Should we all be as pissed as Mozilla about Edge taking over in Windows 10?

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Microsoft is no stranger to controversy when it comes to web browsers. Internet Explorer has been the butt of jokes for many years, and the company also found itself in trouble in Europe as part of an antitrust case. With the release of Windows 10, history could be about to repeat itself.

Mozilla CEO Chris Beard penned a letter to Microsoft the other day expressing his disappointment that people upgrading to Windows 10 have their default browser choice overridden and changed to Microsoft Edge. While some may feel that Mozilla is whining, it could be argued that the company is right to be pissed -- and Windows 10 users should be just as pissed at the liberties Microsoft is taking.

Of course, there is nothing to stop people from changing the default browser to whatever they prefer but the point is... they shouldn’t have to. Someone upgrading from Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 with Chrome (for instance) installed has already indicated that they have a particular preference when it comes to their web browser -- they installed Chrome. Microsoft should not assume that in upgrading to Windows 10 browsing preferences will change. If a user wants to use Microsoft Edge, they can do so using the taskbar icon. There's just no need to force it upon people.

Microsoft runs a real danger of making Edge something of an unwanted house guest rather than the Internet Explorer replacement it is meant to be. Riding roughshod over the choices that users have already made is no way to make friends and influence people -- as happened with Mozilla, it just rubs people up the wrong way.

Writing to Satya Nadella, Beard said:

When we first saw the Windows 10 upgrade experience that strips users of their choice by effectively overriding existing user preferences for the Web browser and other apps, we reached out to your team to discuss this issue. Unfortunately, it didn't result in any meaningful progress, hence this letter.

We appreciate that it's still technically possible to preserve people's previous settings and defaults, but the design of the whole upgrade experience and the default settings APIs have been changed to make this less obvious and more difficult.

This is something of a theme that runs through Windows 10. Just as it is possible to opt out of the features of the operating system that invade privacy, it is not immediately obvious how to go about it. Does this mean that a lot of people will stick with using Microsoft Edge simply because they don't know how to change the default browser? Only time will tell, but it certainly feels as though we're treading familiar ground here. Microsoft is essential forcing users' hands, and that not something that tends to go down particularly well.

Of course, the obvious comeback is something along the lines of "well, Windows 10 is Microsoft's operating system; it's only right that it is free to do whatever it wants". To a certain extent this is true, but at the same time Microsoft has a moral responsibility to respect the choices that people have already made. Of course Microsoft is free to wipe out any and all program default if it feels inclined, but that doesn’t make it right. There's a big difference between exercising a right, and doing something that is right.

Unlike my colleague Brian Fagioli, I agree wholeheartedly with Chris Beard. He is spot on when he says:

Sometimes we see great progress, where consumer products respect individuals and their choices. However, with the launch of Windows 10 we are deeply disappointed to see Microsoft take such a dramatic step backwards.

It is naïve to suggest, as Brian does, that "the real people this impacts are the ones that don't know how to change their default web browser, and quite frankly, if they don't know how to change back to Firefox, they also probably didn't know how to choose it." Whether done by the user, or through the proxy of a more knowledgeable friend or relative, I assert that it is Microsoft's duty to respect the choices that have been made on a computer.

What is sad is that the people who don’t know how to change the browser may stick with Microsoft Edge simply because they don’t know otherwise. Microsoft's new browser has launched without one of its main selling points -- extensions. We don’t know when this will be added and for those who cannot or do not switch to the likes of Chrome or Firefox (or one of the other alternatives), their experience of the internet is going to be substandard. That's Microsoft's fault, and it's not something that people should be happy to put up with, whether it affects them directly or not.

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