Technology

Edge dies a death of a thousand cuts as Microsoft switches to Chromium

As reported earlier this week Microsoft will use Blink's rendering engine and Google's V8 JavaScript engine in its Edge browser, thus ending the development of its own EdgeHTML rendering engine and its Chakra JavaScript engine. This means that Microsoft will use code from the open source Chromium project and contribute to it.

The company's browser will always call Edge and should retain its current appearance. The decision to go was mainly motivated by compatibility issues: Web developers are increasingly testing their pages exclusively in Chrome, which greatly disadvantages Edge. Microsoft engineers discovered that problematic pages could often be made compatible with Edge with very minor modifications, but since Web developers did not use Edge at all, they did not even know that they had to change anything.

However, the story is a bit more complex. The initial version of Edge that came with the first version of Windows 10 was rudimentary to say the least. It was the kernel of a browser, but with extremely limited functionality, such as tabs and passwords, no expansion model, and the general lack of creature comfort that makes the difference between a rendering engine simple and a really exploitable browser. There were also stability issues; collisions and blockages were not uncommon.

Microsoft's own telemetry showed that many users were giving Edge a chance, but as soon as a problem arose (crash, hang or maybe a page that was not working properly), they would switch to Chrome and never went to Chrome. really look back.

In each new version of Windows 10, Edge has been improved. This is still not the most feature-rich browser, but it's just good enough, and, although it only has a limited number of extensions, it can bridge some of the functional gaps. The browser is much more stable than before, and the compatibility of its site is currently very good, with relatively rare incompatibilities. Much of this improved compatibility comes from Microsoft engineers who investigated problem sites, determined the minor fixes needed, and forced Edge to repair the sites themselves.

Self-inflicted Injuries

But it turns out that this is not enough to bridge the compatibility gap. If every Edge user used the latest version of the Edge, it would not be so bad, but it's not the case, and that's because of the way Microsoft provided Edge with Windows 10. Most individual users will run the latest feature. updated to Windows 10 a few months after it was released. But business users are more diverse. A company that has deployed Windows 10 version 1709 to 10,000 can do so by deploying version 1803 to 10,000 additional seats. Systems with 1709 will remain with 1709 – after all, it is still supported – the company is concentrating its resources on setting up legacy systems on "a version of Windows 10" rather than on configuring each Windows user 10.

The result is that all of the compatibility, stability, and feature enhancements in the 1803 and 1809 versions will be completely prohibited for machines running 1709. This means that Edge is already a relatively small target for web developers to think about, suffers from major fragmentation of the versions. This contrasts with Chrome, where almost all users are migrated a few days after the appearance of a new version.

In the same way, this coupling with Windows 10 means that there is no possibility to offer Edge to users of Windows 7 or even Mac OS.

It's this number that is perhaps the deadly and deadly blow to Edge. If every Edge installation was always the newest and the best, and if companies could standardize Edge on their entire fleet, including Windows 7 systems and Macs, the browser might have been a target enough big and consistent to be sustainable. But Redmond decided that it was not the case. Microsoft has considered disassociating the browser from Windows 10 so that it can be updated on its own pace and that it can be ported to Windows 7 (if it is not macOS), but for unclear reasons, it was decided would be too substantial.

The move to Blink is considered the easiest way to end the Windows 10 dependency. Thus, not only will the Edge Publishing cycle be decoupled from Windows 10, but the new Edge will also be available under Windows 7 and macOS.

The old Edge rendering engine is not likely to completely disappear. it will be used for embedded web views in Windows applications.

New Engine, New Processes

The company wants to become an active member of the open source community Chromium. The first priorities include the addition of ARM64 to Chromium compatibility allowing smooth scrolling with chrome touch-enabled devices and improved integration with screen readers to improve accessibility . In the longer term, the company wants to integrate unique browser features into the new browser, such as performing risky content in an isolated virtual machine .

At the same time, the company must also develop new engineering processes. For Chromium to be successful, Microsoft must be able to quickly integrate updates to Chromium code, generate Edge, and distribute them via Windows Update. Any delay in this process may create security vulnerabilities, where a flaw is fixed in Chrome / Chromium but remains exposed in Edge. The fast integration is simple for a pure chrome clone, but the more Edge differs from chrome, the harder this task becomes. The design of this development process is always a work in progress. It is not yet known if, for example, Microsoft will adopt the multiple channels of development of Google.

And, of course, we do not yet know if Microsoft and the Chromium project will work together. Microsoft would like some things, such as scrolling performance improvements, to be merged into the Chromium kernel so that the experience of Chrome users on Windows is improved. But this is not guaranteed. Blink itself is a branch of the WebKit rendering engine, created because Google and Apple could not reconcile their different priorities in the same code base. Microsoft has important reasons to want to avoid any major deviation, but it would be a shame that Edge users would be forced to abandon what Edge does well so that Microsoft can stay close to Chromium.

The need to create this process of engineering and development has another consequence: Microsoft does not expect to have Edge versions with Blink before several months.

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