Edge adopts Chromium rendering engine

My thoughts on this potentially game-changing news.

Although it was December, I felt a sudden urge to check the date and see if it was April Fool’s day. Could it be true? I had to confirm the news from multiple sources before I believed it. But my eyes were not deceiving me! Microsoft had announced that they were planning to scrap their rendering engine entirely in Edge and instead adopt and contribute to Chromium.

Chromium is Google’s open source web browser project that already underpins web browsers including Google Chrome, Opera, Samsung Internet, Vivaldi and Amazon Silk.

As a veteran web designer that remembers when browser compatibility involved wrestling with a whole host of bizarre bugs in the likes of Netscape Navigator, Internet Explorer, Safari, Firefox and Opera this felt like Christmas had come early. The nuances (to put it politely) of another browser rendering engine were being eliminated. This is surely good news for everyone? Our lives as web developers would be easier, testing would be streamlined, what’s not to like?

But soon voices of dissent were emerging - was this consolidation good for the web platform as a whole? Is handing over more control of our online lives to a single company (Google) good for the health of the web?

To some the answer is no, but ever the optimist I’m going to stick my neck out and disagree. Over the last few years I’ve taken a keener interest in the new features added to Google Chrome and it’s been exciting to see developments such as Progressive Web Apps arrive and improve at speed.

Looking back at 2018 the number of new APIs shipped in Google Chrome is making the web platform more and more powerful, to the point where it can really rival native apps. So am I sad that another browser is going to be joining the Chromium party? No I’m not, because hopefully it means all those shiny new APIs that are added to Google Chrome will be coming to Microsoft Edge with less delay, therefore accelerating the case for utilising them in our web apps and websites as the percentage of our audiences that can benefit from them grows far quicker. That’s going to be great for Progressive Web Apps and great for the web platform as a whole, as it will drive innovation forward at a faster rate than ever before. I also have confidence in open source software and that working together Microsoft, Google and other collaborators to Chromium can achieve greater things than working independently trying to achieve almost exactly the same thing.

But above all else I think the true winner here is users, who will have more consistent and better web experiences across a broader range of devices on whatever platform they choose. That’s surely only a good thing for the web platform?

I can appreciate the business case for this move from Microsoft’s perspective and it just highlights how much Microsoft has and is changing under the leadership of Satya Nadella. I’m a relatively new user of Microsoft OneNote (a simple note-taking app) but after installing it on an Android phone, an iOS tablet, a MacBook laptop and a Windows PC I am impressed by how it works and synchronises across many platforms. It seems this cross-platform parity is really key to Microsoft’s strategy. Granted, Microsoft dominates the desktop but despite accepting defeat on mobile to Android and iOS, they are doubling down on building great app experiences across all these platforms, such that when a Windows user swaps from their desktop to their Android or iOS phone - perhaps even their MacBook - they’ve got their favourite Microsoft apps there too, which will soon include Microsoft Edge on OSX.

Considering this cross-platform approach it makes complete sense that Microsoft is getting behind Progressive Web Apps and building Chromium into the core of Windows itself. Microsoft had the lead on even Google’s Chrome OS in terms of bringing Progressive Web Apps to the desktop in Windows. The company evidently wants to dominate with its apps on not only Windows but also iOS, Android and OSX, and if they can build to all those platforms from a single code base, it would be very advantageous.

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Michael Walsh by Michael Walsh