After several years spent trying to build their own ecosystem around EdgeHTML, Microsoft called it quits and decided to switch to Chromium. The new version of their browser, also called Edge (sometimes Chromium Edge, to differentiate it from the older version) has rolled out to general applause. There have been some discussions of how it’s arguably better than Chrome itself and some worry about what it means for the internet to have a single company (Google) in such a position of browser dominance. Firefox is the only significant alternative, and Firefox’s overall market share has been falling.
In all that conversation, not much attention has been paid to a different point. You aren’t able to uninstall Chromium Edge — once it’s on your system, it’s on there for good (according to Microsoft), though those of you who are a little more familiar with digging around in the guts of Windows already have a gleam in your collective eye(s). Much as the Windows 10 giveaway theoretically ended in 2016 but is actually going on today, it’s still technically possible to uninstall Chromium Edge.
As for Microsoft’s justification for why you can’t, the company writes: “We want to ensure all Windows customers have the latest Microsoft Edge browser for the performance, privacy, security, productivity, and support features it offers.” Ironic that the company mentions privacy, since the Chromium Edge installer automatically starts importing your user data from Chrome as soon as Windows boots up post-installation. While you are asked if you wish to complete the process the browser kicks it off without so much as a by-your-leave. Not the best look.
The only reason to fall back to the old Edge compared with the new one, as far as I can tell, is if you really made use of the annotation feature, which no longer exists in the new app and will not, apparently, be returning. Apart from that, is there a huge reason to uninstall Edge?
Probably not. But it’s interesting to see how much perspectives have changed on this point going forward. Over 20 years ago, Microsoft’s decision to bundle IE with its Windows browser was the straw that sent the DOJ charging after the company. Today, the idea of shipping an OS without a browser seems more like buying a car that gets delivered to your house without any wheels. “Have fun!” shouts the truck driver, having dropped off your new car, which has helpfully arrived pre-configured for a life on concrete blocks in the front yard. Can you put tires on it? Sure. Can you drive it to a tire store to pick them out? Not exactly.
Europe, of course, famously mandated that Microsoft creates Windows N to address media application bundling concerns back in 2004. It is not clear that the various Windows N editions ever made a meaningful difference in overall software market share. There’s been no mention of revisiting this browser download issue, despite the fact that Windows 10 still arrives with Edge installed and no automatic option to install a competitor’s browser. Both Microsoft and Chrome have played dirty on the default browser issue. But Microsoft, to my recollection, is the only one to actually warn users away from alternate products:
One difference, of course, is that it isn’t in Google’s interest to declare Microsoft is acting like a monopoly, given that Chrome itself is an overwhelming presence in the desktop browser market. Much like ISPs have arranged themselves into monopoly or near-monopoly positions in huge swathes of the United States, Apple and Google have potent walled gardens of their own they aren’t anxious to have the government start poking around in.
Because Microsoft’s efforts to cut itself a piece of the smartphone pie largely failed, the company is now seen as a leader only in one aspect of the computing market, and it’s not a segment that’s seeing the fastest growth or investment. PCs are often treated like a legacy space — important, to be sure, but scarcely a growth industry. COVID-19 has changed that to some extent, but the work-from-home boom that’s driven an increase in PC sales isn’t going to last forever. Thus, the idea of a mandatory browser — one that made people revolt in the late 1990s — is likely to be received with a comparative yawn. After all, how else are you going to get one if you don’t have access to a PC already? The internet has become such a fundamental part of computing, an OS distro without a browser would be missing a critical part of what makes modern computing work.
I don’t think it makes sense for Microsoft to offer Windows without any browser at all as a mainstream product, but I do believe Edge should be something you can uninstall. The amount of recovered disk space is trivial, but there’s no particular value to forcing people to retain software on their PCs that they don’t otherwise use.
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