Microsoft’s decision to abandon its own EdgeHTML rendering engine and adopt Google’s Chromium is bad news for competition and consumer choice, says Firefox maker Mozilla.
Over the next year, Edge will join the army of browsers based on the open-source Chromium project, including Google’s Chrome, Opera, Vivaldi, Yandex, Brave and others.
While Microsoft hasn’t explained technical details yet, it would appear it will swap out EdgeHTML for Chromium’s Blink engine, and possibly Chakra for V8.
Microsoft moving to Chromium leaves just Mozilla Firefox and Apple Safari as the remaining Chromium-free browsers to influence future web standards.
Switching to Chromium will liberate Edge updates from Windows 10, and allows Microsoft to bring Edge to macOS, as well as Windows 7 and Windows 8, which today can use Internet Explorer, Chrome, or Firefox.
It remains to be seen whether switching to Chromium will improve Edge’s tiny marketshare. However, Mozilla CEO Chris Beard thinks it will give Google more power to “single-handedly” determine how people use the web, and could harm Mozilla’s chances of competing with Google.
“If one product like Chromium has enough market share, then it becomes easier for web developers and businesses to decide not to worry if their services and sites work with anything other than Chromium,” wrote Beard.
“That’s what happened when Microsoft had a monopoly on browsers in the early 2000s before Firefox was released. And it could happen again.”
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Jon von Tetzchner, co-founder of Opera and CEO of Vivaldi, was equally pessimistic about what Microsoft’s decision means for the web.
“This is certainly not encouraging as competition is good for the Web,” von Tetzchner said in an email to ZDNet.
“Microsoft has lost the battle with Chrome, just like they lost the battle with the web in the past. The next move probably is going to be to attempt embrace, extend, extinguish as this has worked for them before.
“As Microsoft is on a losing battleground, this is likely an example of them wanting control. These are interesting times for browsers and we have to see how this evolves.”
Whether or not Microsoft’s switch to Chromium helps boost Edge’s paltry marketshare, it comes at a time when Firefox use is dwindling.
CNET quotes from web developer Ferdy Christant’s post about the implications of Microsoft’s move.
“Edge is doomed,” wrote Christant. “Switching to Chromium makes no difference in market share, as the only way to compete now is through the browser’s UI [user interface], not via the engine. Which isn’t a competition at all, since browser UI is a commodity.”
But Christant also disagrees with the understanding that browser engines are the driving force of keeping the web open — a battle that is already lost given Chromium’s current dominance.
“Fewer engines could be acceptable for as long as ownership and the standards process regarding those fewer engines are diverse, and not controlled by one organization,” writes Christant.
“At a W3C meeting or standards discussion, the room should not be 60 to 70 percent Googlers. Likewise, Google should not have veto power over an open-source project like Chromium. Microsoft, Mozilla, Adobe and the like should get equal representation there, so that even with fewer engines, we have shared ownership and decision making on what will be in that engine.”
Microsoft for its part said in a post on GitHub that it will “remain deeply and vigorously engaged” in discussions about standards at bodies such as W3C, ECMA and the WHATWG.
Microsoft’s first tasks in switching to Chromium will include porting work to ensure Chromium support for Arm64, adding Microsoft UI Automation (UIA) interfaces to improve accessibility on Chromium, improving desktop touch for modern Windows devices, and patterning with the Chromium security team.
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