How is Microsoft's Chromium-based Edge really different from Chrome?

Microsoft is removing or replacing more than 50 Chromium services in building its new Chromium-based Edge browser, besides working to provide some unique value-add not found in every other Chromium browser.

edgeservicesturnedoff.jpg

Credit: Microsoft (via @h0x0d)

When Microsoft announced late last year it was reworking its Edge browser to be based on Chromium, many wondered how different the new Edge would be from Chrome and other Chromium-based browsers. Microsoft execs said they'd be adding some value-add in areas like smooth scrolling and accessibility, but didn't get too detailed beyond that. But there are a number of ways the new Edge will differ from Chrome, especially under the covers, as a Microsoft presentation slated for BlinkOn this week will detail.

Today, Microsoft released its first preview builds of the new Chromium-based Edge. I've seen some Edge users lamenting that these previews look more like Chrome than the current non-Chromium-based Edge. (To be fair, Microsoft officials have said the UI fit and finish work has yet to come with the new Chromium.) Still, is the new Edge really going to be just Chrome in Edge clothing?

Also: Chromium-based Edge: Hands on with Microsoft's new browser

Seemingly, the answer is no. Thanks to @h0x0d (The WalkingCat on Twitter), a slide deck that Microsoft plans to present at BlinkOn on April 9 has gone public. During the event, Christian Fortini, a Distinguished Engineer at Microsoft who works on Edge will be presenting a talk entitled "Microsoft Edge: Adopting and contributing to Chromium."

Microsoft is replacing or turning off more than 50 Chromium services with Edge. (The list of services being replaced or shut off is listed in the slide embedded in this post above.) Some of these are no-brainers, such as Google-specific services like Google Now, Google Pay, Google Cloud Messaging, Chrome OS device management and Chrome Cleanup. Others are a bit more surprising/interesting, such as ad blocking, Spellcheck, Speech input; Android app password sync.

"Our users expect Edge to be only communicating with Microsoft services," Fortini says in his notes. As part of this, Microsoft is making sure the new Edge supports MSA (Microsoft Accounts) and Azure Active Directory identities for authentication/single sign-in. 

There are a number of other services of its own Microsoft is integrating into Chromium-based Edge, as detailed in this April 8 article by the Edge team. Among them: Bing Search, which is what is turned on by default for the built-in search and address bar; Windows Defender SmartScreen for phishing and malware protection; Microsoft Activity Feed Service for synchronizing data across Edge prview builds and across Edge on iOS and Android; and Microsoft News.

At BlinkOn, Fortini will reiterate that Microsoft has a handful of areas of focus with Chromium-based Edge, including accessibility, ARM64 support and more. He also plans to mention that Microsoft has contributed more than 300 commits in Chromium so far and is merging about 450 changes from upstream Chromium daily in building the new Edge. Microsoft has built a new Edge reporting service on top of the Chromium reporting service that will send telemetry data through 1DS (1 Data Strategy) to Microsoft.

Microsoft has identified a number of "other areas we would like to help with" in the Chromium space and is actively working on PDF enhancements, battery life improvements, smooth scrolling, editing, layout, dev tools and web authentication, according to his slides.

"PDF is an area where existing Edge received some praise for its accessibility, smooth scrolling and some of its features," Fortini says in his slide notes. "Though we have made a decision to build our PDF support on Chromium and PDFium moving forward, we would like to get back to parity with previous versions of Edge on these things."

On the list of Edge features on the roadmap, Fortini lists PlayReady DRM support; services integration and single sign-on. Edge supports both PlayReady or Widevine -- the only Chromium-based browser to do so, he says. PlayReady is there for 4K streaming of DRM-protected content like Netflix; hardware decryption/decoding and software decryption in protected process, his slides note.