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Windows derails Chrome, Firefox installation, promotes Microsoft Edge instead

Maybe this change to the test version of Windows 10 will improve the 2 percent market share for Microsoft's newer browser.

A Windows 10 test version tries to steer people away from other web browsers and toward Microsoft's own Edge.

Screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET

Microsoft is trying a new tactic to get people to use its Edge browser: a warning dialog box that interrupts the installation of other browsers like Mozilla Firefox or Google Chrome.

"You already have Microsoft Edge -- the safer, faster browser for Windows 10," a dialog box reads after you launch an installer for another browser. The process, which appears only in Microsoft's "fast ring" test version of upcoming Windows 10 versions, presents two options: "Open Microsoft Edge" -- the default -- and "Install anyway." The dialog box has a link to the settings tool in Windows if you want to suppress the warning in the future, but it's not immediately clear how to change the behavior.

Developer Sean Hoffman spotted the issue when trying to install Firefox, he tweeted Tuesday. Another Twitter user reported the same behavior with Chrome, Vivaldi, Opera and Firefox browsers. CNET confirmed the dialog box with multiple browser installation attempts using Windows 10 version 1809, build 17758.1, released Tuesday.

Hoffman wasn't happy about it. "What kind of slimy marketing cesspool crap is this Microsoft?" he tweeted. "If I wanted to use your browser, I would."

The move is a new, more intrusive phase in attempts by Microsoft to get people to use its browser. The company also tried to push Edge as the only way to open links in Windows' email app and more recently made Edge the default viewer for PDFs. One big incentive for pushing Edge: Its default search engine is Microsoft's Bing, which provides the company with search-ad revenue.

"We're currently testing this functionality with insiders only," Microsoft said in a statement, referring to its Windows test program. "The Windows Insider Program enables Microsoft to test different features, functionality and garner feedback before rolling out broadly. Customers remain in control and can choose the browser of their choice."

Other browser makers object

Opera didn't like the move. "We believe in fair play," the company said in a statement. "Any measure by operating system manufacturers that limits the users' right to choose the best browser for their needs is, of course, not to our liking."

Mozilla also objected. "Choice is better without the serious side-eye," the nonprofit organization tweeted.

And Vivaldi, another browser rival affected by the Microsoft move, raised competitive issues that have dogged Microsoft's browser push in the past.

"This is sadly another example of Microsoft using their monopoly position. Users should not be stripped of their ability to choose the browser they want," said Vivaldi Chief Executive Jon von Tetzchner, who also competed against Microsoft's IE as the former leader of Opera. "Microsoft should focus on building great products instead and win users."

Google didn't respond to a request for comment.

Strong-arm tactics for browser promotion

Microsoft is hardly alone in strong-arming people to use its browser. Google promotes its Chrome browser with pop-ups on its search, Gmail and Google Docs pages. And though Apple permits browser apps other than its own Safari on iPhones and iPads, those browsers must use Safari's engine to actually display websites.

The more you use non-Chrome browsers on Google websites, the more you'll see promotions exhorting you to switch. Clicking "No thanks" only dismisses the pop-up until your next visit.

The more you use non-Chrome browsers on Google websites, the more you'll see promotions exhorting you to switch. Clicking "No thanks" only dismisses the pop-up until your next visit.

Screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET

Microsoft is struggling to reclaim even a shadow of the dominance it once held with its Internet Explorer browser. Google's Chrome has steadily eaten away at IE's share of usage for years, according to analytics firm StatCounter, and Microsoft's Edge hasn't even outpaced IE despite its more modern design.

Years ago, that IE dominance got Microsoft in trouble, with the US Justice Department and the European Commission dragging the company through antitrust proceedings. The browser and operating system markets look very different now, though, with Microsoft Windows absent on mobile phones and with Chrome dominant on personal computers.

Edge accounts for 2 percent of usage today compared with 3 percent for IE and 60 percent for Chrome, but its usage share has actually dropped a fraction of a percentage point compared with a year ago, according to StatCounter.

Hoffman said he freshly reinstalled Windows about a month ago and didn't see the message when he installed the Opera browser. Now things have changed.

"It was during the launching of the Firefox installation program that I received the pop-up," he said. "Ironically it was a suggestion from the Twitterverse that I install Firefox as a remedy to the increasing number of sites that seek to install desktop notifications."

First published Sept. 12, 9:56 a.m. PT.
Update 10:34 a.m. PT:
Adds Microsoft comment. Update 1:04 p.m. PT: Adds comment from Mozilla and Vivaldi. Update, Sept. 13 at 7:05 a.m. PT: Adds comment from Opera.

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