Microsoft will release its first web browser for Apple's Mac computers in 15 years as it makes a major change to its Microsoft Edge strategy

Business Insider US
Joe Belfiore
(Joe Belfiore, Getty Images)

  • Microsoft is making a big shift to its strategy with Microsoft Edge, the default browser in Windows 10, and the successor to Internet Explorer.
  • Microsoft is ditching its own web engine, and instead moving to the Google-created Chromium standard, which powers the market-leading Google Chrome.
  • This could fix a big annoyance with Microsoft Edge, namely the fact that some websites don't work properly in the browser.
  • Microsoft Edge will also be released for Windows 7, Windows 8, and notably, Apple MacOS.
  • It also means that Microsoft will work with Google and others to improve Chromium, meaning that some underlying Edge technology could start popping up in Chrome and other browsers.

It's official: Microsoft Edge, the default web browser on Windows 10, will be moving over in the next year to support the Google-born Chromium web engine. Edge was introduced in 2015 as the successor to Internet Explorer.

According to a blog by Windows Corporate VP Joe Belfiore, Microsoft also plans to release versions of Edge for Windows 7, Windows 8, and Apple's MacOS. This will be the first time Microsoft has supported an internet browser for Apple computers since Internet Explorer for Mac got its final update in 2003.

This strategic shift away from Microsoft's own EdgeHTML standard and toward Chromium was first reported earlier this week by The Verge and Windows Central. However, contrary to earlier reports, Microsoft doesn't appear to have plans to scrap Edge entirely, but rather make this technical change under the hood.

This move stands to fix one of the biggest annoyances with Microsoft Edge, namely the fact that some websites simply don't support the browser. It brings more subtle changes behind the scenes, as well, including paving the way for Google Chrome and other browsers to potentially come to the Windows Store in Windows 10.

For users, the switch to Chromium - which will take about a year to fully come to pass, Microsoft estimates, with a preview version ready in early 2019 - won't be super-noticeable for the average Edge user. The interface will stay the same, apart from the usual ways in which Microsoft adds more features and tweaks over time.

However, Chromium provides the open-source core for the mega-popular and market-leading Google Chrome browser, which accounts for some 67% of the web browser market, to Edge's 4% or so. The popularity of Chrome has led most web developers to prioritise support for Blink and V8, the core components of Chromium. By embracing Chromium, Microsoft Edge stands to reap the benefits of its general acceptance, too.

We've heard from Microsoft that this, in particular, solves a big headache for the company itself, too. The process of finding unsupported websites and making them work in Edge, one by one, was a tedious process that took engineering resources away from actually improving other aspects of the product.

The Edge of open source

First of all, this means that Microsoft will become an active contributor to Chromium, which was born at Google, but is an open-source software project. Under open source, programmers anywhere in the world can download the source code, tweak it to their liking, and contribute improvements back to the main software.

This means that Microsoft will be joining with Google, Samsung, Intel, and other big corporate Chromium contributors in making the engine better not only for its own products, but for everyone else using it, as well.

We've already gotten a taste of this in action: Microsoft, Google, and Qualcomm are working together to bring Google Chrome to Windows PCs running Arm processors, a fast-growing rival to Intel's traditional x86 chips.

Going forward, we hear that you can expect Microsoft to contribute elements of Edge, like its smoother text scrolling, its laptop battery life optimisations, and some security innovations, back to the main Chromium project. In other words, some of the best parts of Microsoft Edge will make it to other browsers by way of Chromium.

This means that Microsoft Edge will have to compete with other browsers on the basis of some of its more proprietary innovations, like its deep hooks into Microsoft Office and the Cortana assistant. At the same time, going with the very mature Chromium platform could make Edge that much better, too, right off the bat.

The professional's dilemma

The rethinking of Microsoft Edge could make life easier for IT managers and web developers, too.

Bringing Microsoft Edge to older versions of Windows stands to solve a frustration for IT managers, who might have to manage different teams or departments using different versions of the operating system - Microsoft Edge, to date, has only been available on Windows 10.

In fact, different versions of Windows 10 have different versions of Edge; each new semi-annual big update to the operating system also carries the latest version of the browser. That's yet another headache for the IT department, when some PCs are on one version of Windows 10 and some on another.

And so, Microsoft is also going to start releasing new versions of Microsoft Edge separately from Windows 10 updates. At some point soon-ish, you'll start seeing Edge updates come via Windows Update, across all Windows platforms.

One more thing on this front: Bringing Microsoft Edge to Mac has professional implications, at least for the web designers who use Apple's computers to do their jobs. Edge might never be a huge hit with Mac users, but it could be a godsend for professionals who need to test how their sites and apps work in Microsoft's browser.

On a final note, the move toward Chromium could remove the long-standing barriers to bringing Google Chrome to the Windows Store, the app store in Windows 10. There's been some friction between Microsoft and Google in the past over the fact that Microsoft hasn't allowed Chrome or other Chromium-based browsers in its marketplace.

Microsoft's rules require that any web browser listed in the Windows Store use the same EdgeHTML web engine as Edge, ostensibly because they want to make sure it meets the company's standards for security and performance. Once Edge switches to Chromium, this seemingly means that those browsers meet the requirement.

Microsoft tells Business Insider that it's not as simple as all that - different browsers might use older, newer, or otherwise customised versions of Chromium as Microsoft Edge, and Microsoft needs to figure out how to account for that variance in its rules. However, we're told that the company is very open to the possibility.

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