Microsoft's Edge to morph into a Chromium-based, cross-platform browser

Microsoft is going to remake its Edge desktop browser by using Chromium components and by bringing it to Windows 7, 8.1 and macOS, in addition to Windows 10.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor
(Image: ZDNet)

If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. That's Microsoft's new motto when it comes to browsers. The company is going to adopt the Chromium open source browser internals and replace the guts of its Edge browser with them.

Microsoft announced this engineering change Dec. 6. Earlier this week, Windows Central reported that Microsoft planned to ditch Edge and replace it with a new Chromium-based browser.

    Also: Microsoft Edge: What went wrong, what's next

    Microsoft is planning to create a new version of Edge by using Chromium combined with some components currently in Edge, all in the name of providing greater browsing compatibility across the web. (According to this recent Edge job post, Microsoft is taking a microservices/componentized approach to Edge development as it moves forward.)

    Chromium is an open-source browser implementation that is used as a base by a number of browser developers, including Google (with its proprietary Chrome browser), Vivaldi, Opera, Yandex, Brave, and more. Simultaneous with the launch of Chrome in 2008, Google released the bulk of Chrome's code as open source, birthing Chromium in the process.

    While technical details are still scarce at this point, it sounds like Microsoft plans to replace its EdgeHTML rendering engine (which was a fork of its MSHTML "Trident" rendering engine) with Chromium's Blink. Microsoft also is likely to replace its "Chakra" JavaScript engine with Chromium's V8, from what I hear. I don't know (and not sure if Microsoft does, at this point) which pieces, if any, of the Edge infrastructure will be kept.

    As part of this work, Microsoft plans to make the new Edge browser available on Windows 7, 8.1, 10 and macOS, officials said. While Edge will continue to ship with Windows 10, Microsoft finally will be updating it independently of the operating systems on which it runs, meaning it will be updated and patched more frequently than Edge is now.

    For current Edge users on Windows 10, it's business as usual. Users don't need to do anything to prepare for the coming change. Once Edge is updated, hopefully they will only notice that sites and apps they visit using Edge will work better and faster. Users of Edge on iOS and Android won't be affected, as those Edge browser apps already use the WebKit and Blink rendering engines tied to those OS platforms, not EdgeHTML.

    Developers will have the option of trying out the new Edge starting in early 2019 when Microsoft releases a first preview of the updated browser. One of Microsoft's stated reasons for moving to Chromium is to make developers' lives easier -- by enabling them to build and test against Edge just like they do other cross-platform, Chromium-based browsers.

    Microsoft officials haven't said when they expect the new Edge to roll out to the mainstream, but it won't be anytime very soon, based on this schedule.

    Microsoft intends to contribute features back to the open-source implementation of Chromium in areas where the company has done some differentiating work, such as around browser accessibility, touch optimization, and work around optimizing Chromium for ARM, company officials said.

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    Does Microsoft's new direction with Edge mean Edge finally will be available from the Microsoft Store? I hear the answer is no. Even though Microsoft officials have said over the years that their plan was to make Edge a Store app, it sounds like Microsoft intends to make it available as a download for non-Windows 10 platforms and not as a Store app for consistency's sake.

    And for those wondering if today's announcement means non-Microsoft, Chromium-based browsers -- including Google Chrome -- may be coming to the Microsoft Store, the answer is maybe, but at least right now, it seems unlikely.

    Also: Browser wars 2018: Microsoft Edge falls behind ... Internet Explorer?

    While Microsoft officials previously insisted that browsers in the Microsoft Store use Microsoft's EdgeHTML and JavaScript engines, the new requirement could be that they will have to use Microsoft's implementation of Chromium. Chromium-based browser vendors also would have to commit to using Microsoft's Store updating mechanism in order to get their apps in the Store.

    Why is Microsoft continuing to try to gain adoption for its own browser, in spite of Edge's continued tiny market share? The most-used desktop app continues to be the browser.

    10 great Microsoft Edge extensions

    Previous and related coverage:

    Microsoft reportedly looking to ditch Edge for Chromium

    The world of web renderers could be down a significant member should Microsoft can its EdgeHTML renderer.

    Windows 10 users: Chrome 70 means you don't need Edge, Microsoft Store to run PWAs

    Chrome 70 opens up progressive web apps to Windows 10 users who don't want to use Edge or Microsoft Store.

    Microsoft's 'Centaurus' device is yet another potential piece of its Chromebook-compete strategy

    Microsoft's successor to its 'Andromeda' dual-screened foldable device is codenamed 'Centaurus.' It's just one element of Microsoft's evolving Chromebook-compete strategy.

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