A report from The Verge today has drawn attention to the way current Windows 11 betas are handling third-party Web browsers like Chrome and Firefox. These tweaks continue a trend that has intensified over Windows 10’s lifecycle—you can use any browser you want on Windows! But are you sure that you wouldn’t like to try Microsoft Edge instead? Are you sure? Are you really, really sure?
There are two functional changes in the current beta of Windows 11 that make switching browsers more annoying. The first is that the OS no longer pops up a window asking you if you’d like to switch browsers the first time you click a link after installing a new browser. The second is that the “default apps” screen has removed the broad app categories currently available in Windows 10—Windows 10 allows you to set the default email app, map app, music player, photo viewer, video player, and web browser from the default apps screen, while Windows 11 makes you choose an app first and assign defaults one file extension at a time.
When you do attempt to change the default app that handles .htm or .html files from Edge to something else, Windows 11 takes it as yet another opportunity to make sure that you’re absolutely, positively sure that you actually want to switch away from Edge.
Collectively, these changes represent another escalation in Windows’ never-ending quest to remind you that it comes with its own browser, and Microsoft deserves to be criticized for it—I don’t need to be told the Good News about Edge every time I install a major update or when I use Edge to search for Chrome so I can download Chrome or when I visit any of Microsoft’s websites in a non-Edge browser. But browser-makers can make this a bit less annoying in practice—for example, when I install Chrome on Windows 11 and click Chrome’s “set as default” button, it kicks me to the Windows 11 default apps screen. But when I click Firefox’s “set as default” button, it just works, no extra clicking needed.
The way Windows 11 handles lesser-used (or merely browser-adjacent) file extensions is actually a bit less confusing than the way Windows 10 handles them. Changing the default browser setting in Windows 10 and Windows 11 leaves Microsoft Edge in charge of opening a bunch of other file extensions, including .pdf, .svg, and .shtml—you might think that this is new behavior in Windows 11, but Windows 11 just makes it easier to see. Being able to see every single file extension that every app on your computer can open and which apps are in charge of opening them is handy, and Windows 11’s presentation is a big improvement over Windows 10’s semi-buried version of the same view.
Reverting the two biggest changes to Windows 11’s browser behavior—the missing pop-up, and the absent high-level version of the “Default Apps” screen—would be relatively trivial and would mostly solve the practical issues here. In the meantime, some browser-makers do seem to have figured out how to make the default-browser-switching process less painful.
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