What could be described as an end to an era, especially to those of use who knew Internet Explorer 6 as all that was, Microsoft announced last week that it changing the underlying component (Rendering Engine) that powers its current web browser, Microsoft Edge, to use the same one used by Google for Chrome.
From the announcement:
Ultimately, we want to make the web experience better for many different audiences. People using Microsoft Edge (and potentially other browsers) will experience improved compatibility with all web sites, while getting the best-possible battery life and hardware integration on all kinds of Windows devices. Web developers will have a less-fragmented web platform to test their sites against, ensuring that there are fewer problems and increased satisfaction for users of their sites; and because we’ll continue to provide the Microsoft Edge service-driven understanding of legacy IE-only sites, Corporate IT will have improved compatibility for both old and new web apps in the browser that comes with Windows.
Microsoft have been trying to aggressively recapture the browser market share which it lost from its once dominant position, including placing advertisement pop ups when people who use Microsoft Windows go to download Chrome, to promote its own web browser. Part of that strategy was to try to mimic how Chrome and Safari displayed web pages, included following special targeted experimental only features using the
--webkit-prefix. It looks like a case of, since you can’t beat them, then join them.
The effects of this for the wider internet community? For one it will mean one less browser to target and test for, and given how many web development frameworks work on a model of only the most recent plus any with major usage, which Edge never quite maintained. This means that there should be no compatibility bugs between what a website looks like in Chrome and when using Microsoft Edge, as they will be using very much the same rendering engine behind the scenes. I know a designer friend who will be happy as they often complain to me that there are too many browsers and it all can look different and that causes so many problems for their nice designs to fit into.
I expect that to happen pretty quickly, perhaps in as much as a year. Not that many people tested with Edge anyway, even I had to make use of a special browser testing service, or having to make use of heavy weight Virtual machines to load Windows on a Mac in order to test. One other move in the announcement is that Microsoft is bringing its Edge browser to the Mac, making a return to the Macintosh platform since the Mid 2000’s. Alongside this, Microsoft, in line with its recent history in adopting open source projects, is committing itself to becoming a very active Chromium contributor in the open source community, so that it can shape the future of the browser.
This may be more of a problem though, as it puts us back into a mono culture where Chromium based browsers become what is tested for, and like in the era of Internet Explorer 6, can start to stagnate without competition and the companies behind it focus on other areas. Mozilla, the foundation behind the Firefox browser has warned about this.
Will Microsoft’s decision make it harder for Firefox to prosper? It could. Making Google more powerful is risky on many fronts. And a big part of the answer depends on what the web developers and businesses who create services and websites do. If one product like Chromium has enough market share, then it becomes easier for web developers and businesses to decide not to worry if their services and sites work with anything other than Chromium. That’s what happened when Microsoft had a monopoly on browsers in the early 2000s before Firefox was released. And it could happen again.
Google originally started Chrome to make sure that the web, which was where most of their business properties are accessed from, still there have been increasingly a number of Chrome only sites popping up, and newer web technologies could be focused to support Google and to a lesser extent Microsoft products and platforms first. Whilst it may be good news for web developers and designers initially, in being able to better delivery a consistent look, it may down the line cause trouble if site designers have to fit in with what Google and Microsoft want the web to be.