Still no word from the horse’s mouth about the reported EdgeHTML demise, but I hear that’s coming later today. The blog posts are starting to roll in about the possible impact of this though.
Update: here are the official announcements.
Even though Opera, Beaker and Brave are all doing very good work, it is still Chrome engine behind them and that limits the amount of stuff they can build and innovate. It is like as if they were building cars, there is a lot they can do without actually changing the engine itself, and thats what the Web Browsers are becoming, everyone is working on parts of the car but all the engines are now Chrome and believe me, you don’t want all the engines to be the same, not even if they are all Gecko or if somehow we resurrect Presto, we want diversity of engines and not monoculture.
The big concern here is we’ve lost another voice from an engine perspective.
Edge is doomed. It was doomed and its next version will be equally doomed from the start. For the simple reason that Microsoft has close to no say in how browsers get installed: on mobile as a default app, and on desktop via web services under the control of Google. Switching to Chromium makes no difference in market share, as the only way to compete now is through the browser’s UI, not via the engine. Which isn’t a competition at all, since browser UI is a commodity.
By adopting Chromium, Microsoft hands over control of even more of online life to Google.
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.
One of the big reasons I switched to Edge was because I wanted to promote this idea of “Browser Diversity”. Developers who listen to Shop Talk would at least know one person who doesn’t use Chrome daily. I’m not sure where this news puts me. I like Edge. I think it’s by far the best browser on Windows 10. By miles. Not even kidding. So it’d be a tough pill to swallow and give up. In many ways, I just got a major upgrade that includes my preferred performance dev tooling.
So I think the whole thing is not about Edge. The microcosm reacted, and reacted precisely as expected (again, probable laughters in Redmond), but this is really about Windows and the core of activity of Microsoft. Impulsing a change like a move to Chromium and using it as a public announcement by a Windows CVP, is, beyond technical and business choices, a political signal. It says « expect the unexpected ».
I think Microsoft Windows as we know it is about to change and change drastically. Windows as we know it could even die and Microsoft move to another new, different operating system, Edge+Chromium’s announcement being only the top of the iceberg. And it’s well known that 9/10th of an iceberg remain below water surface.
Electron today, however, comes with a sizable disadvantage: it’s based on the Chromium browser, which means it’s bundled with an entire instance for each application that uses it on your machine. Having Slack and Chrome open, for example, spawns two isolated Chromium instances, both consuming resources to do much the same thing.
With this shift, it’s easy to imagine a single shared thread for Chromium on top of Windows, which can be accessed by any Electron-based instance. Such a change would allow Electron apps to be more efficient, stable, and friendlier on system resources (particularly memory and battery.)
When one rendering engine rules them all, well, many of us remember when progress halted for close to ten years because developers only tested in IE6, and more than a few of us recall a similar period when Netscape was the only browser that mattered.
Don’t think the need to test in phones will save us: Chromium powers most of them, too.
And don’t write off the desktop just because many of us love our phones more.
When one company decides which ideas are worth supporting and which aren’t, which access problems matter and which don’t, it stifles innovation, crushes competition, and opens the door to excluding people from digital experiences.
The main reason I am wary is that I have a lot of mistrust of Microsoft and Google even before this situation, so I’m naturally not going to embrace them being in close cahoots with each other. Not just this relationship, though because as others have articulated better than I ever can, there’s a huge worry about a lack of diversity with web browsers.
Web standards survived the monoculture of Mosaic because Netscape came to the market. Web standards survived the Netscape monoculture because Internet Explorer emerged as a challenger. Internet Explorer’s monoculture was broken by Chrome, backed up by a push for web standards and interoperability. Chrome has no obvious challenger because no other company has the scale, the market and product saturation, nor the truly independent standards bodies to contain it.
Is one unexpected benefit of the switch to Chromium that the Edge team can actually expand? It’s easier to get Chromium engineers than EdgeHTML ones, that’s for sure.
There’s just no sugar-coating this. I’m sure the decision makes sound business sense for Microsoft, but it’s not good for the health of the web.
Very soon, the vast majority of browsers will have an engine that’s either Blink or its cousin, WebKit. That may seem like good news for developers when it comes to testing, but trust me, it’s a sucky situation of innovation and agreement. Instead of a diverse browser ecosystem, we’re going to end up with incest and inbreeding.
There’s one shining exception though. Firefox. That browser was originally created to combat the seemingly unstoppable monopolistic power of Internet Explorer. Now that Microsoft are no longer in the rendering engine game, Firefox is once again the only thing standing in the way of a complete monopoly.