Microsoft Confirms Its Anticompetitive and User Hostile Behavior is Purposeful

Posted on November 15, 2021 by Paul Thurrott in Windows 11 with 85 Comments

Bad news for anyone who hoped that Microsoft would do the right thing when it comes to respecting user choice in Windows 11. It will not.

As I wrote on Friday, Microsoft released a new Windows 11 build to Windows Insiders in the Dev channel last week that blocks workarounds to the bizarre default web browser functionality in this OS.

This requires a bit of backstory.

As originally designed, Windows 11 does not allow rival web browsers to set themselves as the default with a single click as with previous Windows releases. Instead, the user must manually undertake incredibly ponderous steps to make a non-Edge browser the default in Windows 11, and even then, certain actions, like clicking a news story in Widgets or searching the web from the taskbar/Start, will still launch Microsoft Edge. (And access back-end Microsoft services like Bing and MSN.)

To date, users have been able to work around this anticompetitive behavior by using utilities like EdgeDeflector. And browser makers like Mozilla and Brave have implemented workarounds in their own products to make Windows 11 respect the user’s default browser choice.

But the new build blocks these workarounds, leading to serious questions about Microsoft’s ethics and intentions. And now we’ve learned, explicitly, that this behavior is purposeful.

“Windows openly enables applications and services on its platform, including various web browsers,” a Microsoft statement notes. “At the same time, Windows also offers certain end-to-end customer experiences in both Windows 10 and Windows 11, the search experience from the taskbar is one such example of an end-to-end experience that is not designed to be redirected. When we become aware of improper redirection, we issue a fix.”

That’s too bad, as it places Microsoft in the same user-hostile and anticompetitive category as Big Tech competitors like Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google. This behavior needs to be examined by antitrust regulators in the United States, EU, and elsewhere. And it is our right and responsibility as Microsoft customers to complain about this behavior and seek to have it changed immediately and before legal action is required.

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Comments (85)

85 responses to “Microsoft Confirms Its Anticompetitive and User Hostile Behavior is Purposeful”

  1. a5ehren

    Forcing a default browser is the same exact thing that got them in trouble last time! Where is the insitutional memory?

    • Aaron44126

      I think they're hoping that they won't qualify as a "monopoly" anymore, since they have competition from... uhh... mobile phones, where they utterly failed to gain any market share?

    • garumphul

      They are absolutely not forcing a browser.

      They are preventing a (potentially malicious) browser from setting itself as the default.

      There are *painfully* fine grained controls for browsers and other applications. The problem is poor UX at most.

      ⛈️ + ☕

      • hrlngrv

        And from MSFT's perspective, no browsers could be as potentially malicious as Chrome, Firefox, Opera, Vivaldi, Brave, . . . OTOH, Safari currently can't run under Windows, so it may be the only nonmalicious 3rd party browser as far as MSFT is concerned.

        • garumphul

          Again, absolutely nothing prevents a user from installing and setting any of those browsers to be the default.

          What is the problem you're unable to solve?

          I don't understand why this is even an article it's so utterly meaningless.


          • navarac

            Trying to be polite here: I don't think you comprehend the English Language used in the article.

          • hrlngrv

            | I don't understand


            Truer words have seldom been written in the comments on this site.


            You're absolutely entitled to your opinion that this is a nonissue. And others (me included) are absolutely entitled to our opinion that you don't know what you're talking about.


            HAND

          • wright_is

            Again, absolutely nothing prevents a user from installing and setting any of those browsers to be the default.


            Go back and read the article again, that is the exact problem, even if you install a new browser, it isn't letting you set it as the default, in some circumstances, Edge still takes over.

          • Greg Green

            and even then, certain actions, like clicking a news story in Widgets or searching the web from the taskbar/Start, will still launch Microsoft Edge. (And access back-end Microsoft services like Bing and MSN.)”


            How is that not understood?

          • smartin

            Go back and ACTUALLY read the article. The problem is very real and absolutely abhorrent to anyone who wishes to not use Microsoft's browser at any time. It's a move that must be reversed or face real legal action and hopefully fines that really get the companies attention this time.


            It's a plow them under, split them up, and remove Microsoft from the lexicon of technology entirely kind of move. They don't see anything other than dollar signs, take all of their profit for a year or two and see if they wake up.

      • cpres32699

        Not sure if you have ever worked in IT but I would never approve Windows 11 for our firm if we had to make this many adjustments to every single machine just to change a web browser. We will definitely wait until Windows 10 reaches end of life by that time all this nonsense will be worked out.

    • vernonlvincent

      Fortunately, we can look at the rest of the tech industry as examples of how to open their platforms for choice - like Apple.


      Oh. wait...


      To the post: While I have a real issue issue with this behavior (and yes, it absolutely is anti-competitive), I find it hard to condemn Microsoft alone in this as the rest of the tech industry has been allowed to lock users into things (like browsers, app ecosystems) without too much uproar (until relatively recently). If we condemn Microsoft - we have to condemn Apple and Google and others for engaging in the same behavior. And the solution for the typical user is not going to be 'install Linux' but a breaking of this kind of lock-in behavior.

      • wright_is

        Except Apple allows other browsers in macOS.


        And I have disabled all Google services on my Android phone, with the exception of the Play Store. I use Duckduckgo for all searches and I use Brave for browsing. Chrome and Google Search apps can't be removed from the phone, but they are disabled.


        Obviously you can't do that in ChromeOS, but you know that going in, the name of the OS gives it away, "the browser is the OS" and all that.


        Now, where in Windows 11 can I disable Bing and Edge completely?


        People have complained for years about the forcing of the browser in iOS and Android and, for the last couple of years, you have been able to disable/go around the built in browsers on both platforms - even when iOS forces the use of the WebKit for the actual rendering.

        • vernonlvincent

          That is a completely fair argument, and one that I support very much.


          My issue is on a more general criticism of Microsoft - where they seem to get lambasted left and right for behaviors that other companies get a pass on. Paul has never done that - and so perhaps this wasn't the place to make that particular point.

          • wright_is

            At the moment, at least in the tech press I generally read, Microsoft seems to get off more lightly, it is the rest of Big Tech that gets strung up, usually with references to how their current behaviour seems to mimic Microsoft's behaviour from the 90s.


            With Windows 11, Microsoft seems to be pushing itself back into the spotlight, with a "me too, we feel left out with all these investigations going on, please take another look at us, we want to be strung up in public again!" cry for attention.

        • bkkcanuck

          That is correct, I had Firefox set as my default browser (and everything respected it) for many years. I have only set Safari as the default in Monterey to test it out (there is one web page that is not firefox friendly during a given sales cycle for some reason so I would have to launch that for a few weeks ever so many months - works fine in Safari). [not sure how long I will be using Safari or whether I will go back to Firefox on macOS].

      • Maverick010

        Glad you said that, as that was my thought. All the other companies lock in apps and so on to their platforms, but once Microsoft does it, they are called out. I believe on Android devices, Google requires like 10+ apps to be installed as well by default. Apple, complete locks its first party apps into its OS. They all have done some specific lock downs on their platforms too. I just think the environment and competitive landscape changed and Microsoft made this decision as the right time to go back.

        • vernonlvincent

          You're not entirely wrong on that. The fact that other companies do this doesn't absolve Microsoft at all. But at the same time, it does seem Microsoft gets trashed for doing things that other companies seem to get a pass on.


          Looking at the behavior on its own- I completely agree with Paul. It's wrong for Microsoft to do this. But I can't help getting frustrated that other companies that do the same thing don't get the same level of opprobrium.

    • hrlngrv

      Doing everything it could to scupper Netscape was one of several things in US v MSFT. There were other unpleasant business practices which were part of that case. In the late 1990s, MSFT really did want to control EVERYTHING (software) running on Windows PCs.

  2. rider2040

    Remember when Nadella said that he wanted users to love using Windows? I feel that since that time they have made a steady succession of steps that make me hate using Windows. From Widgets to Internet Results in Windows Search I feel like Windows is constantly trying to distract me from my work.

    • hrlngrv

      Ever read Lord of the Rings? If so, do you recall Galadriel telling Frodo that if she had the One Ring, all would love her and despair? Perhaps Nadella meant the same thing.

  3. j5

    Is Microsoft hoping users will just stick with Edge if they do this? WHO actually searches from the Start menu and I bet the news widget thing falls flat. It'll mainly be reviewed and used by tech nerds like us. I mean normie users open their web browser and search there. And I bet a majority read news, content that would be in those widgets, on their smartphones anyway. This feels like a feeble attempt to trick/force users to use Edge. lol I bet if anything, once a normie user clicks a weblink or try to do a web search via the Start bar and it opens Edge they'll be like WTH...close Edge and open Chrome (mainly used with normie users) and think phew I won't do that again.

    • jdawgnoonan

      Hell I use Edge on Windows 11 (and Linux for what it is worth) and I never use the widgets and I don't use Windows Search to search the Internet. You are right, they are simply trying to trick users who don't know any better into using Edge. I like Edge but I think what Microsoft is doing sucks. My favorite browser changes every few months.

  4. LT1 Z51

    Forcing not only Edge, but Bing and MSN for any links is dumb. If these things cannot be changed then I want the parts of the OS removable because to me they are worthless and I won't use them.


    Having to force-ably use a product is no way to get new users, in fact it drives them away our of sheer spite.

  5. lewk

    Wow, this is incredible. I genuinely thought the defaults settings page was rushed in development for Windows 11 to ship on that too early release date. Now knowing it's intentional is just, wow.

  6. jdawgnoonan

    It is kind of odd to say that Mac OS is now more open than Windows is for web browsers. I use Linux about 60% of the time and all major browsers work perfectly as the default there.

  7. skinnyjm

    That's some BOLD you know what...

  8. winner

    Should not surprise anybody who saw how they behaved in the Windows 10 upgrade dialog box.

    "We will shove your customer asses onto our browser whether you like it or not"

  9. vladimir

    its Interesting how many messages are about moving away from windows. In reality I wonder how many people use windows by choice and how many because they are forced to. I wouldn’t be surprised if the latter were the vast majority

  10. hrlngrv

    Gotta wonder whether MSFT's interpretation of end-to-end experience is akin to nonconsensual sex or just to a really close fleecing.


    From another perspective, this is just more evidence (now a surfeit) of amoral corporate behavior. For those who want to hold some warm & fuzzies for MSFT, grow up. When MSFT behaves in a imitation of morality, they either have to (so not doing so could cause MSFT harm) or believe they'd make more money doing so. In no other circumstances will MSFT behave acceptably. Believing MSFT wants to be a good corporate citizen is a clear indicator one's eager to buy beach front property in the Gobi Desert.


    This does NOT mean there isn't value in running Windows. Somehow I can use Windows without ever running Edge without launching it with its own icons. Of course it helps that I've used winget to purge various subsystems like Widgets from my own Windows 11 VM. [Tangent: MSFT deserves credit for winget; quite possibly the best tool MSFT has ever provided for giving Windows a long overdue crapware enema.] Still, one needs to be prepared NOT to use Windows if using Windows becomes intolerable, that is, when the value sinks below the annoyance.

  11. gardner

    More evidence that Microsoft is composed of nothing but in-fighting and turf wars. The inability to stop these endless internal turf wars makes me think Microsoft must be broken up. And better that Microsoft do it where it can make some sense, rather than letting politicians and bureaucrats do it.


    May i suggest: Hardware (Xbox, surface, AR, controllers, mice, etc), Apps (Office, Enterprise Offerings, etc), Operating Systems (Windows), Cloud Hosting (Azure). Make each of these companies make decisions that keep them alive.


    And make all of them grow up and make decisions. It is ridiculous to watch endless waffling.

  12. zakand

    This behavior started in Windows 10 long ago with the microsoft-edge file type. Just because there was a third-party workaround that doesn’t change the original intent. Obviously Win11 is worse in every way, but Win10 is also full of illegal, anticompetitive garbage. It is shocking that MS has not been called out on it until now.

  13. bbold

    I'm good with it personally, because I use Edge all the time. Chrome is a memory and resource hog. I know this is probably an unpopular opinion, but I'm used to that. :D However, I do feel overall that users should have more control over what browser to use in Windows 10. Users will find a workaround anyway, or use a patch or app for it. MS should just embrace user choice and call it a day, save themselves another PR nightmare.

    • visinith

      I use Edge too, but I guess that old trite relationship advice kinda rings true here. I don't want people to be forced to use Edge; I want people to want to use Edge.

  14. ronmcmahon

    This guarantees that I won't be updating to Windows 11.

    • hrlngrv

      Really? What do you plan on running in 2026? Then out-of-support Windows 10?

      • wright_is

        I already switched to Linux on my home machine.


        Work is a little more tricky, but my boss says, as long as I can do my job (remote desktop, TeamViewer, Teams, email), I can use any OS I want.

      • garethb

        Well.... that is a good question. Been running Ubuntu (on a second PC) for a couple of months as a trial, and honestly, there isn't much that I can't do the same there as Windows. OneDrive sync and Visual Studio are my main holdups... but I'm guessing Dropbox and VSCode might be OK if I got used to them.


        Alternatively, the MacBook Pros do look awfully nice hardware - if you can stretch that far, and would end up with a better application library (than linux). Not sure I could live with MacOS though...

      • visinith

        I mean it's 5 years, who cares. If the world wants to eventually force you down a path you don't like, you can at least defer for as long as possible. Though I'd be concerned about these changes trickling down to Windows 10 at some point, too.

      • winner

        I would suggest MacOS. Some great CPUs there.

  15. thretosix

    Ahh, the joys of Windows 10. I may never install Windows 11 the way things are looking.

  16. WaltC

    Kind of interesting as I'm on 22499.1010 right now, and I never, ever see Edge at all. The behavior in Widgets with opening Edge has been there since day 1 of Win11, IIRC. And since day 1, I turn widgets off for that reason--it's highly annoying, and I do not need it for anything at all. Also, I have zero trouble using the search engine to open tabs with Firefox x64 DE--Edge never appears. I changed all three of my defaults in W11 to FFx64--and I never see Edge at all--which is the way I like it. Once again, Paul is brewing a storm in a teacup...;)

  17. jeddytier4

    As a power user, I get the outcry here. But the "workarounds" would allow any malicious software to take over the browser. "Hiding" the default settings or making them non sticky across updates would be more of a problem.


    Side note, if this doesn't make it past the pre-release versions, then it's not a problem. If you're running "beta" test versions of the software, then you should run it the way they want the testing done.


    I agree that this is a problem for a small subset of their users, but the audience of this site (power users) is probably less than 5% of their userbase and the bad press that they get for every virus or ransomware attack, is worth some pain, as the "normies" read the mainstream press and get scared to use their computer when stuff like that happens.


    Appreciate the article, but I think calling it anticompetitive practices was a bit much. I would like to see an article or interview with MS about the safety and security side of the change as well.

  18. joferm

    It seems to me that Microsoft thinks all devices are the same and wants Windows to work like a phone. If they continue down this path Mac or Linux will soon be the only viable options for the desktop (no I'm not including Chrome.. not yet a full OS).

  19. brettscoast

    Good follow up post Paul. It is indeed anti-competitive behavior. What happened to love and embrace Windows messages from the CEO on down, not bloody likely given the fact they are denying users the basic right to select the web browser of their choice. I didn't agree with this practice even on Windows 10 but at least you only had to click once to choose your web browser default choice.

  20. rmlounsbury

    While this won't get me to abandon Windows it is an incredibly bad take from a company that has worked its way into one of the more positive lights in the tech world as of late. Shame that taking such an odd stance on something such as default browser will tarnish the image they've been building.


    Even more odd in that Windows today had been moving towards one of the more neutral platforms available. Want to run Linux (shell or GUI)? Sure, go ahead, we have WSL. Want to run Android apps? Sure, it's coming to a future W11 release near you. You can't do much from the Apple world that is because of Apple not Microsoft.


    Hopefully, enough people callout Microsoft that they reverse course on this decision and don't try to lock you into Microsoft software/technologies on Windows. It seems out of character for Modern Microsoft but if you get greedy anything is possible.

  21. bitmasher

    Besides this issue of blocking redirection, there are a few other ways Microsoft is making it harder to use other browsers. At least on my fresh windows 11 install (on Surface Pro 8) the behavior of chrome at launch has changed. Every time I launch it now I am asked for UAP permissions to run. Edge does not do that. Well, I could turn UAP off; but that is a bad idea. Also, as already noted, one has to configure many features of the browser individually not collectively when choosing another browser source. It is pretty clear that they don't want us to do just that; change default browsers.

  22. vincent.baaij

    To be fair though, Google is doing exactely the same on Android. I'v set my default browser to Edge but there are still situations that Chrome rears it's head and you can't change that.

    • 1Dragoon

      Where? I've been using Firefox exclusively for years now, Android always seems to respect my default browser choice. I even use Google pixel phones as well.

  23. Informed

    This is about .url links which open in Edge? How often do people even come across these?


    Regularly using Chrome, I specifically leave Edge as the default browser so that the odd time some program automatically opens a link it'll open in the browser I do NOT use and I quickly close the whole window. And for actual .url files (you know, the ones that comprised the Internet Explorer "Favorites") I drag them from File Explorer into the exact position I want in Chrome (what, with dozens of tabs open).


    Funny how everyone's so worked up about this, it's not like iOS where non-Safari browsers can't use their own rendering engine. (Just to be clear, Microsoft's obviously in the wrong here, but other things stop me from upgrading from 10 to 11, like the Taskbar missing the option to NEVER combine taskbar buttons.)

  24. rm

    Having the widgets open Edge is fine with me, since the widget is Microsoft's. I am guessing anyone else can create a widget the opens yahoo or AOL instead of MSN . . . if they wanted to.


    But, the default browser stuff is just wrong.

  25. justme

    I dont get it. What could Microsoft possibly gain in ticking off so many users and developers? Why would they put this stick in the ground and then dig it in? I feel like we are all missing something.


    As someone who switches browsers somewhat regularly (maybe every 3 months or so) as I like to tinker, this is a decided PITA.


    The good news for me, I suppose, is that Windows 10 still has a few years of support. This also makes Zorin much more compelling.

  26. Mikael Koskinen

    Sometimes I just don't get Microsoft and this is especially true when it comes to Edge and the choices they make in and around it. The browser is actually good but it's like they're actively trying to tarnish its name.


    The starting point was great but since then the focus has been lost: Coupons, Collections, Math solvers... And now this.

  27. whistlerpro

    Looking at the situation from Microsoft's perspective, I can see how while EdgeDeflector might be a small problem, they see fixing the workaround as important. If they let EdgeDeflector 'hack' the system to redirect links to Chrome, or say searches to Chrome. What's to stop Google doing it? Stopping Deflector is a message to the likes of Google not to mess with Microsoft's OS.

  28. scovious

    Making it difficult to change what open source browser we set to default on our OS isn't half as important as the battles for allowing multiple open stores to install software and games into an operating system.


    If anyone cares about anticompetitive behavior in tech *that* is what people should focus on, not which bookmarks manager and ad-tracking is built into what iteration of chrome install.


    Comparing this kind of annoyance to the true anticompetitive behavior currently in review all over the world risks diluting real issues which effect the entire digital economy, rather than the economy of how many clicks it takes to switch to Google Chrome.

    • wright_is

      Except most people use the app store rarely, after setting up their phone, but they probably use the browser for several hours each day...

    • hrlngrv

      Phones and microcomputers are different. There may be walled garden app stores for phones, but there's nothing comparable for microcomputers. Thus the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad state of app and content distribution channels for phones is a COMPLETE IRRELEVANCE for microcomputers.


      This does matter for Windows PCs. If you're more concerned about iPhones and Android phones, fine, but not germane to this issue.

  29. djross95

    Ironically, that bastion of "walled gardens" Apple lets you change browsers with two clicks. The Microsoft process is nightmarish, and makes you wonder who's running the show there. Just another in a long line of reasons why my current Windows laptop will be my last.

  30. wixtech

    Paul I commend you for coming out as strongly as you did on this issue. This is clearly anti-competitive behavior on Microsoft's part and I expect there will be consequences.

  31. jwpear

    Is this only in the Home or Pro SKU? Or is it all? I'm wondering how enterprise and education customers are going to feel about this. Some of these standardize on Chrome or Firefox and prefer their user base use their standard browser to minimize support and compatibility issues across their suite of applications. Are these folks able to change this behavior?

    • mattbg

      Agree - it becomes a battle of "which company's anti-competitive behavior fits my workflow the best?" :)

    • hrlngrv

      I'd have to question the competence of ANY enterprise whose IT dept didn't excise Widgets from the standard image. Ditto no need for the MSFT Store. OTOH, Edge may be the only approved browser in the standard image, so this would be a complete nonissue.

  32. skramer49

    I rely on a number of workflows using another browser and since so much of what I do is on the web, this really hampers my using Windows. I can actually do better with the new M1 Mac and with Android as my mobile solution, so this, coupled with MSFT's recent luke-warm consumer support in general, is really convincing me to permanently and completely switch. Sort of sad and short-sighted I think, on their part.

  33. awright18

    I could imagine this going back and forth between modders and Microsoft for a few rounds. It would be nice if they would at least make a valid claim about security or some other reason that this must be this way.

    • atimms

      EdgeDeflector author has already issued a workaround, so on to round 3.

      • garethb

        Not sure how you make that statement. There has been no change to the EdgeDeflector source code since September, and the author - on his blog - says:

        "The program will remain available for download, but I won’t attempt to update it until Microsoft reverses its position. "

        He begins his last paragraph:

        "For users, the best action is to complain to their local antitrust regulator or switch to Linux."


        Yep.

        • adam.mt

          I did reply earlier but it weirdly disappeared.


          Sorry, you're right - it's not the Edgedeflector author...I wasn't listening properly to YT's Linus ;-) There are however a couple of fixes that work....for now.

        • 1Dragoon

          I've written a workaround by using WMI to detect when edge is opened, get the URL that was passed to it, terminate edge, and launch the default browser with the same url. It's not a perfect solution, but I think that with a bit of work it could eventually be seamless. I may have to ultimately use something other than WMI though.

  34. lvthunder

    Aren't those pieces already running in Edge? Widgets just look like a wrapper around a webpage already. I never use the web component of start search anyways so I don't know what that looks like.

  35. sharpsone

    I'm not sure how this is any different than competitors setting defaults or re-enabling settings after updates to Android/IOS. As long as there remains a way to change it's okay it's not like people are switching default browsers daily. The entire IOS/Android eco-systems are sandboxed monopolies yet people continue to use the crap.

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