[German]As if there had never been antitrust proceedings against Microsoft in USA and European Union, Redmond is currently massively stretching the limits in Windows 11 when it comes to thwarting the browser competitor. Microsoft Windows 11, as of build 22494, appears to prevent links in some protocols associated of the Microsoft Edge browser from being managed by third-party applications. It's a change that one developer is calling anti-competitive. It's about time the EU's competition commissioner shall be active. Here's a quick look at the facts of the case.
The older ones among the blog readers still remember the browser war, in which Microsoft wanted to enforce the Internet Explorer against other browsers like Firefox etc. The end of the story was the browser selection screen during Windows install – forced by European Union (EU) anti competition law. And a forgotten browser selection screen in Windows 7 resulted in a fine of 561 Million Euro against Microsoft. But the EU anti trust requirements for the browser selection screen have long since expired. And since that experience in Redmond obviously got lost, they are now turning the screw again and testing the water.
Browser redirection impossible for some cases
By default, http or https links on Windows are opened in the default application assigned for this protocol. This can be Firefox or Google Chrome, but also Microsoft Edge. Back in 2017, Daniel Aleksandersen created a free helper application called EdgeDeflector. The description of the helper application:
EdgeDeflector is a small helper application that intercepts URIs that force web links to open in Microsoft Edge and redirects them to the system's default web browser. This way, you can use Windows features like Cortana Assistant and built-in help links with the browser of your choice, instead of being forced to Microsoft Edge. With EdgeDeflector, you are free to use Firefox, Google Chrome, or your favorite web browser!
Aleksandersen had written EdgeDeflector to thwart Microsoft's approach of always opening clicked links in Edge. That's because Microsoft has defined the microsoft-edge: URI scheme. By prefixing certain links as microsoft-edge:https://example.com instead of https://example.com, Windows can be instructed to use Edge to render example.com instead of the system's default browser.
Daniel Aleksandersen pointed out the issue to The Register, who then picked up on it in this article. Microsoft applies the microsoft-edge:// protocol to Windows 10 services such as Messages and Interests, widgets in Windows 11, various help links in the Settings app, search links from the Start menu, Cortana links, and links sent from paired Android devices. When users click on these links, Edge usually opens, regardless of the default browser setting.
EdgeDeflector can intercept the microsoft-edge:// protocol association and open the affected links in the user's default browser like normal https://-Links. This way, users can direct links to the browser of their choice. Brave and Firefox recently implemented their own code to intercept the microsoft-edge:// URI scheme to counter Microsoft's efforts to force microsoft-edge:// links into its Edge browser.
Windows 11 Build 22494 bricks EdgeDeflector
However, since Windows 11 build 22494, EdgeDeflector can no longer be used, the tool simply no longer works according to this post. In addition, Microsoft puts obstacles in the way of the user to change the default browser in Windows 11 from Edge to another program. That can still be adjusted in the System Preferences need under Apps > Default Apps, but it's a hassle. In an email to The Register, Aleksandersen said the change affects both Brave and Firefox.
No program other than Microsoft Edge can handle the protocol. I have tested Brave (stable version) and a version of Firefox with the patch to add the protocol. They may not support it either.
Microsoft has not specifically blocked EdgeDeflector. Windows just bypasses the normal protocol processing system in Windows and always uses Edge for that particular protocol.
According to Aleksandersen, the latest Windows 11 build only allows the Edge browser to process the microsoft-edge:// protocol. Thursday he wrote in a blog post:
No third-party applications are allowed to process the protocol. You can't change the default protocol mapping through registry changes, OEM partner customizations, Microsoft Edge package modifications, OpenWith.exe tampering, or other wonky workarounds.
Aleksandersen states that Windows 11 will force Edge to be used even if you delete the browser it. It will open a blank UWP window and display an error message instead of reverting to the default browser. Windows' change means EdgeDeflector will not receive any more updates until this behavior is reversed, Aleksandersen says. To that, he says;
These are no longer the actions of a thoughtful company that cares about its product. Microsoft is not a good steward of the Windows operating system. They put advertising, bundleware and service subscriptions above the productivity of their users.
I think Microsoft is clearly not afraid [anymore] of the antitrust authorities. They are putting up more barriers and being more aggressive now than in the past when they were hit with antitrust penalties (e.g., removing default browser settings from Windows Settings, making it harder to programmatically change the default browser, requiring users to select Edge after every system update, hiding/removing other browsers from the taskbar). Moreover, they use those horrible microsoft-edge:// links in very prominent places in the operating system to completely bypass the default browser setting.
Clearly anti-competitive behavior. Aleksandersen advises those who oppose the change to contact their local antitrust authority or switch to Linux.
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