Microsoft will finally stop forcing Windows 11 users in Europe into Edge if they click a link from the Windows Widgets panel or from search results. The software giant has started testing the changes to Windows 11 in recent test builds of the operating system, but the changes are restricted to countries within the European Economic Area (EEA).
“In the European Economic Area (EEA), Windows system components use the default browser to open links,” reads a change note from a Windows 11 test build released to Dev Channel testers last month. I asked Microsoft to comment on the changes and, in particular, why they’re only being applied to EU countries. Microsoft refused to comment.
Microsoft has been ignoring default browser choices in its search experience in Windows 10 and the taskbar widget that forces users into Edge if they click a link instead of their default browser. Windows 11 continued this trend, with search still forcing users into Edge and a new dedicated widgets area that also ignores the default browser setting.
As search and Windows Widgets are both system-level components in Windows 11, they will soon use the default browser to open links in EU countries. Previously, you could use third-party apps like EdgeDeflector to bypass Microsoft’s browser restrictions and open Start menu search results in your default browser of choice. Microsoft shut this workaround down nearly two years ago.
Microsoft quietly announced its latest Windows 11 changes just days before it also announced it would start unbundling Teams from its Microsoft 365 and Office 365 productivity suites in EU markets in October.
Microsoft’s Teams changes are designed to avoid further antitrust scrutiny, after the European Commission opened a formal antitrust investigation into Microsoft’s bundling of its Teams software with the Office productivity suite in July. The EU’s investigation was sparked by a complaint from rival Slack, which alleged that Microsoft had “illegally tied” its Microsoft Teams product to Office and is “force installing it for millions, blocking its removal, and hiding the true cost to enterprise customers.”
It’s not clear if the Windows 11 changes are related to this EU investigation or whether Microsoft has faced further complaints from rivals about the behavior of its default apps in Windows. Microsoft initially made it difficult to switch default browsers in Windows 11, triggering complaints from rivals before the company eventually backed down.
It’s hard to imagine that Microsoft is making these Windows 11 changes specifically in EU countries out of choice, though. They are likely related to the EU’s Digital Markets Act, which comes into effect in March 2024. Platforms like Windows will be required to meet a slew of interoperability and competition rules, including allowing users “to easily un-install pre-installed apps or change default settings on operating systems, virtual assistants, or web browsers that steer them to the products and services of the gatekeeper and provide choice screens for key services.”