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Microsoft's Edge Goes With the Chromium Flow

By Jack M. Germain LinuxInsider ECT News Network
Apr 10, 2019 5:00 AM PT
microsoft has released early builds of its revamped edge browser based on open source chromium

Microsoft on Monday released the first Dev and Canary channel builds of the next version of Microsoft Edge, which is based on the Chromium open source project.

The company last year revealed that it was reworking its Edge browser to be based on Chromium. Now the latest developments are ready for early testers and adopters on several versions of Windows and macOS. So far, however, no support is available for Linux.

The new Microsoft Edge builds are available through preview channels called "Microsoft Edge Insider Channels." The first two Microsoft Edge Insider Channels, Canary and Dev, are available for all supported versions of Windows 10, with more platforms coming soon.

Microsoft will update the Canary channel daily and the Dev channel weekly. You can install the new Edge builds from multiple channels side-by-side for testing. Each has its own separate icon and name.

Microsoft uses the Canary channel to validate bug fixes and test brand new features. The Canary channel offers the bleeding-edge, newest builds. The Dev channel build has undergone slightly more testing but is still relatively fresh.

The Dev channel offers the best build of the week from the Canary channel based on user feedback, automated test results, performance metrics and telemetry. It provides the latest development version of Microsoft Edge as a daily driver.

The company later will introduce Beta and Stable channels to provide significantly more stable releases. Those more developed releases will give Enterprises and IT Pros lead time to start piloting the next version of Microsoft Edge.

Microsoft will not change the existing installed version of Microsoft Edge yet. It will continue to work side by side with the builds from any of the Microsoft Edge Insider Channels.

The browser upgrade is not likely to draw more users to the retooled Edge browser than dedicated Microsoft customers, suggested Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT.

"That is especially true since Microsoft is disabling many of the functions integrated with Google apps and tools," he told LinuxInsider.

Logical Next Step

Microsoft's decision to adopt the Chromium open source project in the development of its new Edge browser on the desktop is a logical step in the company's efforts to become more embedded with open source technology. The Edge browser has been struggling.

The new development road map is based on a microservices/componentized approach, according to the company. Microsoft's goal is to create better Web compatibility for its customers. It also aims to reduce fragmentation of the Web for all Web developers.

Rebuilding the Edge browser around Chromium reinforces Microsoft's commitment to open source. Its software engineers have started making contributions back to Chromium in areas involving accessibility, touch and ARM64.

The company plans to continue working within the existing Chromium project rather than creating a parallel project. The Microsoft team is working directly with the teams at Google.

It's not likely that Microsoft's increased involvement with open source will give the company any competitive edge, King observed.

"I expect them to function much as any contributor. It's less of an issue today than it would be if Steve Ballmer were still Microsoft's CEO," he said.

Other Good Options Lacking

Microsoft was faced with one of those "if you can't beat them, join them" situations, according to King. That might have figured into the Chromium decision.

"As a technology comes to dominate online functions and interactions, developers focus on optimizing sites and apps for it. To ensure that customers have optimum online experiences, vendors adopt those dominant technologies," he pointed out.

That is the current situation with Chromium. Ironically enough, Microsoft once was in a similar situation with its Internet Explorer technology, King recalled.

Rebuilding the Edge browser on Chromium is a great move on Microsoft's part, said Cody Swann, CEO of Gunner Technology.

"This is going to be a huge cost saver for Microsoft," he told LinuxInsider. The company "can basically reassign or release a ton of engineers who were given to a losing effort to begin with."

Revised Technology

The Edge browser will differ in several key areas from the existing open source Chromium project that Google initially developed. Most of the heavy-duty differences will be hidden under the hood.

On the technical underbelly, Microsoft is working on replacing its EdgeHTML rendering engine with Chromium's Blink. Microsoft also is replacing its Chakra JavaScript engine with Chromium's V8.

Microsoft is replacing or turning off more than 50 Chromium services in Edge. Some of these include Google-specific services like Google Now, Google Pay, Google Cloud Messaging, Chrome OS device management and Chrome Cleanup. Others involve existing Chromium functions such as ad blocking, spellcheck, speech input and Android app password sync.

In shifting from Google-based services to its own ecosystem, Microsoft is building into its new Edge browser support for MSA (Microsoft Accounts) and Azure Active Directory identities for authentication/single sign-in.

Microsoft also is integrating other Microsoft-based services, such as Bing Search; Windows Defender SmartScreen for phishing and malware protection; Microsoft Activity Feed Service for synchronizing data across Edge preview builds and across Edge on iOS and Android; and Microsoft News.

Bringing More to the Edge

Microsoft plans to build support for PlayReady DRM into its new Edge browser platform. Edge supports both PlayReady and Widevine.

Also in the works are additional services integration and single sign-on capabilities that presumably will support a widening deployment of Microsoft-based offerings.

Microsoft is planning to build in more than just cosmetic design changes to the Chromium browser, however. The intent is to avoid giving the new Edge a distinctively Chromium look and feel.

However, company officials have said the user interface will not be a priority until further along in the process.

Pros and Cons

On the plus side, users typically have better experiences with optimized tools and applications. On the negative, the situation entrusts a lot of power to individual companies, noted King.

"Sites that are not optimized for dominant tech also tend to perform relatively poorly compared to those that are. That results in a two-tier Web of sorts, which is one of the reasons Mozilla developed Firefox," he said.

There is no downside to Microsoft switching to the Chromium platform in Swann's view.

"Microsoft has been dying a slow death in the browser wars since Firefox was released," he said, "and they're basically just throwing in the towel."


Jack M. Germain has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2003. His main areas of focus are enterprise IT, Linux and open source technologies. He has written numerous reviews of Linux distros and other open source software. Email Jack.


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