Along with unveiling its new Edge browser logo, Microsoft on Monday announced the official launch date of its nearly finished Chromium-based Edge browser and made its Release Candidate available for download immediately.
The latest beta edition of the browser is stable enough for anyone to use, Microsoft said, and it will help IT admins prepare for the Jan. 15 rollout.
Microsoft last year announced its intention to rely on the Chromium open source project in developing Microsoft Edge for the desktop to create better Web compatibility and to reduce fragmentation for all Web developers. The upcoming rollout will make the new Edge browser available for Windows 10, Windows 7, Windows 8 and macOS.
So far, Microsoft has not announced plans for an Edge browser version that runs on the Linux operating system.
The launch of Microsoft Edge will have a dramatic impact on the Web ecosystem. Originally, the Web was dominated by Microsoft’s Internet Explorer browser. That set the stage for many years of stagnation in Web development because Web applications needed to be tied to old versions of IE, according to Thomas Hatch, CTO of SaltStack.
“The dominance of IE slowed the market and hurt innovation in some regards. However, it did make it easy for companies to know that they could create stable content that would run on old browsers,” he told LinuxInsider.
New Browser Dominance
The release of Microsoft’s Chromium-based Edge browser could create a problem due to the new dominance of the Chromium engine. This change will make Chromium the browser foundation for close to 90 percent of Web users, with Firefox as runner-up, noted Hatch.
The potential exists for the stagnation of new innovations for Web browsers from the loss of browser competition, he pointed out. Plus, there is the risk of Google’s control being used to damage competitors’ ability to deliver Web products.
The technology change for Microsoft, however, could be a boost for new collaborative efforts between Microsoft and Google, whose proprietary version of the Chrome browser is based on the open source Chromium browser. That mix could foster collaboration and accelerate the development of the Web — not the other way around, Hatch suggested.
Web Standardization vs. Browser Domination
Microsoft’s new browser release is more apt to standardize the Web platform on a single core codebase. It means the Web standards most likely should reach consumers and enterprises faster, because they will not be hung up in three or four implementations, sort of teasing out what works and does not work in parallel, observed Chris Love, a progressive Web apps developer at Love2Dev.
“The primary browser vendors — Google, Microsoft, Mozilla, Samsung — already collaborate a lot to define the Web platform standards and specifications. The real problem is they more or less agree to a specification, then go develop in different codebases,” he told LinuxInsider.
Microsoft, Google, Samsung, and a few other vendors more or less work together now, reducing the amount of duplicate work. As a Web developer, Love just needs a specification that he can trust and not have to worry about quirks with different browsers, he explained.
Under the Hood
Microsoft’s browser logo redesign clearly suggests a new Edge. It is the only visible sign, besides the Bing search interface and the unplugged Google ecosystem, that the new Edge browser is not another retread of IE.
Otherwise, the user interface nearly identical to the look and feel of the Chrome browser. Its UI is very familiar.
The Microsoft Edge logo has a fluent design style that ties in with Microsoft’s new Office icons. The Edge “E” resembles a wave.
Microsoft is pitching Edge Chromium directly at enterprise users. The company is describing Edge as “the browser for business” with “core security architecture” that IT professionals already are using.
Other Edge features:
- New Microsoft Search capabilities in Bing to save time searching for information inside your company;
- Three ecosystem partners — Accenture, BA Insight and Raytion — provide a Microsoft Graph connectors preview. It expands the reach of search for Microsoft 365 customers, with the addition of more than 100 connectors, including Salesforce.com, ServiceNow, Box and more;
- The ability to access Microsoft Search in Bing on mobile phones;
- New tracking prevention by default;
- SmartScreen and Tracking prevention to help protect users from phishing schemes, malicious software and cryptojacking malware; and
- InPrivate mode across so online searches and browsing are not attributed to the user.
Built-In Edge Advantages
Microsoft did a decent job of building and maintaining its own browser engine, according to Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT, but it never was a match for Google Chrome.
“Adopting the Chromium engine should result in faster and more secure performance, along with greater levels of website compatibility,” he told LinuxInsider.
Usability over the previous IE and earlier Edge versions are a big advantage, said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.
After using Edge versions for the last few months, he can rely on this browser, he told LinuxInsider, whereas previously he had to switch between IE, Edge and Chrome, and often Firefox, to get some things done.
“I’m largely back to living in one browser again, thanks to this offering,” Enderle told LinuxInsider. “It is the best of both worlds, compatible with IT policy and massively compatible with the Web. It is an impressive blend of technologies.”
The Edge browser is a rarity in that it is unusual to see a major vendor do something like this where they put the customer in front of their own “not-invented-here” mentality he observed.
Path Less Traveled
Microsoft’s decision to grab Chromium code as a base for its IE/Edge browser replacement may be a good strategy. Still, it is a bit odd to see a company with a long history of claiming technological superiority — even when there was scant supporting evidence — take a back seat to a competitor, suggested Pund-IT’s King.
“That is even more pronounced given the focus here on browser technologies, where Microsoft was once the undisputed market leader. Some might claim that the move denigrates Microsoft’s brand, but I’d argue that it also demonstrates a level of maturity that speaks well of the company and its leadership.” he said.
Putting the customer first is always a superior strategy, but using a competitor’s technology to do so is rarely done, even though that path often would be better for the user, Enderle noted.
“Typically, competitive concerns and image concerns keep companies from doing this — but times are changing, and the concept of open source has firms thinking differently. I think this is a showcase of that different thinking,” he said.
Ulterior Motives Possible
Microsoft’s use of the Chromium code base is not really about the browser benefits at all. If it were, Microsoft would have gotten out of the game long ago, suggested Arle Lommel, senior analyst at CSA Research.
“Instead, it is about a strategic bid for enterprise customers to cement them into the Office 365 ecosystem,” he told LinuxInsider.
Browsers are an essential tool for consumers and businesses alike, but they are not a direct moneymaker for their developers. Instead, they are a driver for other services, such as search and ad revenue for Google with Chrome, Lommel explained.
Microsoft has fallen behind and has no realistic prospects to get people to switch back to a proprietary browser base. Earlier incarnations of Edge suffered from performance issues compared to Chromium, and were regarded as a warmed-over version of Internet Explorer, he added.
“So Microsoft has nothing to lose by jumping on a common platform that improves compatibility for its customers,” Lommel said.
It only takes a few cases of not being able to access a critical site before people stop using Edge and move to Chrome because it “just works,” he noted. If Google’s offering is seen as better, it is just another step to its enterprise offerings.
“Microsoft’s play is to use the platform to bring enterprise customers into using its additional services,” Lommel reasoned.
Will Users Flock to Edge?
Edge’s allure for users is the crux of Microsoft’s new browser strategy. It has the potential for putting a new spin on the “browser wars revisited” scenario.
The traditional Microsoft Edge user will stay, and more Windows users will switch to the new Edge browser from Chrome, predicted SaltStack’s Hatch.
“This is a potential win for everyone. Google still gets to control the Web; Microsoft saves money and gets a better seat at the table to move the Web forward; and the sheer size of the new gorilla in the room will push people to Firefox — giving the Mozilla Foundation a new lease on life,” said Hatch.
Consumer Needs Differ From IT
Some computer users might be inclined to adopt the new Chromium-based Microsoft browser. More likely, others will stay with their current choice or move to a different option.
Consumers rarely change the default option when they get a new computer, but browser selection seems to be one of the few decisions that inspires a slightly higher effort, according to Love2Dev’s Love.
For Windows users who get new devices, it will be interesting to see if they bother changing browsers with the new Edge as the default on a new computer. For users of other platforms, Love does not foresee any tangible user base gains.
“Mac and Linux users are pretty well entrenched with Chrome and FireFox, which means they made the deliberate effort to install their choice and Edge was never an option,” he said.
It all might come down to who the users are, said Enderle.
Corporate users who want Chrome compatibility with Edge compliance will be motivated to switch. Consumers may be happy where they are, and happy users tend to be hard to move, he said.
“Microsoft cannot disparage Chrome because it is at the core of its solution,” Enderle pointed out. “So their process has to focus on making users see the advantages of the blended offering, and the strongest advantage is likely security, which, given the threat level, could be enough to drive a change.”