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Windows 11 makes setting the default browser harder than it needs to be

Updated Aug 24th, 2021 11:06AM EDT
Windows 11 Default Browser
Image: Microsoft

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If you thought that the Windows 11 hardware requirements controversy was the most annoying thing about the new operating system, you’re in for a surprise. It appears that Microsoft made setting default internet browsers in Windows 11 a lot harder than it needs to be. The process is so user-unfriendly that even the savviest Windows users will be annoyed to deal with the hurdles Microsoft introduced. Needless to say that competitors aren’t happy. Then again, it shouldn’t be a major shock, coming from a company that had its fair share of internet browser antitrust issues in its Windows past.

A new report from The Verge explains that switching default browsers isn’t enough to ensure that the same app handles all your internet traffic.

Despite setting a Microsoft Edge alternative, you might find yourself having to tweak more settings to ensure that all files that an internet browser can open will reach the browser you want to handle them.

Windows 11’s default internet browser

Microsoft Edge is the default Windows 11 internet browser. Microsoft’s own Chromium-based browser will deliver an experience similar to Google’s Chrome or the Brave Browser. That should be more than enough for most users, even those people who are used to Chrome. But users should absolutely be able to switch to any internet browser they desire.

Microsoft still lets you do that. The company will probably never make it impossible to set a different default internet browser. But Windows 11 lets Microsoft get nearly there.

The Verge explains that you’ll have to pay close attention to the prompt asking whether you want to set a new browser as the default. The prompt appears when you install the browser and open a link for the first time. You’ll have to tick the Always use this app box to ensure the new browser becomes the default.

The default apps

Forgetting the tick will send you to a place most Windows users don’t want to be in. Rival browsers will invite you to set them as default. But the process involves another tedious step.

Windows 11 bring changes to the way default apps are assigned. That means you will need to associated files with the default browser manually. The list includes: “HTM, HTML, PDF, SHTML, SVG, WEBP, XHT, XHTML, FTP, HTTP, and HTTPS.”

The Verge tested Firefox, Chrome, Opera, Vivaldi, and Brave on Windows 11. Only Firefox set defaults without having the user go to the defaults section of Windows 11. Firefox, Opera, Vivaldi, and Brave execs all criticized the Microsoft approach for Windows 11 — their reactions are available at this link.

Windows 11 feedback for Microsoft

But wait, it gets worse. Windows 11 has a taskbar search widget that continues the work Microsoft started in Windows 10. The Windows 11 search widget continues to send users to Microsoft Edge rather than the default browser.

Microsoft explained to The Verge that the new approach about Windows 11 default browsers gives users more control over Windows 11 apps.

“With Windows 11, we are implementing customer feedback to customize and control defaults at a more granular level, eliminating app categories and elevating all apps to the forefront of the defaults experience,” a Microsoft spokesperson told the blog. “As evidenced by this change, we’re constantly listening and learning and welcome 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.”

Windows 11 is in beta right now. Insiders who might have stumbled upon these default internet browser issues will hopefully provide feedback to Microsoft. And the company will hopefully make the appropriate changes.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.