Some days are more interesting than others, and late yesterday, things got real interesting in the Microsoft-watching world as Windows Central’s Zac Bowden dropped a bombshell: Microsoft is planning to ditch Edge and its EdgeHTML browser engine for a Chromium based new default browser for Windows 10. There’s lots to unpack in this bit of news, and since the announcement some details have filtered out, and of course, we’re left with lots of questions. Let’s dig in:
Announcement timing: as soon as this week?
In the Windows Central post, Zac Bowden reveals that Windows Insiders could be seeing work on the new Chromium-based browser soon, and The Verge is reporting that Microsoft may make an announcement as soon as this week. With such a huge platform shift, and especially with a shift to an open-source platform, Microsoft will need to get its plans out in the open soon. We’ll be keeping a close eye on things, of course.
ElectronJS: a piece of the puzzle
This news is nothing if not convoluted, and Microsoft MVP (and oddly named) Twitter user @SwiftOnSecurity made an interesting observation last night:
This isn’t about Chrome. This is about ElectronJS. Microsoft thinks EdgeHTML cannot get to drop-in feature-parity with Chromium to replace it in Electron apps, whose duplication is becoming a significant performance drain. They want to single-instance Electron with their own fork https://t.co/HfAGxvLKb7
— SwiftOnSecurity (@SwiftOnSecurity) December 4, 2018
To muddy the waters, although “Taylor Swift” is saying that Edge can not keep up with Chromium performance-wise (for running ElectronJS apps, etc), another Microsoft-watcher, Peter Bright from Ars Technica, holds that Edge actually does better than Chromium in terms of battery life (including with Electron apps):
I use Edge when mobile because I get meaningfully better memory and battery usage compared to Chrome. If Edge just becomes Chromium, that advantage disappears entirely. So why touch anything other than Chrome?
— Pumpkin Fright👨⚕️🍕 (@DrPizza) December 4, 2018
Microsoft has tried, and largely failed, to woo developers to build modern apps for Windows, and a move to Chromium could well be a signal that they’re ready to switch rather than continue to fight. There are still lots of unanswered questions about how it will all work, or even if a switch of browser engine will have much of an effect at all. One thing is for sure, it will make for interesting times ahead!
A Windows Phone tidbit thrown in for good measure
Another juicy little bit popped up in the Twitter-stream last night, too. Former Microsoft Technical Fellow Erik Meijier, who has since left the company, revealed that he almost got fired for doing what was close to unthinkable back then, bringing Chrome to Windows Phone:
Good lord, my team ported Chrome to Windows Phone in 2008/2009 and I nearly got fired for that. Can I please get my performance reviews rectified, with compound interest please!https://t.co/crxP4HMFAd
— Erik Meijer (@headinthebox) December 4, 2018
How times change!
(Lots of) questions remain
For now, we’re looking at this news (if it is actually news at all, Microsoft has not commented so far) through the wrong end of a telescope, and there is lots we don’t yet know. What will this new browser be called? Will it actually ship with all versions of Windows 10, as Bowden suggests, or is this a play for a more lightweight and uncoupled Windows Core OS? Will Microsoft further embrace the world of Google Chrome, perhaps allowing Android apps to run on Windows? So many questions.
What do you think of last night’s news? Where do you think Microsoft is heading? Let us know in the comments below
Further reading: Chromium, Edge Insider, Microsoft Edge, Windows 10