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More Edge/Chromium info comes to light – will support Chrome extensions, more on PWAs

We’re still digesting the implications of Microsoft’s momentous decision to move Edge from its proprietary browser engine, EdgeHTML, to the open source Chromium. While this is indeed a huge change, the devil is in the details, especially with EdgeHTML being so intertwined with both Windows 10 itself as well as with Microsoft’s sputtering efforts at embracing Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) and the Universal Windows Platform for apps (UWP). Much has been written about what’s happening with Edge, including Joe Belfiore’s announcement post, a statement of “intent” by the Edge team on GitHub, and in numerous posts and Tweets scattered across the web.

Yesterday, in a post on Reddit linking to the Belfiore announcement, one redditor wasn’t overly impressed, which prompted a response from Kyle Alden, Microsoft’s Edge Project Manager. Here’s what he said:

    Some responses to your questions –

  • Existing UWP apps (including PWAs in the Store) will continue to use EdgeHTML/Chakra without interruption. We don’t plan to shim under those with a different engine. We do expect to offer a new WebView that apps can choose to use based on the new rendering engine.
  • We expect to provide support for PWAs to be installed directly from the browser (much like with Chrome) in addition to the current Store approach. We’re not ready to go into all the details yet but PWAs behaving like native apps is still an important principle for us so we’ll be looking into the right system integrations to get that right.
  • It’s our intention to support existing Chrome extensions.

The first thing to note may be pretty obvious but still good news for lots of fans of extensions: Edge on Chromium will support existing Chrome extensions. The era of the embarrassingly meager selection of Edge extensions is over.

Beyond that, it’s important to note that while Microsoft will continue to support existing UWP apps. Developers won’t need to do anything to have their UWP apps run on Windows 10, as the EdgeHTML/Chakra JavaScript engine combination will continue to work. However, one of the stated intents of Edge on Chromium is that it will be cross platform/cross version, and it’s important to note that unmodified UWP apps won’t be able to run on Windows 7 with Edge on Chromium, for example. That is, without some work by developers. After spending lots of time and money begging developers to amend their PWAs to run on Windows/UWP, Microsoft is about to do the exact opposite. Devs will now be asked to (yet again) amend those apps, this time to support a new WebView in Edge on Chromium that will allow UWP apps to run on any platform/version where the new browser can run.

The last bit of information here, that PWAs will be able to be installed from the browser and not necessarily from the Windows Store, is also significant. Microsoft tried, and largely failed, to gain traction for a model where developers supported Windows only web apps, available in the Windows Store, as a way to offer modern web based applications to Windows. It was an attempt to lock both developers and users into the Windows ecosystem, and it didn’t work. If anything, it drove consumers away from a siloed system toward Chrome and its vast array of extensions, apps, and website compatibility.

It remains to be seen whether users will have any more interest in Edge on Chromium than they did for Edge on EdgeHTML, and truthfully we kind of doubt it. However, at least now Microsoft can stop battling windmills trying to get developers to make their apps work on Windows, and begin to move forward with the just beginning era of Progressive Web Apps.

 

 

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Are you excited by Edge's new direction?