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Microsoft embraces Google’s Chromium open-source engine for its Edge browser

The move will make Microsoft’s Edge browser compatible with more websites and devices in the future. But rival Mozilla says Google will now have complete monopoly on browsers.

tech Updated: Dec 07, 2018 13:39 IST
Kul Bhushan
Kul Bhushan
Hindustan Times
Microsoft Edge,Chromium,Microsoft Edge Chromium
Microsoft Edge aims to build better web “through more open source collaboration”(Microsoft )

Microsoft on Thursday announced the biggest-ever change to its Edge browser.

The company is now rebuilding Edge to run on Chromium, Google’s open-source web rendering engine that powers the Chrome browser. The same engine powers other popular mobile browsers such as Opera and Vivaldi.

Microsoft is hoping the dramatic change will help the browser function better on all devices including PCs and mobile phones. It also expects developers to leverage Google’s open-source code to further improve the Edge browser.

The company, however, points out that it is not the first time Microsoft has embraced an open-source platform. It has used Angle, Web Audio, Brotli standards in the past. Going forward, the company aims to overhaul Edge browser for new ARM-based Windows devices. The browser will soon be available on Apple’s Mac devices as well.

Fragmentation challenge
One of the biggest challenges Microsoft has faced with its Edge browser is the fragmentation. With the browser becoming cross-platform, Microsoft has mainly focused on adding updates according to Windows’ upgrade cycle. Also, the company has been relatively slow in upgrading to newer features used by rival browsers.

In a letter to developers community, Microsoft in a post on Github said, “Although Microsoft Edge has very high web compatibility for both standards-based HTML and for capabilities added by highly-used browsers like Chrome, our unique web-platform codebase still faces occasional compatibility problems as web developers focus less on HTML standards and rationally focus on widely used platforms like Chrome to develop and validate experiences for their customers.”

“While we work hard to make updates and fix these issues continuously, our implementation of Microsoft Edge as a component that ships solely on the same schedule as the full Windows operating system has slowed our ability to update, causing platform fragmentation and exposing compatibility gaps. We think greater use of open source software (OSS) can improve this experience for our end-users,” it added.

Surrender to Google?
Rival Mozilla, which offers Firefox browser, has raised questions over Microsoft’s decision to embrace Chromium. It alleged that Microsoft’s move will cement Google’s monopoly on the internet.

“This may sound melodramatic, but it’s not. The “browser engines” — Chromium from Google and Gecko Quantum from Mozilla — are “inside baseball” pieces of software that actually determine a great deal of what each of us can do online. They determine core capabilities such as which content we as consumers can see, how secure we are when we watch content, and how much control we have over what websites and services can do to us. Microsoft’s decision gives Google more ability to single-handedly decide what possibilities are available to each one of us,” wrote Chris Beard in a blog post.

Edge Windows browser moves to Google’s open source Chromium engine (Microsoft)

“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,” he added.

Earlier this year, the European regulators had imposed $5 billion antitrust fine on Google for using its Android mobile OS to gain monopoly over the rivals.

Edge: Missed opportunity?
In the early days of internet, Microsoft ruled the world wide web with its Internet Explorer, the de facto browser on Windows PCs then. With the advent of smartphones and decline in PCs, users gradually moved to Google’s Chrome and other mobile optimised browsers like UC Web.

After losing shares to Chrome in browser segment, Microsoft launched Edge browser in 2015. Part of Windows 10 update, Edge came with a new look and modern features. The browser, however, failed to take off despite several attempts. The company was even caught preventing users from installing Chrome browser from Edge browser.

Almost after two years of launch, Microsoft Edge was rolled out iOS and Android smartphones.

According to statista, Chrome has the highest market share at 67.7% followed by Firefox at 10.96%. Microsoft’s archaic Internet Explorer is the third most popular app (6.97%) whereas Edge ranks fifth with mere 4.24% shares.

First Published: Dec 07, 2018 13:37 IST