Why it matters: Earlier this year, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said during an interview that Windows 11 is designed to offer "the most choice." However, a recent preview build suggests otherwise. The company is changing the way app defaults are set in Windows in a way that has sparked criticism from browser makers, after it became clear that Microsoft is effectively complicating browser choice.
Since launching its Chromium-based Edge browser, Microsoft has been trying hard to push it onto Windows 10 users through various methods. It has set it as the default after large Windows updates, given "tips" on how to switch to its one and only "recommended" browser, and even pushed full-screen ads within the out-of-box experience when you set up a new Windows 10 PC.
When the Redmond giant announced Windows 11, it made an excellent first impression, but it was relatively short-lived. The company eventually explained that you'd need TPM to run it, and Windows 10 users will have to wait until next year to receive it as a free upgrade. Then it quickly became apparent that you'll need a relatively new CPU to run it, a requirement that may or may not be relaxed upon release.
If these annoyances weren't enough, it looks like Microsoft is also making sure you won't be able to easily avoid its web browser in this next-gen version of Windows. In Windows 10, switching to an alternative like Firefox or any of the other Chromium-based browsers such as Chrome, Opera, Vivaldi, and Brave is as easy as installing it and then going to Settings -> Apps -> Default Apps and setting it as default. Most browsers will also ask you if you want to make them the default upon installation.
Microsoft is changing how you set app defaults in Windows 11 to the point where you'll have to be very careful, or you'll miss your only easy chance to switch to a different web browser. Right after installing an alternative browser and opening a web link, users are presented with the option to select a preferred browser and a box telling Windows to "always use this app."
That latter part is crucial, as omitting this step will effectively set Edge as the default app not only for web links, but also for .pdf, .svg, and several other file types. This will make life harder for many users (especially the non-tech savvy ones among us), but Microsoft told The Verge this move is the result of customer feedback. That said, the company also recognizes the potential backlash that could ensue, so it's ready to "make improvements" if it learns that users don't like how these changes work.
As expected, the competition in the web browser space is disappointed by the move, but they also aren't completely surprised by it. Mozilla sees it as a trend that's been going on for years, and other browser makers believe Microsoft is once again using Windows to shoehorn users into using first-party apps. As for Google's take on this, senior vice president of Chrome, Android, Chrome OS, Play, and Photos says he hopes these changes won't make it into the final version of Windows 11.