Not quite. You may have read this week that Edge is moving over to Chromium, which sounds an awful lot like Chrome and is an awful lot like Chrome – but isn’t exactly the same thing. Let me explain.
The new Edge browser
Microsoft released Edge three years ago, as a replacement for the much unloved Internet Explorer.
Alas, even though Edge was bundled with Windows 10 and often forcibly thrust down users’ throats with aggressive pop-ups, Edge has proved no more popular than its predecessor. In fact, it’s stunk the place out. The latest figures from NetMarketShare show Edge is used by only 4.3% of users.
That’s right, 4.3%. Or roughly half the number who are still using Internet Explorer 11, which has been festering in a corner for the past three years. Edge could barely be less popular if it changed its icon to a photo of Nigel Farage and wiped the contents of your hard disk every time you opened it.
This is a problem for Microsoft, because it has to spend a great deal of time, money and effort on the browser engine – the thing that determines how web pages are rendered on your screen. Every browser engine renders web pages in slightly different ways, which means a site may look different in Google Chrome than it does in Edge. That’s not great for consumers.
Why switch engine?
Microsoft’s problem is that if only one man and his dog bothers with Edge, no website is going to optimise for the browser. Google is the 15-tonne gorilla in the market with more than 60% market share on the desktop, and so developers will make sure their sites work properly with Google Chrome and barely bother with the rest. In the two years we’ve been running Big Tech Question, I think I’ve looked to see if everything works properly in Edge once. And that’s probably once more than most site developers.
There is, then, little point in Microsoft persevering with its own browser technology. So Edge is moving to Chromium, the open-source browser platform that powers Google Chrome, as well as other browsers such as our current favourite, Vivaldi. It’s open source, which means not owned by anyone, and Microsoft will work with Google’s own engineers and others to continue making Chromium better.
In terms of what this means for Edge users, the answer is: not a lot. In fact, they will do well to even notice the difference when the Chromium-based version of Edge is released in 2019. It will look the same and retain all of its current features. The only thing users may notice is that some sites that didn’t play well with Edge previously now work more smoothly.
Think of the browser engine as a car engine, and the graphics and features found in the browser as the bodywork. Two cars can share the same engine, but look and feel different. That’s what’s happening to Edge and Chrome.
Is it an embarrassing climbdown for Microsoft? A wee bit, yes. But there was no point in continuing to fight a losing battle and only Microsoft’s pride gets hurt by a move to Chromium.
Now read this: Why should I dump Google Chrome and install Vivaldi?