Google and Microsoft have been in a bitter war over their ecosystems for a long time, but recently, the two have been making steps toward each other. Ever since Satya Nadella became CEO of Microsoft, he started making it more open for collaboration and, well, Open Source software, most notably through its acquisition of Github and the inclusion of Linux in Windows. Google, on the other hand, has always been at the forefront of collaborative software development, with Android and Chrome being based on Open Source software. Now, The Verge published an interview with Microsoft’s Joe Belfiore, talking about the company's journey to a Chromium-based Edge browser and how it started working together with Google more closely through this decision.
Back when Microsoft released the first public version of Edge in 2015, the company quickly noticed that the product didn't take off as expected. Microsoft's inherently bad reputation concerning browsers plus Google's de facto monopoly in that area turned many users away from the pre-installed Windows software. Consequently, Edge's market share couldn't quite grow on Android and iOS, either.
Satya Nadella was very aware of the situation and asked his developers to find a solution. Thus, a paper was created that weighed the problems and strengths of Edge, and someone in the team created a Chromium-based rough test version of it. The company carefully evaluated the implications of moving away from its own rendering engine and found that it would bring more benefit than harm – web developers would have to test against one less browser, Microsoft wouldn't constantly have to fight incompatibilities, and it could further improve Chromium to make Chrome itself run better on Windows.
You see, over the years, Microsoft's premise changed from "We want to provide the best browsing experience and all other browsers are competition" to "We want to help make browsing the web on Windows better on any browser to improve user experience with our OS." Thus, the decision to switch to Chromium was reached in September 2018 and publicized in December the same year.
The move was widely praised by the tech industry, with only a few speaking out against it, the loudest among them Firefox developer Mozilla. It stated that Microsoft's decision would make for a duller web and encourage developers to break standards as long as their websites work on Chromium-based browsers.
Google, on the other hand, welcomed Microsoft to its engine with open arms. Chromium developers were happy to see that the Redmond company quickly fixed bugs and tackled features that the team left hanging for years, such as better touch support and smoother scrolling on Windows.
However, we quickly saw Google returning to old ways concerning competition. Google Meet suddenly stopped working on Chromium Edge, and Google Docs received a banner warning users that they're accessing the service through an unsupported browser. Google explains that the changes aren't malicious, but coupled with the company seemingly accidentally breaking Firefox over and over, we have to take this with a grain of salt.
Personally, I'm looking at Microsoft's move with mixed feelings. On the one hand, it's good to see some long needed improvements for Google Chrome on Windows. On the other hand, I already enjoy using Edge on my Windows machine because it feels snappier and more optimized than Chrome, and I fear that the new version will probably take a long time to catch up to that speed, if it does at all. Also, I'm right with Mozilla and its concern for the future of the open web.
Meanwhile, Edge for Android has been using Chromium since its inception, so if you'd like to give Microsoft's future vision a try right now, you can do so by downloading the app through the widget below.
- The Verge