Microsoft released its Edge browser originally known as project Spartan in 2015. Which it’s not only four years ago, feels like a lot longer. Out of the gate, Edge brought some interesting features to the table. Like a reading mode and the ability to easily markup and share web pages. It was also slow and memory hungry, and it lacked support for the thousands of helpful browser extensions that you could get on Chrome and Firefox.
So, while it peaked at 20 percent market share among Windows 10 users in August of 2015, its subsequent slide over the following months and years indicates that most of those people are probably just using it, to download Chrome. Then in late 2018, after four long years of progressively more desperate tactics to get people to just try it, Microsoft decided that rather than trying to fight chrome, they would enter the belly of the beast. Becoming Chrome, then destroying it from the inside. Just kidding.
I mean, that might be what they’re doing. I actually don’t know, but what I do know is that there’s a freaking chromium powered Edge browser out there in the wild. I spent the last couple of days finding out whether it’s the next big thing or the browser equivalent of two kids stacked on top of each other wearing a trench coat so they can get a ticket for your pg-13 task bar.
The uninitiated chromium, is Google’s free and open source software project that forms the foundation of Google’s mainline Chrome browser builds, which by contrast are not open-source. So, what that means is that anyone including Microsoft can take that Foundation and potentially build their own browser on top of it. Actually, Microsoft is far from the first company to do this. Some of the more well-known third-party chromium based browsers include Opera, Brave, Amazon Silk and Samsung’s aptly named “Internet”.
The new chromium powered Edge is not fully launched yet, but Microsoft is publishing developer builds as they get closer to the full roll-out. That means that we can try it. I’m gonna be using the Windows 10 version but this is kind of cool. The new Edge will actually be available on Android, iOS and even Mac OS.
When you open a new tab, you get some layout options. Focused, has some frequently visited sites and a simple search bar, unfortunately powered by Bing. But fortunately with the option to change it to Google Search and the next up is Inspirational layout, which adds the pretty Microsoft background of the day to the mix. The Informational layout, which adds an MSN style new section on your first boot up of the app, it will probably prompt you to import your chrome data. Including bookmarks or favorites, your safe passwords, your autofill entries and your browsing history. If you’re not a hundred percent sure about the switch, you can also do that in the settings later.
Once you do that, it actually begins to feel like you’re using a Microsoft skinned version of Chrome though. Right down to the menu layouts. Most of the settings that you’d expect to find are there. But like it’s weird, because they might be located in a different sub-menu.
Perhaps the weirdest part though of the new edge experience is installing Chrome extensions. By default the new edge only allows you to install a small number of Microsoft approved edge insider add-ons. But in true chromium fashion you can allow the installation of any extension from the Chrome Web Store. By simply clicking allow extensions from other stores. With that said, there’s no guarantee it’ll work.
If you were like “amped” to switch from Chrome to Edge, I just want you to keep in mind that you might not have all of your chrome features exactly as you like them. Also making matters worse, if you are one of the Edge faithful, Microsoft’s chromium based reboot might be a bit of a bummer for you too. Because a fresh start means that the current build is even lacking some of the features of old edge.
So, these include setting aside tabs and an official dark mode although you can at least enable a beta version of that last one. In the flags now, the Edge team has promised that those features will return and they’ve also committed to new ones. Like easily shareable tab collections, a three-tiered privacy control system and best of all and Internet Explorer compatibility mode. I’m actually not joking about this, that is a godsend not only for nostalgic masochists but also for corporate and IT workers that are stuck using legacy apps that just won’t run on modern browsers. And the edge engineers say they’re not only creating new features for their own browser, they’re also submitting suggestions to the chromium open-source project. Which might influence other chromium based browsers and even Chrome itself.
I got to say, for a fledgling browser, the new edge held up alright. It kept up pretty well with chrome. Although, both of them lost to Firefox.
There’s another huge question, the existence of this chimeric concoction brings up. Is google about to fundamentally own the ability to set their own standards, for how the internet is developed? Because here’s the thing, depending on where you get your stats, chrome has been sitting at around 65 to 75 percent global desktop browser market share, with edge around five and the supposedly defunct Internet Explorer still around five to ten percent. Firefox and Safari still have healthy enough user bases.
But, think about this once. This new Edge, actually launches and Edge and Internet Explorer users hopefully switch over. As much as 85 percent of the internet could be dominated by browsers based on Google own software. That gives Google an unprecedented level of control over the way the internet will continue to change. And while Google has developed many standards and protocols that have benefited all web users. Like the SPDY protocol, that formed the basis for HTTP/2. They’ve also been responsible for some shady locked ecosystem type. Stuff in the past, like changing YouTube so that it ran worse on non chrome browsers.
The thing is, all of that could be much ado about nothing and for their part, Google has said they remain committed to the open web and will continue to work with others in the web browser ecosystem. I still thought it was important to not just try out New Edge, but to also point out that if you subscribe to the age-old wisdom about absolute power and absolute corruption and all that, you might want to at least give Firefox a try.