactly the solution, but it’s somewhat easier for users, compared to the previous options. Just when it looked like the situation was improving, last week’s Windows Update has once again caused disarray among users. The news, first reported by How To Geek, confirms the anti-consumer move by Microsoft.
Windows 11 is all about personalization or so the promos tell us, well where’s the freedom of choice for people to use what they want? Those are the personal choices that matter, not colorful animations and fancy glass backgrounds.
I’m not sure if this was the reason, but here is my theory on why the change might have been implied. You see, with the introduction of the Widgets panel in Windows 11, Microsoft provides a curated newsfeed that the user can customize. The marketing surrounding this feature, tells you that Widgets allows you to access all the info that you want, quickly from the taskbar. The problem here is that these links in the Widgets page open in Microsoft Edge, even if you have set a different browser as your default handler. More links equals more clicks, which in turn means more chances for users to switch to Edge.
Speaking of which, Edge will pester you with recommendations to set itself as the default browser. The lack of options to conveniently set the default browser, the messages mocking Chrome, the anticompetitive practices by Bing add to a long list of problems, that we have seen with the browser. Even the latest new feature in Edge, Buy Now and Pay Later, has been a controversial one. I wonder how Manifest v3 will be handled by Microsoft Edge, once support for version 2 ends.
Microsoft has gone nuts, and its forced changes are screaming for an antitrust investigation. It happened once before, and I wouldn’t be remotely surprised if the issue is taken up in court again.