A Recent Windows Update prevents Mozilla's workaround to set Firefox as the default browser

Dec 21, 2021

Windows 11 has been in the news for many reasons this year, not all of those have been positive. The recent Windows Update that was released last week brings yet another unwelcome change, it effectively removes Mozilla's workaround to set Firefox as the default web browser.

Windows Update prevents Mozilla's workaround to set Firefox as the default browser

But we should have seen this coming. It all began when Windows 11 made it more difficult to change the default apps, it requires a few more clicks. The unaware user won't know where to look for the setting, and will have to rely on Edge, not by choice, but because they had no idea how to change the browser.

In September, Mozilla found a fix by reverse engineering the default apps protocol, thus allowing users to set Firefox as the default browser. So far so good, right. The workaround didn't go unnoticed, and a Microsoft spokesperson released a statement to The Verge, which said that a fix would be issued in a future Windows Update, to correct this improper redirection.

Soon after this, the developer of the open source program, EdgeDeflector, discovered a new problem. The Windows 11 build released at that time, Build 22494, changed the way how file associations are handled. His software could no longer intercept the microsoft-edge:// links, meaning the program could not be used to redirect the URLs from the Start Menu's search results, to open in the default browser.

This was the "fix" from Microsoft. Mozilla wasn't pleased about this, and cried foul, again!. It wasn't alone in this regard. Microsoft's antics attracted the ire of many, and Vivaldi's founder slammed Microsoft Edge's practices as anticompetitive. Browser wars have never been pretty, but Microsoft is just being petty.

Windows Update prevents Mozilla's workaround to set Firefox as the default browser

A new build that was released in the Windows Insider Preview  program does simplify things a bit, it allows you to change your default browser with a couple of clicks. That's not exactly the solution, but it's somewhat easier for users, compared to the previous options. Just when it looked like the situation was improving, last week's Windows Update has once again caused disarray among users. The news, first reported by How To Geek, confirms the anti-consumer move by Microsoft.

Windows 11 is all about personalization or so the promos tell us, well where's the freedom of choice for people to use what they want? Those are the personal choices that matter, not colorful animations and fancy glass backgrounds.

I'm not sure if this was the reason, but here is my theory on why the change might have been implied. You see, with the introduction of the Widgets panel in Windows 11, Microsoft provides a curated newsfeed that the user can customize. The marketing surrounding this feature, tells you that Widgets allows you to access all the info that you want, quickly from the taskbar. The problem here is that these links in the Widgets page open in Microsoft Edge, even if you have set a different browser as your default handler. More links equals more clicks, which in turn means more chances for users to switch to Edge.

Speaking of which, Edge will pester you with recommendations to set itself as the default browser. The lack of options to conveniently set the default browser, the messages mocking Chrome, the anticompetitive practices by Bing add to a long list of problems, that we have seen with the browser. Even the latest new feature in Edge, Buy Now and Pay Later, has been a controversial one. I wonder how Manifest v3 will be handled by Microsoft Edge, once support for version 2 ends.

Microsoft has gone nuts, and its forced changes are screaming for an antitrust investigation. It happened once before, and I wouldn't be remotely surprised if the issue is taken up in court again.

Windows Update prevents Mozilla's workaround to set Firefox as the default browser
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Windows Update prevents Mozilla's workaround to set Firefox as the default browser
Microsoft has done it again, last week's Windows Update removes Mozilla's workaround to set Firefox as the default browser.
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  1. NetflixandShill said on January 6, 2022 at 5:48 pm

    The workaround is to use a browser that really cares about privacy. Brave is such a browser.

  2. Peterc said on December 22, 2021 at 11:51 pm

    I think we all owe Microsoft a debt of gratitude for confirming beyond a shadow of a doubt that the world’s antitrust-enforcement authorities are either terminally incompetent or terminally corrupt. (My money’s on the latter.)

    1. Jozsef said on December 26, 2021 at 12:31 am

      I think you nailed it, @Peterc. Corporatism is now so deeply entrenched that even trying to hide corruption is seen as quaint and old fashioned.

  3. anonymous (a different one) said on December 22, 2021 at 4:54 pm

    @Alex, all my hardware works fine with Linux Mint, out of the box in fact, including the wifi card. (And it has for the last decade.) Maybe you just haven’t tried the right distro or haven’t tested lately? (Granted, Linux may not be for everyone, especially if you require some particular proprietary software.) Cheers!

  4. common sense computing said on December 22, 2021 at 4:04 pm

    Sane user workaround: uninstall Edge via powershell and block windows update

  5. DaveK said on December 22, 2021 at 10:42 am

    I refuse to use Microsoft Edge – and not because I don’t like it as a browser, it’s actually not that bad. The reason I refuse to use it is my disgust at Microsoft’s recent behaviour here. Their pig-headed desire to forcibly ram Edge down everyone’s throats leaves a decidedly bitter taste in my mouth and I cannot with good conscience use Edge as a result.

    Well done Microsoft!

    1. Gatetrekker said on December 24, 2021 at 12:10 am

      Well said DaveK, I refuse to use Edge mainly because Microsoft continues to insist I do. It has become a much better functioning browser over time, but I have enjoyed Firefox for many years and do not plan to switch. When I click on a link and it automatically diverts to Edge, my reasons for sticking with any other browser are upheld. I would love to see Microsoft in an antitrust suit again.

  6. Peter said on December 22, 2021 at 6:04 am

    If Win11 does not become the final nail in the coffin of the dead horse that is Microsoft Windows, then pundits will keep on beating it forever, claiming it’s not a dead & rotten corpse, it’s actually the best and most secure version ever, as long as you don’t fiddle around with the settings. Windows is zombieware: technically deprecated but still still kept alive by an unholy army of fanboys.

    “Sometimes, dead is better. The software that you once installed, ain’t the software that comes back after Windows update. It might look like it, but it ain’t that software, because whatever lives behind the walls at Microsoft, ain’t the developers of what you once used at all.” /Jud Crandall

  7. PN [Internet User] said on December 22, 2021 at 4:40 am

    I suspect that some day, when windows users get so locked down in the M$ environment, that you can hear the pips squeak, every time they try to do something that is not native to microsoft, there might be a change of attitude towards the perfectly usable alternatives that are out there.

    Why is it that human beings just love being beaten to death? is it something masochistic? or do they have to get to the precipice before doing something about the dilemma?

    I’ll say this in closing, M$ must be desperate to resort to these measures, is there something going on with regard to user numbers leaving windows? After all, there is only a certain level of aggravation you can take, its interesting to see how high the tolerance threshold actually is.

    Listening for any further screaming ..

    PN [Internet User]

  8. Anonymous said on December 22, 2021 at 12:10 am

    Its time for Microsoft to get another antitrust. These big techs need to be broken up.

  9. ehh said on December 21, 2021 at 10:17 pm

    There’s a lot i love about W11, but goddamn it, Microsoft keeps making evil choices.

  10. Neutrino said on December 21, 2021 at 8:54 pm

    Big deal. Use Win 10 until the support ends, which is long way from now, and many things will change by then.

    I like FF, but Edge is beating the crap out of it in terms of performance. If I were MS, I’d push it too lol.
    Seriously though, if you want privacy? Disconnect from internet. What counts most is security and performance. Everything else is BS!

  11. Pitt said on December 21, 2021 at 8:12 pm

    I still use SetUserFTA in Windows11 to change default browser from Brave to Firefox and back again, still works OK!

  12. anonymous (a different one) said on December 21, 2021 at 7:18 pm

    Sucks having to fight your own operating system, doesn’t it?

    1. Alex said on December 22, 2021 at 6:54 am

      @anonymous (a different one)

      I know right?
      Getting something to work correctly on Linux is a PITA.
      Good luck getting your Wifi usb dongle working on Linux if it isn’t an extremely popular chip.
      Tell me about fighting your own OS!

      1. Bloo Alien said on December 28, 2021 at 8:49 pm

        Funny, literally every Wifi usb dongle I’ve plugged in to Linux over the last (literal) decade or more has “Just Worked™”. You must be buying some *extremely bizarre* off-brand, because I’ve tried ones ranging in price from a couple few dollars, on up to the fancy overpriced name-brands, and not had an issue in *ages*. It’s actually been a convenient way for me to install wifi drivers for internal wifi on those rare occasions when the drivers weren’t already pre-installed.

  13. Corky said on December 21, 2021 at 7:06 pm

    From what I’ve been reading they’ve backported this to Windows 10.

    Not that i care much as I’ve set policies to prevent online tips and what links remain (mainly in the Windows security app) i stopped clicking once i knew they opened Edge.

  14. Gerard said on December 21, 2021 at 5:49 pm

    Why are thinking individuals still using Microsoft Windows? There are sufficient user-friendly Linux alternatives.

    1. Honorius said on December 22, 2021 at 11:13 am

      How to user-friendly install fresh drivers for nvidia* VC in Linux?

      * more than 70% marketshare according to Steam.

    2. Z-Man said on December 22, 2021 at 3:02 am


    3. Trey said on December 21, 2021 at 10:00 pm

      Not so user-friendly to the apps we actually want or need to use. Why do thinking people keep posting posts like your?

    4. anonymous (a different one) said on December 21, 2021 at 9:46 pm

      I use Linux Mint exclusively…for years now. It gets better with every release. There are many other good distributions, too. :-D

    5. ShintoPlasm said on December 21, 2021 at 7:27 pm

      Linux… lol

  15. Ayy said on December 21, 2021 at 5:47 pm

    Microsoft needs to be sued again, as somebody must to put an end to this type of abuse of the end user, the fact that they rolled it into a “security update” makes it all the more insane. I don’t care what excuse they want to use about how they believe their browser is secure and the only way a user should interface with a link… this is IDENTICAL to what they pulled in the past with IE when people tried to change to another browser.

  16. Danniello said on December 21, 2021 at 5:05 pm

    Poor Windows users (rentals). You should thank Microsoft that they still allow you install some third-party applications like Firefox, LibreOffice, Google Terminal (called Google Chrome;) on their Windows system that you only rent from them.

    Microsoft tried with Windows RT/8 to close app ecosystem the same way like it is in Apple iOS, but they had to step back. However, they intend to lead to the same but with much smaller steps…

    1. Trey said on December 21, 2021 at 9:59 pm

      Well I haven’t paid for a single Windows install in 20 years so my rentals fees have been pretty minimal.

      1. Danniello said on December 21, 2021 at 11:40 pm

        Yep. True story bro. The same could say “happy” users of Apple or Android “smartphones” (in reality rented spy terminals). The funny thing is that you paying them without knowledge about it.

        When you buy retail PC or laptop – Windows payment is already included. Also Windows OS have many spy “addons” (called “telemetry”) that invigilate you all the time. Maybe not so much like Facebook or Android but still – MS knows about you much more than you think (for example Microsoft Office is tracing all documents that you open or edit).

        The same is with iOS/MacOS. Android is more clever – in theory it is “free”, but in reality 99% Android phones has included Google services that gathering almost everything what you doing on phone and “sync” it with cloud. Paradoxically Android is even more “private hostile” system than Microsoft Windows even that Google generally is much more open-source “friendly” company…

      2. Trey said on December 22, 2021 at 1:05 am

        Thanks for explaining like I’m 4. I don’t buy retail PCs, I understand how telemetry works, how KMS works, how to shut up windows to my satisfaction on enterprise installs and at the firewall. Point is, not every tool needs to be the boogy-man if used right.

        In all honesty tho, I’d prefer to use Linux but it just doesn’t support the apps I need to use. Not even close, so we make due with what we have to despite the opinions from condescending posters on random websites, bro.

      3. Peterc said on December 22, 2021 at 11:39 pm

        @Trey: If you use Windows, and you don’t buy retail computers, and you haven’t paid for a single Windows install in 20 years, then how are you getting legally licensed copies of Windows? Even Microsoft employees have to pay *something* for them (albeit a heavily discounted something) at the Microsoft Company Store. Explain it to us like we’re 4.

  17. JohnIL said on December 21, 2021 at 4:10 pm

    Well, I am sure this will all play out in litigation as Microsoft being the old Microsoft again. What they probably know is that litigation will take time and that benefits Microsoft. What OS doesn’t push their own default browser? Microsoft does take this too far, but that’s been what they have done for as long as I remember Microsoft. Some claimed Microsoft has changed its ways but that was mostly marketing and wishful thinking. I don’t think the leaders at Microsoft are any less looking out for number one.

    1. Bloo Alien said on December 28, 2021 at 8:40 pm

      > “What OS doesn’t push their own default browser?”

      Linux doesn’t… It just sets a default browser on install and then waits patiently for you to change it if you don’t like your distro’s pre-defined default. It doesn’t try to force any specific browser on you, nor does it try to change back any changes you make to that default. This one example among *many* of the “Freedom” aspect of “free open source software”.

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