Party like it’s 1998, because Microsoft is once again sneaking its software onto users’ computers without their knowledge.
In a move that has sent ripples of disdain across the tech world, Microsoft has begun pushing its Edge web browser to users as part of the latest Windows updates. The Verge even compared the Edge install to ransomware or spyware, in the way it appears without warning and prompts the user to switch from their existing browser.
I was one of many who rebooted after an update, only to be confronted by an overly-cheerful Microsoft Edge logo. Soon afterwards, Windows started displaying all sorts of messages telling me about the nifty features of its fancy new browser. But I don’t want Edge. I don’t use it, except to help me troubleshoot problems for my clients. And this happened without warning, despite the fact that, as a tech professional, I keep pretty close tabs on what’s installed on my computer.
A lot of tech companies don’t seem to understand the impact this strategy has on consumers and small businesses. Many people, myself included, don’t like it when computer configurations change. It can mean the difference between a productive day and a frustrating one spent trying to find a missing feature or a relocated menu option.
Then there’s the matter of security updates. Incidents like this are why consumers turn off the automatic updates they need to protect their systems from viruses and malware. It’s a catch-22: do I turn updates on and protect my system at the risk of unwanted software that might conflict with my existing setup? My advice is to leave automatic updates on. Ransomware is much worse than a slightly garish web browser with lackluster features.
This drive-by Edge browser install reminds me of how aggressive Microsoft was with its Windows 10 release, to the point of commandeering users’ computers for spontaneous upgrades. Talk about frustrating!
And it also smacks of the 1998 Microsoft Internet Explorer antitrust case. Gee, now you’re making me nostalgic, remembering the good ol’ days of using regedit to shut Internet Explorer up long enough to install Netscape Navigator.
Tech companies need to learn how to communicate with users. It is really not that hard to pop up a window that says, “Hey, customer! Microsoft here, and we’d like to offer you this sweet new Internet browser. Here’s what it can do for you, but don’t worry, we won’t change your settings unless you tell us to!”
But that requires honesty on the part of Microsoft and other tech companies who do this sort of thing. No sneaky installs, no changing default apps and settings, and no insisting that the user switch from their current solution. It’s fine to offer options or suggest alternatives, but strong-arming software onto someone’s computer is not going to endear you to them, even if it does bump up your market share.
In fact, you might just find your users researching “uninstall Edge browser.” Oh, except we can’t uninstall it! At least, not without the sort of effort that might make the average non-techy person uncomfortable. Microsoft’s browser is integrated into Microsoft’s operating system. There are third-party tools that let you disable it or hide its files, but it’s still going to be there, and attempting to mess with it can screw up the rest of your system… again, just like the old days of Internet Explorer. (Fun fact: There are bits of Internet Explorer still on your computer, too, and you can’t get rid of those, either.) For that reason, I recommend against trying to remove Edge, even if you don’t want it.
My suggestion to Windows folks is to use the browser of your choice. If that’s Edge, fine. If you like Chrome or Firefox or something else, go for it. Don’t let Microsoft or anyone make your choice for you, and let them know that you disapprove of their actions.
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