No one has particularly liked Internet Explorer for over a decade (except my one friend who refuses to switch). And, despite much better reviews, Edge never took off—least not compared to Chrome, Firefox, and even IE.
So, late last year, Microsoft announced it would be trying something new: Edge on Chromium. Basically, Edge will use the Chromium engine to render webpages, while still incorporating Edge features into the browser.
With every subsequent preview build, we learn more about it; so, we wanted to look at it to see how enterprise users may benefit.
Edge struggled as web developers ignored it
Despite Edge being a step up from IE, adoption remained low. Depending where you go for numbers, Chrome (60%+), Safari (15%+), and Firefox (4.5%+) command the highest three market share, with Edge following far behind with around 2% usage (this is across all OSes).
Given usage numbers are way down for Edge, this means that if compatibility issues arise between browsers, developers take a lot longer to get around to Edge compared to Safari or Firefox. (With Edge on Chromium, this could potentially lead to Firefox suffering a same fate as even more users will be on a Chromium-based browser.)
What does Edge on Chromium offer?
It’s interesting that Microsoft is willing to move to a platform that Google controls, despite Chromium being open source. But, either way, the move to Chromium comes with some nice features.
One is the ability for users to install Chrome extensions on Edge on Chromium. You can install extensions from the Edge extensions page as well as other stores like the Chrome Web Store. This aspect makes Edge more appealing. Microsoft has been playing catch up with extensions, taking a while to just enable extensions and curating what ones will be in their marketplace. Browsium wrote back in 2017 that Microsoft’s decision to keep extensions under a tighter control held the browser back in the enterprise.
More organizations are more comfortable with Microsoft in the enterprise than Google, so the move to Edge on Chromium might get some organizations to return to the fold. Chromium offers the better engine, but Edge is surrounded by all the other applications and tools enterprises are more comfortable using.
Microsoft has been known for their browser manageability controls and Jack has some speculation about how we could see that work with Edge on Chromium. We have Edge for Android and iOS with app protection policies so you can have all the standard mobile application management features like DLP controls and per-app VPN that are good for BYO devices without requiring users enroll in MDM. So, with this move, maybe we see Intune app protection policies enabled on Edge for Macs and even Windows, enabling access from unmanaged PCs in a BYO mode. This is essentially what the embedded browser in Citrix Workspace App can do, and Jack has liked this concept since Moka5’s Project SkyNet back in 2014.
Microsoft is also building some welcome privacy features into Edge on Chromium like simplifying settings to a single page as well as ensuring that incognito mode actually does offer tracking prevention.
Another nice feature is Collections. This allows users to easily gather and keep web content in one place with the click of a button next to the address bar. Collections also includes the ability to export the web content to Word or Excel.
Legacy sites not forgotten
One particularly interesting enterprise-exclusive feature is Internet Explorer Mode. Users don’t have to open another browser to access legacy websites, instead accessing them from Edge on Chromium like any other webpage. The only way you can tell it’s using IE Mode is a little IE logo in the address bar.
Joe Belfiore, VP of Experiences and Devices at Microsoft, told The Verge, “What we’re going to do is make this totally seamless.” Having the ability to access older websites with compatibility issues with newer browsers will solve a lot of support headaches.
One potential issue: Is Google limiting services?
There is one worry around Edge on Chromium, though, and that’s around whether or not recent Google service issues in the browser preview builds are due to bugs or Google quietly limiting access.
I want to stress that this is largely speculation at this point (and Google has released at least one denial), but it’s weird to see services built on Chromium not functioning very well for Edge preview users. The first service to have issues was Google Meet, which stopped working for Edge on Chromium preview users in April, then users started receiving notifications about compatibility issues with Google Docs. Google says they will support Meet in the GA release, but it doesn’t appear to have offered the same assurances for Google Docs. (If you change the user agent in Edge on Chromium to “Chrome-Windows” Google Docs works again.)
Then, most recently users couldn’t access the latest YouTube redesign when on Edge on Chromium, though the older version was still accessible. Users were greeted with notifications telling them to use Chrome to avoid compatibility issues. This was fixed fairly quickly, unlike the other Google services issues.
All these issues may be ironed out by the time Edge on Chromium goes GA, but as it’s not exactly the first time this kind accusation has been leveraged against Google. (Mozilla’s technical program manager took to Twitter in 2018 to make browser-specific performance claims.) So, only time will tell if it was just bugs creating compatibility problems or Google limiting access.
Microsoft clearly hopes to be competitive again when it comes to browser use, especially in the enterprise. Edge on Chromium will even be available to macOS users, unlike Edge, which never made it to the competitor platform. Will this get consumers and enterprises to return?
While it’s nice to see Microsoft making an effort, I feel it may be too little too late. Most users and organizations are entrenched with Chrome (or Firefox to a less extent) and moving to a new browser might be more effort than it’s worth. Still, if Google keeps annoying users and developers with some of their decidedly unfriendly moves, those wishing for a similar browser experience might be willing to make the jump.