Microsoft Edge to become Google Chrome based

The Microsoft Edge blue E logo inside the Google Chrome logo

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.

The brows­er engine is what turns the HTML, CSS and Javascript code that makes up a web­page into the dis­play it shows on the screen. By mov­ing away from Microsofts own prop­er­ty Edge­HTML and adopt­ing the open source Chromi­um and its engine Blink (itself a fork of Apple WebKit, which is fork of anoth­er less well known Lin­ux Brows­er Kon­quer and KHTML), Microsoft is aim­ing at improv­ing com­pat­i­bil­i­ty in its web brows­er with more web­sites. A large prob­lem is that many web­sites are only test­ed with Chrome and Safari (for iPhones and iPads) and some­times Fire­fox. By adopt­ing Chromi­um (which pow­ers Chrome), web pages dis­played in Edge will look and behave the same way.

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.

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