In my recent article about Windows 10 S, one of the issues I mentioned was that unlike most other desktop OSes, in Windows 10 S you can’t change the default browser. Regardless, I think we’re still likely to see Chrome and other third-party browsers on the OS sooner or later. Today, I want to take a closer look at this.
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Third-party browsers on closed platforms
When news of this came out, some reactions were along the lines of ‘Chrome is never coming to the Windows Store!’ But that’s not entirely true—it’s simply a different interpretation of what constitutes a ‘browser.’ More accurate reactions pointed out that it’s just Chrome’s rendering engines (Blink and V8) that won’t be coming to the Windows Store or Windows 10 S.
Anyway, there’s a huge precedent for this in Apple iOS: You can’t change the default browser from Safari, and third-party browsers must wrap all their features around the built-in WebKit engine. Yet despite this, Chrome and other third-party browsers are flourishing.
Third-party browsers can also go a step farther and get around the default browser restrictions by registering a custom URI or URL scheme. Then when other third-party apps need to open a link, they can choose to bypass the default browser and instead use a custom scheme to call a third-party one.
Obviously this is something that developers have to take time to implement, but many iOS apps already do this today. For example, all the Google iOS apps can open links in Chrome instead of Safari, and plenty of non-Google apps (even Microsoft Outlook for iOS) support Chrome’s custom URL scheme, too.
Universal Windows Platform apps can register a custom URI scheme name, so unless Microsoft decided to block Google for some reason, Chrome and other third-party apps could have the exact same relationship on Windows 10 S.
I’m not making any specific predictions, but I have to think that we’ll see Chrome in the Windows Store eventually—after all, why would Google want to miss out on another chance to engage with users?
Does this mobile-centric model work on desktops?
We’ve been frustrated by this browser model for years on iOS, but we’ve also gotten used to it because we had to. What will happen when it comes to a desktop OS?
First off, as time goes by, compatibility differences matter less and less. The fact that Chrome on Windows 10 S would be using the Edge rendering engines (EdgeHTML and Chakra) instead of the Chrome engines (Blink and V8) isn’t the biggest concern.
From a user experience perspective, you could spend all the time you want in the Windows Store/UWP version of Chrome, and hope that as many of your third-party apps as possible have chosen to implement the Chrome’s custom URI scheme for when they need to call a browser. But if you’re using Office—which is likely a significant draw for many Windows 10 S users—any time you click on a link, you’ll be right back in Edge. That’ll be annoying, especially if all your bookmarks and most of your cookies are in Chrome but not in Edge.
Will we tolerate this on a desktop? This is just one of the many ways that Windows 10 is becoming more like a mobile operating system. While most of the changes are beneficial, some of them also come with behaviors that we don’t like and have to get used to.
Or will something change? We saw iOS start out very closed, and then gradually open up, and do it in a way that still maintains security and privacy. Android is even more open, but still maintains many of the inherent advantages of mobility, too. On the Microsoft side, I think Windows 10 S will be a place for them to experiment, and everything won’t be set in stone. Watch this space.