Microsoft published a blog post on the Windows Insider Blog in with a vague statement saying that “Windows system components“ were to begin respecting the default web browser setting. Windows 10 and 11 regularly bypass this setting and force-open links in Microsoft Edge instead. In my extensive testing, I haven’t found any changes in the new Windows Insider version.

You may have read stories in the tech media celebrating that Windows will finally respect the default browser setting. This reporting seems to have been done completely without verification and based entirely on a misunderstanding. The source of the confusion is this one highlighted but vague entry in the changelog for a recent Windows 11 Insider preview build:

In the European Economic Area (EEA), Windows system components use the default browser to open links.

Announcing Windows 11 Insider Preview Build 23531 (Dev Channel), Amanda Langowski Brandon LeBlanc

The highlight makes it sound like Microsoft has finally caved to regulatory pressure from the European Union (EU). The software powerhouse has abused the dominant market position of its Windows operating system to promote its Edge web browser and services for too long.

I’ve followed this developing story closely over the years. I even developed the popular open-source EdgeDeflector program that hijacked web links destined for Microsoft Edge and directed them back to your default web browser. Microsoft finally reacted and blocked EdgeDeflector from working once the Mozilla Firefox and Brave browsers began building the functionality into their web browsers.

Excitedly, I installed the new Windows Insider build and began testing the changes to see them in action. At first, I didn’t believe my findings. Nothing had changed from the current version of Windows 11.

  • The new Windows version still strongly discourages changing the default browser away from Microsoft Edge.
  • After system updates, the new version still aggressively prompts you with a captive full-screen experience on start-up to reset your default web browser to Microsoft Edge.
  • Web links in primary surfaces still force-open Microsoft Edge — including links in the new Copilot, Start menu, Search on the taskbar and desktop, Windows Spotlight, first-party apps (Outlook, Teams, News, Weather, and more), and Widgets on the taskbar (formerly called News and Weather).

I’ve verified my findings in the Home and Professional editions of Windows and even the EU-specific “N” variants of each edition. I’ve tested in two configurations for Norway (EEA member) and Germany (EEA and EU member). For both tests, I installed devices with region and locale settings matching the desired country with IP addresses and geolocation sensor data to match.

I’ve checked, double-, and triple-checked my findings. Nothing has changed. Web links still force-open in Microsoft Edge instead of your default web browser.

Microsoft first announced the changes for Windows Insider build 23531 (Developer channel). I waited for two more releases and retested with builds 23536 and 23541, both from the Developer channel. I also retested with the Canary channel, which is even further ahead on the development tree than the Developer channel.

Microsoft sometimes gradually rolls out changes in the Windows Insider program to a limited set of users. It does not document publicly which new changes are gradually rolled out. However, there were only two new experiments in build 23531. None of them are related to default browser settings or Microsoft Edge. The new changes to default browser handling may be a gradual rollout, though.

Microsoft was vague about the change, and neither its customers nor the tech media verified their assumptions before running with the story. Despite not having implemented the changes everyone assumed it had, it has received lots of positive press attention for doing the right thing.

I have not found anyone commenting on whether this change worked for them in the many and extensive discussions on Hacker News, Reddit, and other social media. I’ve also not found any traces of confirmation or checks in the hundreds of news sites that ran the story nor in their comment sections. There has also been no mention of it in the Insider Feedback Hub or any subsequent Windows Insider build announcements or changelogs.

I have not reached out to Microsoft for a comment on this story. Frankly, at this point, I rather assume they hate me personally more than they hate their average customers. Microsoft has also refused to make statements to The Register and The Verge for their stories on the vague changes.

Disclaimer: I am an employee of Vivaldi Technologies, a competitor to Microsoft Edge. This website is my personal blog, and the views and findings expressed here do not represent my employer. I’m also the developer of EdgeDeflector, the circumvention program described in the article.

Abbreviations

EEA
European Economic Area

EU
European Union

IP
Internet Protocol

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