You’ve probably heard Microsoft will base its Edge browser on Chromium, the open-source project that forms the basis for Google Chrome. That won’t just make Edge better—Microsoft contributing to Chromium means Microsoft’s efforts will make Chrome better, too.
All Browser Engines Are Now Open Source
Many people are wringing their hands about Microsoft partnering with Google to gain control over the Internet. But Microsoft abandoning the EdgeHTML browser engine is awesome news. Microsoft’s EdgeHTML was the last closed-source browser engine. Now, all the browser engines will be open-source.
This means work on Edge will improve Chrome, and work on Chrome will improve Edge. Other browsers based on Chromium, like Opera, will also reap the rewards. If you’re a Chrome user, Microsoft is about to make your browser even better. We’re a long way from the days of “Scroogled” here.
Better Touch Support
Edge may have its problems, but it’s always had a pretty great touch interface. Scrolling performance on a modern laptop with a Precision Touchpad is also excellent and smooth. That makes sense, as Microsoft is trying to push touch-based PCs with Windows 10.
Microsoft’s open source intent document clarifies that this is one of its “initial areas of focus.” Specifically, Microsoft says it “can help improve desktop touch, gesture recognition, and scroll/panning smoothness, particularly on newer, more modern Windows devices.”
A cynic would read this line and think “Oh sure, Microsoft has to do a bunch of work to bring Chromium up to par with Edge’s current touch support.” But all that work won’t just help Edge—it will be part of Chromium, and all Microsoft’s future work to improve touch responsiveness will make Chrome even better on touch PCs.
Longer Battery Life
Microsoft doesn’t mention battery life much in its intent document, but we expect Microsoft will help Chrome use even less power, lengthening battery life for all those Windows users running Chrome.
For a few years now, Microsoft has kept trumpeting Edge’s supposed battery life advantages over Chrome. This has been a focus for Microsoft, which makes sense. PC manufacturers test battery life with Edge, the included browser, and everyone wants the best numbers possible.
If Edge does have longer battery life than Chrome—and the lead trumped by Microsoft has been shrinking—there’s no way Microsoft will accept a huge drop in its advertised numbers after the switch. All Microsoft’s work to improve battery life in Edge will make Chrome more battery-friendly, too.
Native Chrome on ARM PCs
They also need native browsers. Windows for ARM has an emulation layer, which means it can run all the standard x86 and x64 desktop software with which you’re familiar. But that emulation layer slows things down, which means the standard Windows version of Chrome runs slower on today’s already-slow Windows on ARM PCs.
Microsoft is doing a lot of work porting Chromium to ARM64 in collaboration with Google engineers. Soon, you’ll be able to install a native version of Chrome on those Windows on ARM PCs, improving their performance and battery life. Microsoft almost certainly wouldn’t be doing this work unless it was moving to Chromium, and Google wouldn’t want to put a bunch of effort into supporting Microsoft’s new Windows on ARM platform.
It’s not a feature most people spend time thinking about, but accessibility is important. Microsoft is making Chromium more accessible:
To serve the needs of all our customers, we intend to build upon the accessibility of the Chromium codebase by adding Microsoft UI Automation (UIA) interfaces to support Narrator and other assistive technologies on Windows, integrating with Windows Ease of Access settings such as high contrast and caption styling, improving controls accessibility, and supporting caret browsing.
That’s great news for a lot of people. And, because all that work is being done in Chromium, that means Chrome will work much better with assistive technologies on Windows, too. Everyone wins.
Other Good Stuff!
Microsoft will make its Edge browser interface with unique features like drawing on web pages and Cortana integration, but anything that affects the underlying browser will help everyone.
For example, many people prefer Microsoft Edge’s text rendering and think it looks better than Chrome’s on Windows 10. One Reddit user even brought this to the attention of Edge’s project manager. If Microsoft does take note of this and improve the new Edge browser’s text rendering, Chrome’s text rendering will get even better, too.
The intent document also states security is an area of focus. Microsoft has advertised Edge as the safest browser. Whether or not that’s true, all Microsoft’s work on Edge’s security will be part of Chromium, and that will make Chrome even more secure on Windows 10, too.
Microsoft might add support for new low-level Windows 10 security features to Chromium. Today, Edge can run in a secure container with Windows Defender Application Guard. Microsoft will have to support Chromium with Windows Defender Application Guard, so maybe Chrome will be able to run in a container, too.
What About Safari and Firefox?
Google Chrome and Apple Safari used to both be based on WebKit, but they forked a few years ago. Nevertheless, Blink (part of Chromium) and the WebKit engine used by Safari are both pretty similar, so some of Microsoft’s work could eventually filter over to Apple’s Safari browser, too.
While Mozilla Firefox may feel like the odd browser out here, there’s still some reason to be happy. Firefox successfully competed with Internet Explorer 6 and reignited competition in the browser market, and now there’s a final victory against EdgeHTML, the last closed-source browser engine.
And now, if Microsoft does something really interesting in the Edge browser, Mozilla can even look at the open-source code and see what’s going on. That’s huge.
Electron Apps Could Get Much Better, Too
There are other potential improvements for all Windows users—even ones who don’t use Chrome!
Many modern desktop applications are Electron apps. They’re built using web technologies and run in their own windows on your desktop. But each Electron application includes its own built-in version of Chromium.
Imagine having a separate Chromium browser for each website you use—you’d need more memory, more disk space, and more update downloads. That’s what’s happening today with Electron apps.
With Windows 10 standardizing on a Chromium-based browser, Microsoft has a chance to build the technology these applications need directly into the operating system, making for lighter apps. This would make applications perform better, save disk space, reduce necessary update downloads, and improve battery life.