Microsoft issued a Windows update that broke a Chrome feature, making it harder to change your default browser and annoying Chrome users with popups, Gizmodo has learned.
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An April Windows update borked a new button in Chrome—the most popular browser in the world—that let you change your default browser with a single click, but the worst was reserved for users on the enterprise version of Windows. For weeks, every time an enterprise user opened Chrome, the Windows default settings page would pop up. There was no way to make it stop unless you uninstalled the operating system update. It forced Google to disable the setting, which had made Chrome more convenient.
This petty chapter of the browser wars started in July 2022 when Google quietly rolled out a new button in Chrome for Windows. It would show up near the top of the screen and let you change your default browser in one click without pulling up your system settings. For eight months, it worked great. Then, in April, Microsoft issued Windows update KB5025221, and things got interesting.
“Every time I open Chrome the default app settings of Windows will open. I’ve tried many ways to resolve this without luck,” one IT administrator said on a Microsoft forum. A Reddit user noticed that the settings page also popped up any and every time you clicked on a link, but only if Chrome was your default browser. “It doesn’t happen if we change the default browser to Edge,” the user said. Others made similar complaints on Google support forums, some saying that entire organizations were having the issue. Users quickly realized the culprit was the operating system update.
For people on the regular consumer version of Windows, things weren’t quite as bad; the one-click “Make Default” button just stopped working. Gizmodo was able to replicate the problem. In fact, we were able to circumvent the issue just by changing the name of the Chrome app on a Windows desktop. It seems that Microsoft threw up the roadblock specifically for Chrome, the main competitor to its Edge browser.
Microsoft didn’t answer questions on the subject, but shared a link published before it messed up Chrome.“For information on this, please see this blog post about Microsoft’s approach to app pinning and app defaults in Windows. Microsoft has nothing further to share,” a Microsoft spokesperson said. The post describes the company’s “long-standing approach to put people in control of their Windows PC experience.”
Mozilla’s Firefox has its own one-click default button, which worked just fine throughout the ordeal. But according to Steve Teixeira, chief product officer at Mozilla, this isn’t the first anti-competitive move from Microsoft in recent years.
“When using Windows machines, Firefox users routinely encounter these kinds of barriers, such as overriding their selection of default browser, or pop-ups and misleading warnings attempting to persuade them that Edge is somehow safer,” Teixeira said. “It’s past time for Microsoft to respect people’s preferences and allow them to use whatever browser they wish without interfering with their choice.”
In response, Google had to disable its one-click default button; the issue stopped after it did. In other words, Microsoft seems to have gone out of its way to break a Chrome feature that made life easier for users. Google confirmed the details of this story, but declined to comment further.
This is part of a pattern of behavior for Microsoft as it wages war on non-Windows web browsers and the people who use them. Chrome is, it bears repeating, the world’s preferred internet browser, with a reported 66% market share. Earlier this year, Microsoft started inserting full-size ads into the search results if you looked up Google Chrome, saying “There’s no need to change your default browser.” Microsoft went as far as sticking ads for Edge on the Chrome download website itself, stating “Microsoft Edge uses the same technology as Chrome, with the added trust of Microsoft.” There were other bizarre messages to would-be Chrome users as well, with some suggesting Chrome is worse for online shopping, or referring to Google’s browser as “so 2008.”
When Microsoft shipped Windows 11 in 2021, it included several dark patterns that ignored users’ choices and made it harder to change defaults. Windows users had to change the default web browser for almost a dozen different types of web links: HTM, HTML, PDF, SHTML, SVG, WEBP, XHT, XHTML, FTP, HTTP, and HTTPS (as if anyone wants a different browser for HTTP and HTTPS pages). There was no way to change all the defaults all at once, you had to do it manually.
Windows 11 also gave you one single chance to change your defaults when you opened a new web browser for the first time. You’d see a popup, but it didn’t actually work unless you checked a tiny box that said “Always use this app.” If you missed it, you’d never see the popup again.
It seemed like things were improving. Months after releasing Windows 11, Microsoft relented and added a setting that opened things up a bit, letting you change your default browser all at once instead of going through 11 annoying drop down menus.
History fans will note this sounds a lot like the monopoly behavior that once landed Microsoft in court. In the ‘90s, the US Department of Justice sued the company for its efforts to stymie competition for Internet Explorer, the web browser Microsoft finally retired last year.
In the 20 years since, the Department of Justice largely stayed out of tech competition issues. But recently, the DOJ signaled a renewed interest in digital monopolies with an antitrust case against Google. Microsoft isn’t the only game in town any more, which could make it a less attractive target for regulators, though it’s still worth $2.2 trillion. But here we are with more Windows browser shenanigans.