After injecting pop-up ads for Bing into Windows, Microsoft now bends to Europe on links
Clicking a URL from a system service will actually open in your chosen browser. For some. How fancy
Microsoft has released a Windows 11 preview build that will open links generated by Windows system components in the user's default browser – but only for those in the European Union and a few other countries.
"In the European Economic Area (EEA), Windows system components use the default browser to open links," the IT giant said late last week with regard to its release of Windows 11 Insider Preview Build 23531 to its Dev Channel.
Current versions of Windows 11 may behave otherwise. In February, Microsoft made web links from Outlook emails and Teams chats open by default in Microsoft Edge. It can do so because it has implemented an application protocol handler for the scheme
microsoft-edge: (instead of the
https: scheme), which launches Edge and passes the associated URL string and any arguments to Microsoft's browser.
The biz has been doing so at least since 2017 when developer Daniel Aleksandersen released EdgeDeflector to counter Microsoft's use of the
microsoft-edge: scheme to handle Windows 10 services, Cortana links, help links in the Setting app, search links in the Start menu, and links sent from paired Android devices.
By prefixing Outlook and Teams chat links with the
microsoft-edge: scheme, Microsoft can make those links open in Edge rather than the user's default browser, if it's not Edge (which it probably isn't).
"This change is designed to create an easier way for Outlook and Microsoft Teams users to reduce task switching across windows and tabs to help stay focused," a Microsoft spokesperson told The Register at the time.
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This change has been undone for EU residents in the Windows 11 preview release, thanks to EU regulations, specifically the Digital Services Act and the Digital Markets Act (DMA). These rules hold large technology players, like Microsoft, to certain standards of behavior, including limitations on changes that affect user-selected defaults.
Microsoft did not reply to a request for comment about why its new EEA policy does not extend to the US.
And for everyone else...
Windows users outside the EU do have an option to change the behavior of their operating system, through an open source tool called MSEdgeRedirect. The software bypasses the
microsoft-edge: handler and reroutes URLs to the default browser. Microsoft in 2021 made changes to Windows 11 that prevented the older EdgeDeflector tool from altering its link handling.
Despite this show of compliance, Microsoft hasn't abandoned controversial use of its operating system for marketing.
It's not malware, it's, er, a feature?
As noted over the past few months by Windows users on Reddit, Microsoft has been running a Windows component called BGAUpsell.exe that has been injecting pop-up ads into the Windows 11 interface – a practice the IT titan has supposedly now halted following online outcry.
The adverts urge users to switch the default search engine in Google Chrome – widely used on Windows, to Microsoft's dismay – from Google Search to Microsoft Bing.
Screenshot of the Windows 11 pop-up pushing Microsoft Bing. Source: Reddit
And earlier this year, Microsoft tried promoting Edge with an ad placed on Google's Chrome download page in an Edge-controlled rendering area created atop the space where Google's web page loaded.
Other companies are expected to implement changes to comply with the new EU rules as well, most notably Apple, which requires that all browsers on iOS integrate its WebKit browser engine instead of Chrome's Blink engine or Mozilla's Gecko engine.
The DMA specifically says gatekeepers, like Apple on iOS devices, should not require businesses to use the gatekeeper's own core services, like browser engines.
"When gatekeepers operate and impose web browser engines, they are in a position to determine the functionality and standards that will apply not only to their own web browsers, but also to competing web browsers and, in turn, to web software applications," the DMA says.
Apple has not yet indicated whether it intends to comply with this rule; that's likely to become clearer following the company's September 12 iPhone launch.
Apple earlier this year challenged a similar requirement proposed in the UK. Both Google and Mozilla however have been testing iOS versions of their respective browsers, each built with its native engine, based on the assumption that the iBiz will have to follow the new law. ®
PS: Microsoft has blamed those blue-screens-of-death from Windows update KB5029351 on hardware makers.