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Critics Say Browser Choice Made More Difficult in Windows 11

Microsoft has taken steps to favor the use of the Microsoft Edge browser in Windows 11, according to recent critical comments.

In particular, Microsoft has restricted developer access to a protocol designed to only open links in Microsoft Edge, which took place in a recent test build of Windows 11. Another critique is that rather than simply choosing a different default browser, Windows 11 users must also specify the exact files types to be used. This circumstance adds complexity in the guise of choice to deter switching, critics contend.

Protocol Restriction
The protocol restriction for developers was briefly noted as a kind of bug fix in Microsoft's Nov. 12 announcement of Windows 11 build 22000.346 build changes.

"We fixed an issue where OS functionality could be improperly redirected when microsoft-edge: links are invoked," the announcement noted.

The microsoft-edge:// protocol is a Windows 10 invention that directs URL links to the Edge browser. It's used in Windows search, as well as in in the News and Interests pop-up widget in Windows 10 and Windows 11. Until build 22000.346 of Windows 11, the protocol was available to non-Microsoft ("third-party) developers.

By restricting third-party developer access to the protocol, "Windows 11 blocks Edge browser competitors from opening links," contended developer Daniel Aleksandersen in a Nov. 11 blog post. The change affected his EdgeDeflector app, which translates microsoft-edge:// links into "regular https:// links that open in your default browser." EdgeDeflector currently has "0.5 million" users, but it now won't get updated "until Microsoft reverses its position," Aleksandersen indicated.

Improper Redirection
Microsoft has responded to press questions on this issue from Tom Warren of The Verge and Mary Jo Foley of ZDNet with the same statement. The protocol block for third-party developers was done to avoid the improper redirection of "end-to-end customer experiences," according to the statement:

Windows openly enables applications and services on its platform, including various web browsers. 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.

Aleksandersen contended that microsoft-edge:// links "serve no other purpose than to circumvent the user's default browser preference to promote a Microsoft product." He recounted Microsoft's antitrust days, when regulators charged Microsoft with using its Windows monopoly to push its Internet Explorer browser. The litigation fizzled to naught in the United, but was taken seriously by European authorities.

The protocol change is happening in a developer test build, so it's possible that Microsoft is simply testing the antitrust waters once again. However, the company has already gotten a rebuke on it from veteran Microsoft reporter Foley.

"C'mon Microsoft. I thought your Evil Empire days were over...," Foley wrote.

More apps besides EdgeDeflector are affected by the change. Martin Brinkmann of ghacks.net has chronicled the use of the protocol by the EdgeDeflector and BrokenURL apps, and noted that the Brave and Firefox browsers have added similar functionality.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.

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