Posey's Tips & Tricks
The Future of Microsoft Edge
Microsoft's move to build Edge on Chromium raises a big question: With Firefox and Chrome dominating the browser market, why does it still matter what Microsoft does?
Late last year, Microsoft announced that it was hard at work on a new Chromium-based browser that would eventually replace Edge. While it isn't exactly a secret that Edge has not gained the traction that Microsoft had hoped for, that announcement raises two big questions.
First, if the Edge browser is about to go extinct, then why does Microsoft keep introducing new Edge features?
I won't pretend to know Microsoft's official answer to that question, but I do have a bit of insight. I recently got the chance to take a first-hand look at the new Chromium-based browser. Although early reports seemed to indicate that the Edge browser was simply going away, it seems that the Chromium-based browser is instead going to be a new -- and completely rebuilt -- version of Edge. Anything can change, but as things stand right now, it seems as though Microsoft is going to continue calling its browser "Edge."
That being the case, I suspect that the reason why Microsoft continues to introduce new Edge features is that those features are going to be migrated into the new Edge browser.
With that said, I'm sure that some of you are probably curious as to what the "Edge on Chromium" browser looked like. As I write this, I actually find it hard to describe the browser's appearance beyond saying that it looks like a browser.
What I can tell you is that the new browser, at least in its early prerelease state, looks like a mash-up between Edge and Google Chrome. Those who currently use Edge will find that the browser's look and feel is very similar to what they are already used to. At the same time, there are some elements within the browser that have a distinctly Chrome feel.
What about the browser's feature set? In all honesty, it's probably too early in the development process to tell you about all of the cool new features that will inevitably make their way into the browser, and which (if any) features have been removed. What I saw was a work in progress, and so additional features will probably be added as time goes on. For instance, I didn't see any obvious support for Microsoft's inking feature -- which I use constantly -- but I will be surprised if inking capabilities do not make it into the final release.
Despite the fact that the new browser is not yet finished, there were two features that caught my attention. First, it seems that the new browser is going to continue to support existing Edge browser extensions. Because the browser is built on top of Chromium, however, it is also going to support Chrome extensions.
The other feature that caught my attention is that the browser is going to support multiple profiles. You might, for instance, create one profile for use with anything related to your job, and another profile for recreational browsing. There is also going to be an option to browse as a guest, meaning that you will presumably be able to browse the Web without your browsing history being associated with your Microsoft account.
At the beginning of this article, I mentioned that Microsoft's browser development efforts raise two big questions. The first question was why Microsoft continues to create new features for Edge. The second question is, why is it so important that Microsoft have its own Web browser? If Microsoft has determined that it has lost the browser war, then why not just let everyone use Chrome or Firefox?
Think about this question from a business standpoint. It costs a lot of money to develop a Web browser. It costs even more money to support that browser (by offering security patches, tech support, et cetera). And let's not forget how much money Microsoft spends on its marketing efforts when trying to get people to use the browser.
On the other hand, the Edge browser does not directly generate revenue. Users aren't paying to use the browser, nor does the browser natively spew ads in order to offset its development efforts. So why is Microsoft so anxious to create a browser that everyone will use?
Unfortunately, I don't know the answer to this question, so I can only speculate. My guess is that Microsoft knows that its future is in the cloud. The browser is the primary interface for Azure, Office 365 and some of the company's newer management tools.
If Microsoft controls the browser market, it may ultimately give the company the ability to introduce new interface elements in its cloud services. Again, I don't actually know if this is Microsoft's rationale or not. All I can do is guess.
Brien Posey is a 16-time Microsoft MVP with decades of IT experience. As a freelance writer, Posey has written thousands of articles and contributed to several dozen books on a wide variety of IT topics. Prior to going freelance, Posey was a CIO for a national chain of hospitals and health care facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the country's largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox. In addition to his continued work in IT, Posey has spent the last several years actively training as a commercial scientist-astronaut candidate in preparation to fly on a mission to study polar mesospheric clouds from space. You can follow his spaceflight training on his Web site.