Last week, the web community was shocked to hear rumors that Microsoft’s Edge Browser would be adopting a new engine based on Chromium. Though just rumors at first, Microsoft has come forward and confirmed that it is indeed going to be rebuilding Edge with Chromium.
So, why should I care?
Let’s state some facts here, it’s no secret that Edge’s market share is rather low when compared to the rest of the browsers out there. A running joke between developers is that Edge has one job to do: Install Chrome. While just a joke, it does showcase how some developers feel about Microsoft browsers.
And from our perspective at Ionic, Edge has often lacked a few important features (e.g. Custom Elements, Shadow DOM, etc.) and has always been Windows-only. Meaning, if we needed to test features for Ionic in Edge, we had to have a dedicated Windows machine or it wasn’t possible. Now, imagine this issue for every other developer building on the web—Unfortunately, Edge was a burden to many.
That’s why we welcome this update. With Edge moving to Chromium, the above scenario is no longer an issue. Since Chromium is already cross-platform, Edge will now be available on not just Windows, but also on macOS and Linux! Though the timeline has remained up in the air, this is already a huge step forward for Edge. Additionally, this means that developers will have a more consistent browser in which they can run their apps, plus Web Platform features will “just work” without the need for any polyfills.
Another positive here is that Microsoft has committed to contributing back to the open source Chromium project. There’s already talk of providing 64-bit support to improve the battery life for platforms that have had to emulate 32-bit support, but other updates and contributions remain to be seen. Overall, this move seems like a good deal for Chromium and allows them to get valuable feedback from Microsoft, further driving home support for open source by big players in the industry. Clearly, the Microsoft we’re seeing make moves now is a far cry from the Microsoft of the 1990s.
What does this mean for Ionic?
At Ionic, we see the Edge announcement as a good thing. Since we know the browser will now support newer Web Features, we can better guarantee that Ionic apps will run smoothly on Edge. Not only is this a win for us, but also for the users of these apps who will have a much better experience as well.
What do the critics think?
There have been some opinions circulating that this is not good for the overall health of the web browser market. With Chrome, Opera, and, now, Edge adopting Chromium as their rendering engine, there is some fear that this will lead to a decline in developers building compatible sites for other renderers, thus narrowing their focus to build only on the dominant player. Funnily enough, this feedback has similar reasoning to what we saw play out during Internet Explorer’s glory days: So many sites, especially those behind corporate intranets, were written to run only on IE, but as the web progressed many of those sites were left behind with tons of legacy code.
While this may seem like a valid concern, we believe that current times are a little different especially given that Chromium is an open source project. Chromium-based browsers tend to get more frequent updates and are also not tied to updates from the operating system—Meaning that these browsers are always getting the latest features and updates to improve UX and security. Plus, with the adoption of Chromium there’s the added benefit of major browser vendors contributing to the project’s care and maintenance. But just because Edge is using Chromium doesn’t mean you’ll get Chrome with a different look. I’d expect that the new version of Edge will have different features and some flags disabled to differentiate themselves. Similar to how Brave browser uses Chromium, but still provides it’s own unique experience.
So, through the Ionic lens, involving many players in a project isn’t always a bad thing, but instead can actually help maintain the original motives of a project and drive positives for the overall web community without relying on one particular corporate entity.
Regardless of whether you’re for or against the adoption of Chromium, we can all agree that it’s a bold move that signifies a changing landscape. By standardizing on a shared browser engine, here’s to hoping that Microsoft will focus its efforts on building a great browser experience on top.