I'm extremely happy to report that the European Union has managed to force Microsoft to stop many of its abusive behaviours towards its users; as a result, Microsoft will start offering a different version of Windows to the EEA, European Economic Area (which includes Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway). I have decided to call this version "Windows EU", because come on. Let's immediately see what changes compared the normal Windows 11 which we all know and cough love.
Firstly, all applications in Windows can now be unistalled by the user. By the way, this doesn't apply to just Windows, but to all operating systems; starting from March 2024, it will be a requirement from the EU to allow the user to uninstall any kind of application. In this case, this includes: the Camera application, Cortana, and Photos; Microsoft kindly decided that we will be able to remove these three applications anywhere in the world, starting next year. If you live in the EEA you will also be able to turn off Web Search from Microsoft Bing, a.k.a. you can finally remove Bing from the start menu search. You can also remove Edge, the default Windows internet browser; yet again, only in the EEA.
If you liked the idea of searching in the start menu but just... didn't like Bing, fear not. Only for their dear European users Microsoft offers the ability to define custom "Windows Search Providers"; meaning that you'll be able to select any application to grab what you're tying in the search bar and offer you contextual information -- not just Bing.
Secondly; Windows has a "Widgets Board", which is a sidebar containing various widget information, such as meteo and news. This is pretty cool; however, only Windows can decide what gets in there, no app developer can submit their own widget. But that's about to change: the EU decided that this goes against fair competition, and they made Microsoft create a new API from scratch, called the Feed providers, which will allow developers to add their own widgets… as long as you live in the EEA, that is.
And if you do have that priviledge, then you'll also get this amazing feature; directly quoting Windows blogpost:
In the EEA, Windows will always use customers’ configured app default settings for link and file types
End quote. Which means that if you live elsewhere, then Windows might decide to ignore the default setting for link and file types that you decided! Like, you go into settings, change the browser to Chrome, and after an update, wow, it's back to Edge! They are saying that they won't do that… only if you live in the EEA!
Even better, Windows will respect what applications asked to open a content with; this means that if an applications says "open this link in Chrome", then that link will actually open in Chrome. This means that, if you don't have Windows EU, your operating system will sometimes override what the application asked to open the content with!
Amazingly enough, another feature that might not follow EU rules is… Copilot, the text AI thingy that allows you to interact with the system through messages. They are rolling in out in North America, United Kingdom, parts of Asia and South America. One day, they say, we would like to also have it the EEA. But you know, the European Union wants us to "respect customers", so that might take a while.
Okay, I'm getting a bit too excited, but it's amazing to see the European Union recognize that what Microsoft has done for years is actually not fair competition and has to be legislated if we want to improve society; and it's amazing that Windows prefers to maintain two different Windows versions, one for the EEA and another for everywhere else, rather than give up those unethical behaviours.
You might wonder whether you can get Windows EU even if you don't live in the EEA, something that, yeah, I would recomment. Everything depends on the position that is set when you first set up the device; if you want to change that, then you will have to wipe out all data and start a new install entirely. So, yeah, the trick of going into settings and changing the language won't work, sorry.
Now that I've outlined all the changes of this new Microsoft operating system, I feel like I also ought to explain briefly what legislation is all of this because of. And that would be the DMA, or Digital Markets Act, which was enacted in 2022 but will only start being effective from March 2024, four months from now.
The DMA recognizes that there are some digital products that have such a high market share that it's practically impossible for new competitors to offer an alternative; these products are called gatekeepers and there are various guidelines to identify them.If you are a gatekeep then you are expected to follow some extra rules that guarantee a fair competition.
The current gatekeepers are: various Google products (Google Play, Google Maps, Google Search, YouTube, Android, Chrome, etc.); the Amazon marketplace and advertisement; some Apple products (the AppStore, iOS, and Safari); TikTok; some Meta products (Marketplace, Instagram, Whatsapp, etc.); and, finally, Microsoft, thanks to LinkedIn and Windows.
All of these products will have to allow third parties to interoperate with the gatekeepers services, allow business users to access the data they generate, provide advertisement users tools to carry out an indenpendent verification of their advertisement. They won't be able to treat their own products more favorably in ranking compared to similar competing products (as an example, in Google Search); they won't be able to prevent users to link other business outside their platforms; they will have to allow uninstalling default applications in their phone; and they won't be able to track the users outside their own services for the purpose of targeted advertising. This, as an example, forbids Google Chrome to track the user outside of core Google websites for advertisement purposes.
Of course, these technological giants aren't happy about all of this. In fact, many have opposed this "gatekeeper" status.
Firstly, Meta has decided to fight the EU over Messenger and Marketplace. Again, Messenger being a gatekeeper means that it will have to be inter-operable with other services (which I'd love to see, by the way). However, according to the company, Messenger actually isn't a messaging application. In fact, it's just part of Facebook. It's not like they're distinct products. This is an extremely weird argument, since Facebook has forced you to download the Messenger application to be able to chat for over a decade. The argument for Marketplace, instead, is that it's not actually a store, it's just a way for users to meet each other and exchange products for money, which Facebook never actually sees or even knows about. As an avid Marketplace user I can attest that it's kind-of true; whether that's enough for it to not be a gatekeeper service, that's up to the European Union. The court is expected to rule within months, ahead of the March deadline, to make sure that all services will actually abide by the rules by that date.
Another company that has issued a complain about its gatekeeper status is Apple. They probably claimed (I didn't double check the exact documents, so I'm quoting Bloomberg, which had only talked about the draft…) they probably claimed that both their AppStore and the iMessage services shouldn't be considered gatekeepers; this is because the former will have to allow sideloading of applications under new EU rules, and the latter will have to be inter-operable with other chat platforms; obviously, Apple is known for trying to avoid both of those things from happening, and they want to have a legal fight over it. If they do file a complaint but the court doesn't reply to it by the March 6th, Apple will still have to comply with the rules by that date.
All of this means that the 6th of March 2024 is officially my favorite day of next year already. I just can't wait.