Homeless in Vancouver: Microsoft wants to drive Windows 10 users to the Edge

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      On March 16, the Windows 10 Insider Preview Build 17623 was released in advance to a select group of Windows testers.

      Among many changes that this package of possible Windows 10 updates includes is one designed to fix a long-standing problem with Windows 10’s default web browser, namely the fact that hardly anyone using Windows 10 is using Microsoft Edge.

      A year and a half after the Windows 10 Anniversary Update of August 2, 2016, made Microsoft Edge the operating system’s default web browser, usage stats for Edge are hovering at an embarrassingly low four percent.

      However, rather than addressing why Windows 10 users are avoiding Edge (hint: no extensions), Microsoft has chosen in its new Windows 10 Preview Build to brute force the adoption problem—by simply removing the ability of Windows 10 users to avoid using Edge.

      As the Windows 10 blog puts it:

      “For Windows Insiders in the Skip Ahead ring, we will begin testing a change where links clicked on within the Windows Mail app will open in Microsoft Edge, which provides the best, most secure and consistent experience on Windows 10 and across your devices. With built-in features for reading, note-taking, Cortana integration, and…”

      Yada yada yada! Read it all here, if you want.

      In a nutshell, if you use Windows 10’s default email client (called Mail), any website links you click on will open in Microsoft Edge, even if you have changed your default web client from Edge to something else, such as Chrome or Firefox.

      This will certainly drive new and unsophisticated Windows 10 users to Microsoft Edge but it will likely drive experienced users with strong browser preferences nuts. Forcing this latter group to use Edge will only further rub their nose in the fundamental shortcomings of the Edge browser, compared to Chrome and Firefox.

      The problem of the not-so-bleeding Edge

      StatsCounter gives Windows 10 a first place, 43.54 percent, world share among desktop users, but says that only 4.05 percent of all desktop users are using Microsoft Edge. Percentage-wise, this puts Edge fifth behind Chrome (67.45), Firefox (11.55), Internet Explorer (6.91) and Safari (5.43) but ahead of Opera (2.24).

      At the same time, another statistical provider, Netmarketshare, gives Windows 10 a percentage share of 28.98, second to Windows 7’s 44.62. Here Edge places fourth percentage-wise, with a share of 3.99, behind Chrome (59.42), Internet Explorer (12.83), and Firefox (12.52).

      In both cases Microsoft Edge is handily beaten by the browser that it is supposed to be replacing—Microsoft Explorer.

      The problem with Edge, as I see it, is that long-time Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox users (even Microsoft Explorer users) have to give up virtually all of their customized user experience to switch. Edge has comparatively few features and worst of all, there are only 93 extensions available for Edge, compared to way over 10,000 for Chrome and Firefox each.

      Against having to do without the incredibly feature rich world of Chrome extensions and Firefox add-ons, all Microsoft Edge gives a user in return is a handful of fair to excellent baked-in features and a pitifully tiny selection of mostly crap extensions. Oh, and Microsoft’s boast that Edge offers more speed and less battery drain under Windows 10 than Chrome.

      Such performance assurance should be taken with a grain of salt because they cannot be true across the board in all usage situation. And anyway, Microsoft hardly has a monopoly on good code—look at the stunning way the Mozilla Foundation suddenly stepped up Firefox performance with version 57, dubbed Firefox Quantum.

      Ultimately, I’ll take a slow browser with all the functionality that I want over a browser that can do nothing in a hurry.

      Add-ons (or extensions) are as essential to web browsers as apps are to smartphones.

      And just as there are iOS versions of most top Android apps and vice versa, there are Chrome equivalents of most Firefox add-ons and vice versa.

      Microsoft Edge is unattractive to both Chrome and Firefox users for much the same reason that few Android or iOS users wanted to switch to Windows phones—no apps!

      Drag me to the Edge but you can’t make me use it

      At present, the dark pattern that Microsoft is floating in it latest Insider Preview Build will not affect Windows 10 users such as myself, who are using a different mail client (Mozilla Thunderbird, in my case). But it does raise the spectre that Microsoft might altogether do away with the ability to skirt the pre-installed Windows Universal Platform (UMP) applications.

      I plan to write a detailed post on the benefits of deleting Windows 10 UMPs. But I will say here that I greatly improved the performance of the one-year-old Windows 10 laptop I’ve been using since the end of December, simply by permanently removing as many UMP apps from Windows 10 as possible. Each of 19 UMPs I was able to delete using the PowerShell command line chopped about a second off both my Windows 10 laptop’s startup and shutdown, so that the laptop now takes no more than seven seconds to display the lock screen.

      Deleting UMPs from Windows 10 Home edition even seems to have helped reduce the number of uncontrollable updates. Although it hasn’t hurt that I have designating the Wi-Fi connections I use as “metered” under connection “Properties” via the network notification in the Taskbar.

      I’ll use Windows 10 until it’s no longer usable

      No longer being able to delete any UMP’s in Windows 10—or, at least, work around them by setting non-Microsoft apps as my defaults—would simply drive me away from Windows and back to Linux.

      I have already tested three flavours of Linux so I know that I can switch and I have Linux boot sticks standing by.

      I’m not sure that the laptop I’m using would be quite as peppy running Linux. But I’m dead certain that it wouldn’t be if Microsoft forced me to go back to living with the bloated spyware of its pre-installed UMPs.