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Microsoft Is Trying to Keep You Off Chrome and Firefox

By Sam Mattera - Sep 20, 2015 at 6:00PM

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Windows 10 includes a feature that attempts to dissuade users from downloading rival browsers.

Microsoft (MSFT 0.15%) really wants you to use its browser.

Searching for "Chrome" or "Firefox" in Windows 10 triggers a prominent warning sign. "Microsoft recommends Microsoft Edge for Windows 10," it reads. Clicking the banner brings users to an overview page, highlighting the advantages Microsoft's new Edge browser has over its competition.

As Microsoft works to retool its strategy, it needs Windows 10 users to adopt Edge. Discouraging rival browsers could help it succeed.

What you see when you search for "Chrome" using Microsoft Edge

Microsoft Edge vs. Chrome and Firefox
Microsoft Edge comes preloaded on all PCs running Windows 10. The successor to Internet Explorer, Microsoft Edge offers a number of notable improvements over its predecessor, and reviews have been generally favorable. The Verge declared that "Windows finally has a good browser." Engadget wrote that Edge was a strong alternative to Chrome and Firefox, and at least worthy of serious consideration.

Edge does offer a number of interesting and exclusive features. Users can scribble notes and markings on web pages, then share these custom screenshots with a friend or colleague. Edge offers deep integration with Microsoft's digital personal assistant, Cortana, and it loads webpages quickly.

Chrome and Firefox, meanwhile, have their own advantages, in particular third-party plug-ins, and they're platform agnostic. Individuals who own gadgets on different platforms (Android phones, Macs, etc) can use one log-in to share their bookmarks and favorites across all their devices. At least for the time being, Microsoft Edge is exclusive to Windows 10.

Still, the improvements may be enough to help Microsoft recapture some lost users. Once, Internet Explorer was dominant: Seven years ago, it had more than 80% of the U.S. browser market. But times have changed. Last year, Google's (GOOG -1.48%) (GOOGL -1.38%) Chrome finally eclipsed Internet Explorer in terms of popularity in the U.S. (Safari was No. 3 and Firefox was No. 4.) Worldwide, Chrome overtook Internet Explorer back in 2012.

Monetizing Windows in other ways
The changes Microsoft has made to Windows 10 extend beyond the browser. Unlike prior versions of Windows, consumers running Windows 8 or Windows 7 can upgrade to Windows 10 for free. In the past, those consumers may have purchased new copies of Microsoft's latest operating system to upgrade their existing machines, or purchased new PCs running Windows 10 instead.

To offset that declining revenue, Microsoft is looking to monetize the Windows platform in other ways. During the company's last earnings call, CEO Satya Nadella explained Microsoft's new approach. "Windows 10 creates monetization opportunities with store, search, and gaming. We are confident that these are the right levers to revitalize Windows and restore growth," he said.

Making Bing profitable
Microsoft Edge is largely separate from its gaming initiatives, and it doesn't really play into its app store, but it should help its search business. Microsoft's Bing is Edge's default search engine, and while users can change it in the settings, many are unlikely to do so. At the same time, Cortana is powered by Bing, so Edge users who take advantage of its Cortana integration will be using Bing more often.

Cortana searching with Bing.

Cortana can be accessed in two different ways: Either by typing a question directly into the search bar, or by highlighting a phrase on a webpage, right-clicking, and selecting "Ask Cortana." In either case, the user will often be prompted to search with Bing.

Microsoft's management has high expectations for Bing. "Bing will now power both differentiated experiences on Windows 10 such as Cortana as well as search and search advertising across [various partner firms]. With advertising revenue growth of 21% year over year, Bing will transition to profitability in the coming fiscal year," Nadella said on Microsoft's last earnings call.

Pushing Edge should help Microsoft accomplish that goal, perhaps boosting its search market share at the expense of Google's. The search giant's Chrome browser has been offering tight integration with its search engine for years -- any defections from Chrome to Edge could result in some search traffic shifting away from Google and toward Bing.

Will users be swayed by Microsoft's warning? It remains to be seen. But I'm not surprised Microsoft included it.

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