Microsoft has announced that it will no longer force Windows 11 users in Europe to use its Edge browser if they click on a link from the Windows Widgets panel or from search results. The company has recently implemented this change in the test builds of Windows 11, but the new feature is limited to countries within the European Economic Area (EEA).
According to a change note from a Windows 11 test build released to Dev Channel testers last month, “In the European Economic Area (EEA), Windows system components use the default browser to open links.” This indicates that Microsoft is acknowledging the default browser choices of users in the EEA.
It is worth noting that Microsoft has long been criticized for disregarding users’ default browser choices. In Windows 10, the search experience and the taskbar widget would both force users into Edge if they clicked on a link, regardless of their preferred default browser. Unfortunately, Windows 11 continued this trend, with search still directing users to Edge and the new widgets area also ignoring the default browser setting.
However, with the upcoming changes to Windows 11, both the search function and Windows Widgets will utilize the default browser settings in EU countries. This means that when users click on a link, it will be opened in their preferred default browser, instead of automatically redirecting them to Edge. Previously, users could bypass Microsoft’s browser restrictions by using third-party apps like EdgeDeflector, but Microsoft put a stop to this workaround almost two years ago.
The decision to implement these changes in the European market may be related to Microsoft’s attempt to avoid further antitrust scrutiny. The European Commission opened a formal antitrust investigation into Microsoft’s bundling of its Teams software with the Office productivity suite in July, following a complaint from rival Slack. Slack accused Microsoft of “illegally tying” Teams to Office and “force installing it for millions.” The EU investigation aims to determine whether Microsoft’s behavior hinders competition in the market.
It remains unclear whether the changes to Windows 11 are directly influenced by this EU investigation or if Microsoft has faced other complaints about the behavior of its default apps. Initially, the company made it challenging to switch default browsers in Windows 11, leading to complaints from rivals. Eventually, Microsoft relented and introduced an option to make it easier to change default apps in the operating system.
The introduction of these changes in EU countries may also be driven by the EU’s Digital Markets Act, scheduled to take effect in March 2024. Under this act, platforms such as Windows will be required to adhere to several interoperability and competition rules. This includes granting users the ability to uninstall pre-installed apps and change default settings for operating systems, virtual assistants, and web browsers. The aim is to provide users with more choice and to promote fair competition in the market.
In conclusion, Microsoft is finally taking steps to address the criticisms surrounding its browser restrictions in Windows 11. By allowing users in the European Economic Area to utilize their preferred default browser, Microsoft is embracing user choice and attempting to comply with EU regulations. These changes not only benefit users but also help Microsoft avoid further antitrust scrutiny. As the EU’s Digital Markets Act comes into effect, it is likely that we will see more adjustments in the tech industry to ensure fair competition and empower users with more control over their digital experiences.