Wednesday, April 3, 2019

The idea of a Chromium based Edge probably came from Mobile

When Microsoft announced a new browser replacing the clunky Internet Explorer with a refreshed, lightweight and modern browser, the industry had a lot of expectation from the new browser, Microsoft Edge. Though, what followed was a release of a half baked browser with the initial version of Windows 10. The blue logo with "e" didn't help with the visual cues for user as well. That combining with the lack of extension and customization, Microsoft had a browser which needed some serious attention.

It's been three plus years since that happened, Microsoft has been refining Edge and adding new features to it but rather slowly as compared to the competition. The updates came with the major Windows 10 updates, that happened at irregular points of time before Microsoft decided to stick to two releases from last year. Extension support came almost after one year and the selection is still limited. Meanwhile, the demise of Windows 10 Mobile relieved the Edge team of updating it's mobile browser but Microsoft knew they had to keep their browser relevant to users, only way to achieve that was to release the browser to other mobile platforms. Hence they released Edge for iOS and Android, only this time, the browser was based on the web engine supported in the platforms, WebKit for iOS and Blink for Android.

This move again reduced the amount of work needed to build a browser from the scratch, rather the team could now concentrate more on the integration with other Microsoft products and services while the reliability of the native engines in both platforms ensured smooth performance. I think this is when Microsoft realized the potential of using a existing web engine to build a browser for their needs. Again, both the Android and iOS version were fast and importantly more reliable than the desktop counterpart, this was seen as a odd gap between the experience. Edge in Desktop has always been a mixed experience for most of the users, sometimes website displayed a blank page, only a reload would fix it and often the reload button wouldn't just work as intended. Again, Edge was a good browser, just that it lacks some optimization. Comparing to the polished experience on the mobile version, the desktop version needed some serious updates.

Even after several refinements to the browser, Microsoft could not bring it to the standard of Chrome and Firefox. Adding the controversy of Google using its monopoly to slow down their services in other browser didn't help it either. So Edge team decided to take a leaf from the mobile team, looking at the dismal market share, they knew pouring too much resources into improving the Chakra and EdgeHTML engine, they could just use the most popular open source option, the Chromium engine which powers Chrome. 

The leaked build has been tested by several people and most of them have had a positive experience with the new Edge browser. It currently supports almost all of the extensions from the Chrome Web Store which is a really good place to start with. Microsoft is currently busy adding all the sync capabilities, the Edge design and some of the features from the current version of Edge such as Tab Previews, Set tabs aside and improving the inking and document viewing features. Even if the new Edge does not become a popular choice, Microsoft will not have to do a lot of heavy lifting since the underlying Chromium takes care of the core components of the experience. For what it's worth is, it will be providing a fast and reliable default browser on Windows.

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