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Mozilla blasts Microsoft for overriding user choice in Windows 10

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Windows 10 dropped this week with a promise of a free upgrade for anyone using Windows 7 or 8, but it turns out there’s a fly in that ointment. If you previously used Chrome or Firefox as your browser of choice, that choice is wiped away with the Windows 10 upgrade. Instead of new versions of Chrome or Firefox, you get Microsoft Edge as your default selection. This is the kind of maneuver that could land Microsoft in hot water with the EU, which has previously mandated that the Redmond-based company must offer a selection of alternative browsers to its own Internet Explorer when users first set up a Windows machine.

Mozilla has taken exception to this new policy and issued an open letter to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, as well as a new tutorial on how to restore your original browser preferences using Windows 10. According to Mozilla’s CEO, Chris Beard, the non-profit foundation has known about Microsoft’s personal preference overrides for months and has previously attempted to work with the company to reach some sort of solution. His letter states that this conversation “didn’t result in any meaningful progress.” Mozilla also claims that it now takes more than twice the number of mouse clicks and additional technical sophistication to change default settings in Windows 10 as compared to Windows 7.

W10-System

Microsoft’s new Settings menu and the default app selection screen.

As far as measuring the clicks required to change applications after you’ve set up the operating system, Beard is wrong. By our count it takes six actions to change your web browser in the new Settings menu, in the older Control Panel (Windows 10) and in the Control Panel that shipped with Windows 7. Ars Technica points out, however, that Beard has a point when it comes to Microsoft’s initial Windows 10 upgrade screens. While it’s technically possible to change your app selection, you must first click on Customize Settings, then click on a small, low-context text field several pages later in order to avoid installing Microsoft’s application choices by default. All in all, it’s not the best solution.

The hole in Microsoft’s defense

Beard claims that Microsoft’s new approach to default settings with no notification that defaults have been changed is “purposefully designed to throw away the choices its customers have made about the Internet experience they want, and replace it with the Internet experience Microsoft wants them to have.” There’s good evidence he’s right — and ironically, it comes from Microsoft itself.

Microsoft’s Windows 10 specification page states that the upgrade assistant will scan your system and determine if your installed software is compatible with the new operating system. It then states:

“For antimalware applications, Windows will check to see if your antimalware subscription is current (not expired) and compatible during the upgrade.”

“If the antimalware application is compatible and current, your application will be preserved during the upgrade to Windows 10. If the antimalware application is incompatible, Windows will uninstall your application while preserving your settings. After upgrade is complete, if your antimalware provider has informed Microsoft that it has made a compatible version available for your active subscription, Windows will notify you to install the latest version available with the settings that were set prior to upgrade.”

“If your antimalware subscription is not current (expired), Windows will uninstall your application and enable Windows Defender.”

In other words, when it comes to something as critical as malware protection, Microsoft can scan your application, uninstall it if it isn’t compatible, notify you when a compatible version is available, and import your up-to-date AV license from your old OS install directly to the new one. But when it comes to your browser choice, well, that’s just not possible.

The power of defaults

Psychologists and sociologists have long known that default options have a profound effect on user behavior. The majority of people never change a default setting. An extensive survey from Firefox a few years back found that the highest rate of default change for users who had agreed to test pre-release Firefox nightly builds was just over 11%. That means that 89% of testers, who were presumably both passionate about Firefox and more likely to know how to crawl under the hood, simply never changed the default options.

A different example, albeit one that still involves Mozilla, is the deal the browser developer cut with Yahoo late last year to make Yahoo the default search engine. VentureBeat reported in April that Yahoo’s share of search results had improved by 2.8% to 13% total in just five months. Considering that Mozilla is just one browser and that not everyone upgrades immediately and would not have received the Yahoo default update, that’s impressive growth. Defaults work.

And Microsoft knows it. This new trend of overriding user preference fits neatly in the general pattern of using Windows 10 to gather more data on end-users than any previous version of the operating system.

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