In recent years, Microsoft has gotten a lot friendlier towards iOS and Android, particularly with its Office suite and the Edge browser. However, on the home turf of Windows 10, the company can still get slippery. You've probably seen the OS use the system notification panel inappropriately to show you ads for Office and other Microsoft products before, but the company is upping the ante with the big Windows 10 update coming out in October.
Today, the Verge reports that Sean Hoffman, a developer with beta access to the upcoming update, noted on Twitter that Windows 10 will now display a full-screen ad for the Microsoft Edge web browser when you attempt to install Mozilla Firefox or Google Chrome. Without calling out the competition by name, the ad asserts that Edge is both safer and faster, and that you might as well use it since you already have it pre-installed.
Below that sales pitch is is a blue "Open Microsoft Edge" button, with a gray "Install Anyway" button to its right. Thankfully, there's a link below the buttons that will take you to your system settings, where you can disable this message. If, according to Microsoft, "You don't want to be warned in the future."
That last part contains some pretty brave rhetoric. It's unusual to imply that the user is apathetic or unreasonable when they've already bought into your basic premise, by virtue of using your operating system to begin with. Criticism is customarily reserved for the competing products -- not your paying customers. With the number of installations of Windows 10 still lagging behind Microsoft's ambitious target of getting it on one billion devices within a few years, it seems unwise to alienate both current and potential buyers.
What is going on here?
Is passing judgment on your customers' habits part of an aggressive new push, or is it a desperate reach? According to the latest numbers from NetMarketShare, less than 5 percent of the world uses Edge despite Windows' domination on laptops and desktop PCs.
Chrome has hovered around 60 percent for the last year, Firefox hovers around 10 percent, and dusty old Internet Explorer actually claims the No. 2 spot at about 12 percent. So Internet Explorer still beats Edge by a ratio of nearly 3:1, despite Edge being available since Windows 10 was launched in the summer of 2015. (These numbers don't include iOS or Android.)
Edge is definitely a high-quality browser that we would recommend over Internet Explorer in pretty much every scenario you could think of, the only exception being legacy interfaces that literally require IE to function.
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But versus Chrome and Firefox, Edge stumbled out of the gate in 2015, arguably because it originally lacked browser add-ons. There were none of the usual tools for password management, ad blocking, price comparisons, Pocket-style bookmarking, navigating Reddit, or other activities that are often handled by a browser add-on.
It took nearly another year for Edge to start supporting add-ons, and the collection remains small, although most of the major ones are accounted for, like LastPass, Reddit Enhancement Suite, and Pocket. Edge now has about 100 extensions at this point, and you could arguably use it interchangeably with Chrome or Firefox now.
But Edge is still recovering from a poor first impression, and it may be held back by the underwhelming precedents established by Internet Explorer. It may also be difficult to detach Edge from IE in the user's mind, because both browsers deliberately use nearly the same desktop icon for their separate brands.
The downsides of historical precedent
And there's the underlying argument that Windows is here in the world not because the world wanted or needed it, but because Microsoft very aggressively ran its competition out of town -- with an invasion force that was eventually spearheaded by both Office and Internet Explorer.
Then IE was plagued with security problems for many years afterward, and it frequently ignored standards for webpage design. This ended up making many websites look terrible -- or refuse to load at all -- unless you used Microsoft's own home-cooked browser.
This probably isn't a context in which your audience will readily embrace what else you've got. Instead, it arguably sets the stage for captive resentment, and Chrome and Firefox become the keys to escaping from Internet Explorer.
So by closely associating itself with IE, Edge might be doing itself a disservice and taking on baggage that it can't afford. But Microsoft arguably does a disservice to its customers with questionable ad interruptions like this one.
Perhaps a better path forward for Edge is a brand reset, using the kind of game plan that Microsoft has already executed, such as when it transformed Windows Vista into Windows 7 nearly a decade ago.
- An upcoming major update to Windows 10 throws up a full-screen ad interruption when you attempt to install Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox.
- The language of the ad implies that the user is apathetic or unreasonable if they ignore the "warning" and continue with the installation process.
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- 5 ways Edge is better with Windows 10 April 2018 Update (CNET)
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