Windows 11, which begins rolling out next week, has a nasty surprise for some users. Unless you're very attentive, it will automatically set your default browser to Microsoft Edge, even if you've downloaded Chrome, Firefox, Brave, or some other browser. Depending on your browser of choice, changing it back may be a tedious process. But it can be done.
Like it or not, Windows 11 is coming. Microsoft has announced it will begin rolling out its next operating system on October 5, starting with the newest devices, and eventually reaching all eligible PCs and laptops. (Which devices will be eligible for Windows 11? It's complicated.) Customers with eligible devices are pretty much getting Windows 11 whether or not they want it. While it is possible to block it from installing itself on your Windows device, the steps involved are not something most users are likely to undertake on their own.
While the latest operating system may have many useful new features, it also has a sneaky one: If you're not really careful, your default browser will be reset to Microsoft Edge. If that happens, whenever you click on a link in an application, it will automatically open that link in Edge. You'll have one opportunity to change that -- the very first time you click on a link after downloading a new browser. At that point, Windows 11 will open a pop-up that asks whether you want to open the link in Edge, Internet Explorer, or whatever new browser you've downloaded. Crucially, there will be a box to check at the bottom of the pop-up that says "Always use this app." Forget to check that box, and the next time you click on a link, you'll be back in Edge.
At that point, if you want to reset your default browser, you can -- but be prepared to spend a few minutes doing it. That's because, compared to the fairly easy and intuitive process for changing the default browser in Windows 10, Windows 11 demands that you specifically reset the browser for every type of file the browser could conceivably open. So for example, if you want to switch your default browser to Chrome, you will have to specifically change it 11 times, for HTM, HTML, PDF, SHTML, SVG, WEBP, XHT, XHTML, FTP, HTTP, and HTTPS files. To make matters even more time-consuming, Windows 11 will open a pop-up each time urging you not to switch away from Edge because it's so great. You'll have to avoid the big blue box that says "Check it out" and click on the less prominent "Switch anyway" to complete the process.
The makers of Chrome, Firefox, Brave, and other competing browsers are not pleased at all with this new change. Firefox has fought back by releasing a new version in August that reverse-engineers Microsoft's default switch, enabling you to set Firefox as the default with one click, if that's your preferred browser. At the time of this writing, all other browsers send you to Windows settings to make the changes yourself.
Do users really want a more granular choice?
When The Verge asked Microsoft why switching is so much harder in Windows 11 than in Windows 10, a company spokesperson said that the move was made in response to customer feedback and intended to help users, enabling them to "customize and control defaults at a more granular level, eliminating app categories and elevating all apps to the forefront of the defaults experience."
This explanation sounds disingenuous to me. It seems unlikely that even the most tech-savvy customers would want to set a different default browser to open HTML files as opposed to HTM ones, never mind SHTML and XHTML, old file types that users rarely come across these days. It's hard to imagine a groundswell of customers requesting to have to set a default browser for each of 11 file types, and even harder to picture them asking for a pop-up nagging them to try Edge instead. That pop-up makes the real purpose of this change quite clear.
Pushing users into Edge is not the only land grab in Windows 11. The operating system also comes with Microsoft Teams pre-installed and it appears on your computer's taskbar, as an icon of a purple cartoon speech bubble with a video camera inside it. Teams also loads automatically every time you start up Windows. If you want it to stop loading each time -- say your company uses Slack and isn't interested in switching to Teams -- there's a process for doing that. At least it's not as lengthy as the steps required to set a default browser of your choice.
Using its status as a dominant operating system to create competitive advantage for its other products is, of course, what got Microsoft in trouble with the Justice Department 20 years ago. The company is apparently willing to bet that won't happen again. In the meantime, once you're on Windows 11, it's worth taking a few minutes to configure your own computer to run the applications you prefer if they're different from the ones Microsoft has selected for you. But it's really annoying that you have to.