It is popular sport for anybody that likes or develops an opposing technology to take a swing at Microsoft. I’m not claiming that they never deserve it. Quite often they do. But I’m not blind enough to jump on the bandwagon every time some organization is in a tizzy over something Microsoft did. Microsoft has clearly made design decisions that affect user choice. The approach to expired anti-virus subscriptions and the new policy on updates are just a few. As advantageous to the bottom line as these decisions are for Microsoft, they do have valid points in their favor when it comes to security and stability of “Windows as a Service”.
Microsoft designed Windows 10 so that users need to explicitly set choices for default applications like web browsers. Installers for applications wont be able to set themselves as the default during the install process anymore. This was done largely for security. It helps prevent malware from hijacking default apps.
Mozilla, the organization responsible for Firefox, just isn’t having any of it. They are accusing Microsoft of being aggressive and making an attempt to override user choices. Chris Beard wrote a blog post about the new treatment of default programs. He also wrote an open letter to Satya Nadella. The letter is clearly a ploy to get Firefox users as wound up as he is. His plead over user choice is simply ridiculous since user choice hasn’t been removed.
I have to wonder, since the ability to set Firefox or any other browser as default is still present, just not allowed for the applications installer, exactly how is Microsoft overriding user choice? It seems to me that the applications no longer have the choice, the user choice is still present. When I installed Firefox on Windows 10 it didn’t seem so difficult to make a few extra mouse clicks.
Since Firefox can can still generate a pop-up of the defaults settings page on first launch I think Mozilla’s complaints are a bit silly. Mozilla claims this will just confuse users. They ignore the strong possibility that it is a security related measure. Keeping malicious software from hijacking a users default settings seems like a good move to me. Mozilla seems convinced that it is a sinister plot keep Microsoft Edge as the default browser. Sometimes good security moves are less than user friendly. This isn’t new.
Part of the reason folks over at Mozilla crying foul is that when you upgrade to Windows 10 with “express settings,” it resets all of your default apps. Never-mind that nobody is forced to use “express settings. If you click the small “customize settings” option instead you can keep your defaults through the upgrade. As I mentioned it takes a slight bit more effort to set new default apps. In Windows 10, installers open the full settings control panel instead of just setting a default for you. You actually have to use your mouse and click a button to set a new default program! Oh no! The sky is falling! The sky is falling! It isn’t difficult to keep or choose defaults in Windows 10. It’s absurdly simple and takes less than a minute to change the default. It isn’t even a time consuming task requiring the tutorial Mozilla released.
Why should anybody care that upgrading to Windows 10 can change the default browser? I get why this might upset a competing browser developer, but to paint it as a removal of choice is the same kind of misdirection they accuse Microsoft of. It might even turn out to be a good practice. A lot of people are outdated web browsers with unpatched security flaws. They have plug-ins, malware, and tool bars installed in these browsers that degrade the experience and violate their privacy. Maybe a clean slate using a new browser is just what they need. Of course they would need to uninstall all that crap, but they are more likely to remove it if they no longer use the old browser.
Now to be fair to Mozilla, the use of “express settings” is the emphasized option. The option to choose your own defaults is less prominent. I’m sure that Microsoft would rather that you use their defaults. They have a lot riding on people trying Microsoft Edge. The claim however that they are attempting to eliminate user choice however is specious. Microsoft banking on the proven psychology of user behavior when it comes to defaults isn’t nefarious or monopolistic, it is just good business sense. Mozilla is just angry because it works, Mozilla is under the mistaken conception that users not making a choice is the same as them not having one.
How the European Union will choose to react to this is another matter. After two antitrust rulings several years ago over the bundling of Media Player and IE, Microsoft offered two different versions of Windows in Europe. The alternative versions had an “N” in the skew number on the package. They came without Media player and a browser choice pop up, asking which browser to use. It was kind of ridiculous since users always had the choice of using alternative products but that is the way things played out before. Just the inclusion of their own browser and media player was enough to send European regulators off the deep end, who knows how they will react defaults. An “N” version of Windows 10 apparently does exist but I don’t know how it handles browser defaults.
The bottom line is that Mozilla greatly underestimates your intelligence as a user. They are afraid of losing users over system defaults. They have lost ground to Google Chrome over the years and they are fearful of Microsoft’s new browser. Instead of handling their own development issues and building a faster and more secure browser in Firefox they are taking a shot at Microsoft. I personally prefer Google Chrome but I see potential in Microsoft Edge.