Changing your default browser in Windows 11 will be a nightmare

Man annoyed at laptop
(Image credit: Marjan Apostolovic / Shutterstock)

If you thought that Windows 10 was annoying for nagging you to use Microsoft's Edge browser then you may want to avoid upgrading to Windows 11

As reported by The Verge, Microsoft will make switching your default browser from Edge to something like Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox much harder in the upcoming Windows 11 operating system.

The way that default applications are set is changing, though just like we currently see in Windows 10, a window will appear when you download an alternative browser that prompts you to stick with Edge, and unless you tick the box for 'Always use this app' when selecting your preferred web browser then you're in for a ride as this is the only easy way to change your default, and you'll only see this prompt once.

If you forget to tick the box then you'll have the arduous task of heading into the OS Settings and changing the default app for every specific file type as there's no longer an option to use one browser for everything – and when switching to Chrome means manually changing the default file type for HTM, HTML, PDF, SHTML, SVG, WEBP, XHT, XHTML, FTP, HTTP, and HTTPS, you'd best make yourself comfortable.

Not a great move

There is a possibility that this could change when we see the official consumer edition of Windows 11 hit the shelves. If this process sticks, it's unacceptably long and far from user-friendly for even the most tech-literate of people.

Microsoft told The Verge that it is “constantly listening and learning” and that as Windows 11 evolves, it "welcomes customer feedback that helps shape Windows. Windows 11 will continue to evolve over time; if we learn from user experience that there are ways to make improvements, we will do so.”

With any luck, the backlash that Microsoft is currently receiving is enough to deter it from implementing this system for changing default browsers even if its original plan was to further develop it or even leave it how it currently is in the early release.

The Verge also reached out to several other browsers for their reaction to the changes in Windows 11, having tested the latest versions of Firefox, Chrome, Opera, Vivaldi, and Brave, with only Firefox managing to fully set its defaults. 

Selena Deckelmann, senior vice president of Firefox made a statement saying "We have been increasingly worried about the trend on Windows. Since Windows 10, users have had to take additional and unnecessary steps to set and retain their default browser settings. These barriers are confusing at best and seem designed to undermine a user’s choice for a non-Microsoft browser.”

A spokesperson for Vivaldi also stated “Microsoft has a history of doing this, and it seems they are getting progressively worse. With every new version of Windows, it is getting harder [to change defaults]. They understand that the only way they can get people to use their browsers is to lock them in.”

Opinion: Edge is a great browser, but I won't use it

Burn baby burn

(Image credit: Future)

Microsoft's efforts to get people to use its own Edge web browser over more popular options like Chrome have come across as annoying in the past and can dampen the experience of using your preferred browser, but the approach taken for Windows 11 goes beyond being a nuisance. It really does feel as though Microsoft is trying to trap its customers and force them to move away from other browsers that they're more familiar and comfortable using.

I can't abide that, and for all the respect I have for Edge, I won't use it if I feel I'm being bullied into doing so. I've used Edge frequently in the past and it is a great browser: it's feature-packed, but easy to use and doesn't hog RAM to the extent that Chrome does. Being built on Chromium, it's also faster than Firefox in some circumstances and has a better bookmarking system than Safari.

Despite its benefits, there are many reasons why people would want to use a different service, and making the process to switch browsers difficult for your customers doesn't paint Microsoft in a great light. You shouldn't have to cage people in to retain a userbase, and this behavior shouldn't be rewarded.

I hope that this frustratingly long and convoluted process is corrected when Windows 11 arrives on consumer computers, but not just by reverting it back to the pop-up messages seen in Windows 10 currently. Ideally, users should be free to use the browser of their choice without being asked to switch services at all, and while I think it's unlikely, Microsoft would do well to leave customer harassment out of its OS entirely.

Jess Weatherbed

Jess is a former TechRadar Computing writer, where she covered all aspects of Mac and PC hardware, including PC gaming and peripherals. She has been interviewed as an industry expert for the BBC, and while her educational background was in prosthetics and model-making, her true love is in tech and she has built numerous desktop computers over the last 10 years for gaming and content creation. Jess is now a journalist at The Verge.