How to change Windows 11's default web browser after Microsoft made it crazily difficult

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Microsoft is so keen for you to use Edge in Windows 11 that it has made the process of changing the default web browser absurdly and unnecessarily irritating. You would think -- and, indeed, expect -- it to be easy to change the default app used for anything, but here Microsoft seem determined to draw ire.

And if causing anger and irritation was the company's aim, well... mission accomplished. If you do want to change the default web browser, you have to tweak the settings for an incredible 10 file types! Mozilla is fighting back, using a hack to achieve the "impossible", but it's only a matter of time before Microsoft closes this loophole.

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You would expect that if you install a new web browser, it would be easy to make it the default. But thanks to changes in Windows 11, this is not the case. Click a web link after installing a browser, and you will be given the opportunity to open it in something other than Edge, but if you fail to tick the Always use this app box before making your selection, Edge will remain the default.

The changes introduced in Windows 11 mean that if you want to switch from Edge to Chrome, for example, you will -- as the Verge points out -- need to change the association for no fewer than 10 file extensions.

So just how do you go about this? Strap yourself in...

  1. Open Settings by right clicking the Start button and selecting Settings or press Win + I
  2. Move to the Apps section and click Default apps
  3. Beneath Set defaults for applications, locate your prefer web browser and click it
  4. For the file types HTM, HTML, PDF, SHTML, SVG, WEBP, XHT, XHTML, FTP, HTTP and HTTPS, switch from Edge to the browser of your choice
  5. And... breathe!

As Windows 11 is currently in beta, this is subject to change, but these are the absurd hoops you need to jump through at the moment.

But while, as was the case with Windows 10, it is not supposed to be possible for an app to set itself as the default in Windows 11, Firefox has found a way around this -- for the time being, at least. As ReviewGeek explains:

Firefox seems to be taking matters into its own hands with a new update. Starting today, you'll actually see behavior that resembles Windows 8 and earlier. When you launch Firefox, it will ask if you want it to be the default browser and if you agree, it will just work. No settings panel, no extensions; Firefox is now your default browser. We tested it in the latest release, and it worked.

Which is, frankly, surprising because it's not supposed to work. Windows 10 and 11 forbids programs from setting themselves as a default, yet Mozilla managed to do that. Since Firefox is open-source, you can dig into how Mozilla managed it, and the code is wonderfully commented. It looks like Mozilla is doing a bit of reverse engineering to guess the correct parameters it needs to input, and to stop Defender from throwing a fit, Mozilla moved the process to an outside operation. Basically, Mozilla is tricking Windows into thinking a human made choices.

Microsoft will almost certainly fight back and change things so this is not possible in future. But will the company learn anything about user-friendliness? Probably not.

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