Windows Wednesdays – Does Windows 11 Force You To Use the Microsoft Edge Browser?

I have a confession to make: I like Microsoft Edge. I’ve been using it as my default web browser since Microsoft came out with the Chromium-based version of it. Chromium is the open-source web browser engine on which Google Chrome is based, and the first Chromium-based version of Edge was almost indistinguishable from Chrome, except for a couple of minor user interface elements. Microsoft has steadily made changes that differentiate it. Some of those changes have been good, like the “under the hood” changes that have improved its performance. Some changes I could’ve done without, such as making downloads Firefox-like, except that Edge makes the downloads indicator in the upper right disappear after a short while, while Firefox keeps it visible. (I find Firefox’s implementation more convenient.) But the main thing that got me to switch to Edge was that Chrome, which had been my default browser, was running slowly on certain sites that I use frequently, and Edge worked with them much faster.

The important thing is that I didn’t notice any of the issues that various pundits have reported about using other browsers with Windows 11 because I was already using Edge as my default browser. However, I’m a fickle web browser customer; I’ve been known to change default web browsers every six to twelve months. So, let’s see how difficult this really is.

First, I decided to try making Firefox my default web browser. That’s easy enough: just run Firefox, go into its Settings, and we see the button to make Firefox the default browser right there, in the first section:

I click on the button and… nothing seems to happen, except that the status changes from a blue face and the description “Firefox is not your default browser” to a yellow smiley face and description “Firefox is currently your default browser”. Wow, that was easy. I didn’t even get a Windows default browser pop-up like the one I used to get in Windows 10 (which also used to display a message alerting me to the presence of Edge and make me click an additional “Switch Anyway” button). Could it actually be this easy? I switched to my e-mail program, opened a message with a clickable link, clicked on that link and sure enough, Firefox opened and displayed the page!

However, if I click my Start button, type a URL, like “” in the search field and press [Enter], the web page opens in Microsoft Edge. Maybe this is what the pundits mean by Microsoft forcing Windows 11 users to use Microsoft Edge, but, to be fair, this behavior is virtually unchanged from Windows 10. In Windows 10, it was all but impossible to get Windows Search to display web results in any browser other than Edge.

Let’s have a look at what’s going on behind the scenes. I open Default Apps (there are a number of ways to do this, but I find the most direct is to click the Start button and start typing the word “default”):

Next, I search for Firefox:

Hopefully, your Default Apps only lists Firefox once (if you have Firefox installed at all). A quick check of the two entries I have reveals that they both have the exact same settings. Speaking of which, let’s click on Firefox (either one, in my case) and see what those settings are:

Well, now, that’s interesting: Firefox was made the default program for file types .htm, and .html, and, scrolling down, we find it’s also the default program for HTTP and HTTPS protocols. Firefox did not make itself the default program for some lesser-known file types, such as .svg and .webp (Microsoft Edge is still the default for those) or for the MAILTO protocol, which is just as well, because I want Mozilla Thunderbird, my e-mail client, to remain the default program for that.

Now let’s see what happens when we make Google Chrome the default browser. The first steps are simple enough: Run Chrome, click the 3-dot button in the upper right to drop down the Chrome Menu, choose Settings and, since the default browser setting isn’t the first thing we see, I type “default browser” in the Search field at the time in order to find it:

I click the “Make default” button, and this time, Windows responds by opening the Default Apps settings:

Well, that’s not very helpful, to say the least! It’s unclear to the average user what they’re supposed to do next. A quick experiment of closing Chrome, reopening it and going back to the Make Default Browser setting reveals that nothing has changed, and Chrome is still not the default browser. It would seem that to make it so, we must manually change the Chrome settings in Default Apps. So, let’s look those up. Type “chrome” in the “Search apps” field, and click on Google Chrome when it appears. Sure enough, we quickly see that Firefox is still the default for HTML files and the HTTP/HTTPS protocols, and the rest of the settings are unchanged from what they were. For Chrome, at least, I have to update the default program settings one at a time. So, I click on the first one, for .htm files, and see something familiar from Windows 10:

I click on Google Chrome, and the setting for .htm files changes to Google Chrome with no further challenge. Now I do the same for .html, .shtml, .svg, .xht, .xhtml, FTP, HTTP and HTTPS. (Most users could probably leave .shtml, .svg, .xht and .xhtml unchanged and never know the difference.) Close Chrome and reopen it, and now, when I check its Default Browser setting, it reports that Google Chrome is my default browser. Go back to my e-mail, click on the link, and, sure enough, it opens in Google Chrome. OK, that was a bit laborious, but not terrible.

Since I actually want to continue using Microsoft Edge as my default browser, I go back into MIcrosoft Edge and click on its “Make default” setting. (I will spare you the details, since you’re probably all Google Chrome fans, anyway! ) As with Firefox, the change is made silently, and if I manually open the Default Apps settings, I see that Edge made itself the default for all the web browser file and protocol types that matter. I might call this a home field advantage, except that Firefox was able to do this, too. Evidently, out of the three most popular browsers, only Chrome needs extra help to make it the default. And it would also appear that most of the pundits who have been writing about Windows 11 are Google Chrome purists.

So, does Windows 11 really force you to use Microsoft Edge? I would say no, not in any way that really matters or is new to Windows 11. But making Chrome your default browser is more difficult in Windows 11 than it should be.

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