Windows users in the EU could finally and fully be set free from Microsoft's Edge browser. According to The Verge, Edge can be entirely ditched as the default browser for every and all operations in the latest dev builds of Windows 11. At least, it can be for builds configured for EU countries.
It's always been possible to install whatever browser you fancy on Windows, of course. But with Windows 10, Microsoft got a bit pushier in promoting its own Edge browser. In practice, that meant Edge popped up whenever you hit hyperlinks in widgets or Start Menu searches, regardless of the browser configured as the default.
That has carried through to existing retail builds of Windows 11. However, release notes for developer builds now indicate a change of policy which would see Windows 11 builds for EU territories respect default browser configuration for all actions, including widget and Start Menu search result links.
"In the European Economic Area (EEA), Windows system components use the default browser to open links," the note says. So, strictly speaking, the change would apply to the EEA, which is a purely economic superset of the EU and contains three countries which aren't full EU members, rather than the EU. But anyway, the net result would be that you can entirely avoid using Edge.
The Verge asked Microsoft why the change only applies to EU / EEA territories, but Microsoft apparently declined to comment. The change is likely related to Microsoft's ongoing difficulties in the EU involving anti-trust investigations into Microsoft's bundling of Teams and Office software with Windows.
The EU has a track record of jumping on any such practices that it sees as anti-competitive. So, this could be Microsoft either heading off a specific challenge regarding the implementation of Edge in Windows as the EU’s Digital Markets Act comes into effect in March 2024 and tightens anti-trust regulations. Or it could just be Microsoft trying avoid any chance of future litigation, even if a complaint hasn't actually been lodged and the new legislation doesn't explicitly dictate a change.
Either way, if Microsoft does implement this change for future full releases of Windows 11 in the EU it will only make the forced use of Edge, at least for some operations, for non-EU builds of Windows seem even more conspicuous and egregious.
Of course, authorities in countries like the US and UK have the power to dictate that Windows fully respects default browser settings. In the US, anti-trust authorities arguably tend to tilt the balance of regulation more towards business than the consumer compared to the EU.
As for the UK, significant tranches of EU regulation remain in place despite the UK's exit from the political bloc. But when it comes to new regulations, well, the UK government doesn't appear to do much of anything, whether that's down to a fear of being seen to do anything similar to the EU, a more pro-business agenda or just a general dysfunctional paralysis.
Whatever, if this new approach to default browser implementation in EU builds of Windows 11 does become official, we doubt we'll see it in the US or the UK.