Recent Windows 11 Insider build looks to thwart Edge browser workarounds

The Insider Preview disabled third-party software that makes it easier to bypass the Edge browser. One app developer accused Microsoft of anti-competitive practices.

Microsoft Edge [browser logo]

A recent Windows 11's Insider Preview build appears to foil workarounds that let users set rival browsers as defaults, forcing them to rely on Microsoft's Edge to handle web links.

Typically, a system uses whatever browser is set as the default in order to bring up https:// links. The latest Windows 11 build (22494), however, appears to push a user to set Edge as their browser by bringing up links as microsoft-edge:https://.

In other words, Microsoft updated the Windows 11 Preview to block any attempts to redirect some URLs away from the Edge browser.

Microsoft did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Windows Insider program offers three channels for early adopters: a Dev Channel where new features are introduced for initial testing; a Beta Channel, where more complete features are included for final testing (best for users who want the most stable builds); and a Program Release Preview channel for testing cumulative updates. After feedback from the Insider community, Microsoft may modify, keep, or remove updates.

That latest change to the Windows 11 build for users of the Insider program precludes user systems from bypassing Microsoft Edge in order to use third-party browsers such as Mozilla Firefox and Brave, as well as workaround apps, such as EdgeDeflector.

Daniel Aleksandersen, who created the free EdgeDeflector app four years ago to counter the forced use of Edge and enable links to open using third-party browsers, said Windows 11 will now aggressively push the user to set Edge as the default web browser.

EdgeDeflector works by intercepting microsoft-edge:// links  —  found throughout the Windows 10 and 11 shells and other Microsoft apps  —  and redirecting them to regular https:// links that open in the user's chosen default web browser, according to Aleksandersen. A user simply installs the app and chooses it as the default for microsoft-edge:// links instead of Microsoft Edge.

Aleksandersen said he created the app in response to “Microsoft’s anti-competitive practices.”

“Edge will even 'declutter' your browser settings, as Microsoft calls it, and unpin competitors from the taskbar and replace the pinned apps with Edge,” Aleksandersen wrote in a blog post last week.

According Aleksandersen, about 500,000 people use EdgeDeflector, a relatively small number compared to the 1.3 billion systems running Windows 10. Windows 11 was rolled out Oct. 5. Within three weeks, it was on more than 5% of “modern” PCs.

According to AdDuplex, a Lithuanian company whose metrics technology is embedded in thousands of Windows Store apps, the Windows 11 adoption number includes 4.8% of general Windows users and 0.3% of Windows Insider users. Ad Duplex’s latest data comes from 60,000 Windows 10 and 11 PCs that were surveyed.

So, what specifically changed in Windows 11 build 22494? Users can no longer set anything but Microsoft Edge as the protocol handler for the microsoft-edge:// protocol. Or rather, users can choose between Microsoft Edge, Microsoft Edge (Insider Beta), and Microsoft Edge (Insider Dev). No third-party apps are allowed to handle the protocol.

“These aren’t the actions of an attentive company that cares about its product anymore. Microsoft isn’t a good steward of the Windows operating system,” Aleksandersen argued. “They’re prioritizing ads, bundleware, and service subscriptions over their users’ productivity.”

For users, Aleksandersen advises, the best action is to complain to their local antitrust regulator — or switch to Linux. Your web browser is probably the most important  —  if not the only  —  app you regularly use. “Microsoft has made it clear that its priorities for Windows don’t align with its users,” he said.

Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

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