Global CSS Property Usage helps Web developers improve browsing experience

Microsoft’s new web browsing experience is looking to leverage years of co-opted development while avoiding the limiting historical pitfalls of earlier self-serving and platform exclusive endeavors. In doing so, Microsoft is seeking to incorporate more interoperability in its browsers based on the data gathered from various browser APIs and telemetry usage of those APIs throughout web usage and delivering that data to the public.

In conjunction with the internal tools built into its new Edge browser, Microsoft is also announcing its new Global CSS Property Usage tool. The new GCPU tool, is designed to give Microsoft and presumably any developer who taps into it, more insight into complex usage patterns, browser trends and the top domains in real time all using a customizable CSS framework.

To gain better insight into the usage of CSS properties across the web, we use two crawlers: The first, powered by Bing and running the EdgeHTML engine, allow us to see the web as Edge sees it. The second, our new Azure-based Interop Crawler, allows us to see huge portions of the public internet through the eyes of any browser. This is more efficient and accurate than having to instrument our browser with no-op APIs that we don’t support just to see their relative usage across the web.”

Microsoft is also leveraging its newfound collaborative efforts with the open source community to evoke standard practices and evaluations of usage.

What constitutes “usage” is surprisingly complex and is a question we needed to re-evaluate after seeing how standards bodies, other vendors, and library authors gathered this information using various tools. Often decisions are made based on looking at GitHub or similar static usage, or telemetry from within a browser that’s done at parse time, but none of these tools truly ensure that the CSS properties were actually utilized on the site by the web developer.

Once the parameters of what is considered usage have been defined, Microsoft then uses those observations to further break down the values of the data for development use.

The value breakdown of the property section answers a lot of questions for various demographics. For web developers, it can provide information regarding not only support but also an inference of interoperability among browsers based on usage. It can help provide browser implementers with additional insights into whether we should implement a value we’re currently lacking support for. This is also helpful to standards bodies when discussing potential “edge cases” ― one thing we like to take into account is the potential web compatibility impact of the change. This data allows us to make that consideration with the backing of real data.”

Beyond collecting the data to help the engineers on the Edge team make a more standards-reliant browsing experience, Microsoft is also making its findings public to have the community give back its interpretations on the data as well as implement new features or fixes based on the results. The collected data can be viewed on GitHub and developers are encouraged to give their input to Microsoft.

The Global CSS Property Usage is just the tip of the iceberg for Microsoft, who plans to offer more data points up for public consumption soon. All of this data should eventually result in the Edge browser becoming a far better experience for Windows 10 users.

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