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Microsoft Makes It Harder To Break Up With Bing In Windows 10, Critics Cry Foul


Windows 10 (so far) is a hit for Microsoft. It has been well reviewed, it’s free, and it already has millions of downloads. It also makes IE successor Edge the browser default and makes it harder to switch away from Bing as your default search engine.

There are roughly 1.5 billion Windows PC users around the globe (although the number is falling). Microsoft wants Windows 10 on a billion of them within three years.

Bing is integrated throughout the Windows 10 experience, and voice-powered assistant Cortana, which uses Bing, has made the jump to the PC. As the image above indicates, the search bar (Bing bar) is always available at the bottom of the desktop screen. Bing in Windows 10 will retrieve your “local information” on the machine, stuff from the cloud and Web content. This is very similar to the direction Apple is going with Spotlight, though the latter doesn’t offer full-blown Web search.

Some Microsoft critics, such as Mozilla CEO Chris Beard, have called the new default browser experience “disturbing” and said it turns back the clock “on [user] choice and control.” In an open letter to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, Beard says the following:

When we first saw the Windows 10 upgrade experience that strips users of their choice by effectively overriding existing user preferences for the Web browser and other apps, we reached out to your team to discuss this issue. Unfortunately, it didn’t result in any meaningful progress, hence this letter.

We appreciate that it’s still technically possible to preserve people’s previous settings and defaults, but the design of the whole upgrade experience and the default settings APIs have been changed to make this less obvious and more difficult. It now takes more than twice the number of mouse clicks, scrolling through content and some technical sophistication for people to reassert the choices they had previously made in earlier versions of Windows. It’s confusing, hard to navigate and easy to get lost.

Essentially, Beard and others have argued that Microsoft has erected new barriers to switching browsers (and search engines) — in the hope that most users won’t take the time to figure it out. (As with the Yahoo default Firefox search experience, some will and some won’t.) However, there’s already a great deal of advice about how to enable Google search results via Cortana in Windows 10 and change browsers.

Some users will be inclined to see the new Edge/Bing setup as a conspiracy of sorts and the return of the “old Microsoft.” Others will shrug. Yet it is pretty clear that were Microsoft still in the globally dominant OS position it once enjoyed — a status now occupied by Android — it wouldn’t be permitted to do this, at least in Europe.

The Europeans fought for years with Microsoft over browser choice and fined the company nearly $800 million over the issue. Yet the market has dramatically changed since the EU battles with Redmond over the issue.

The PC continues its decline, Android reigns globally as the top OS, and Microsoft has tried and so far mostly failed in mobile, as it focuses increasing attention on iOS and Android devices. It’s not the juggernaut it once was. Accordingly, the company may not be asked by regulators to make it easier to change browsers during Windows 10 setup (and, by extension, search engines).

Bing currently has roughly 20 percent of the US search market. These default settings, provided Windows 10 continues its advance, could give it another few points over time. As Alan Masarsky has pointed out, a few points of market share could be worth billions to Bing and represent a corresponding loss to Google.

As one would have expected, Google (and its fans) have already countered with help, advice and prompts on how to switch browsers and search engines.

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