Owen Williams is a freelance writer and a developer who thinks of new ways to get the news. He created Charged (https: //char.gd ) an independent technology newsletter and a blog that helps people keep up with the news that matter.
After over 20 years of striving for relevance on the web, Microsoft intends to eliminate the underlying architecture of its Internet browser in favor of Chromium.
Only this is monumental and the Internet has responded with exultation and exultation as one would expect: the heritage of Internet Explorer is finally dead!
But, we've just learned the full picture, with Microsoft announcing the move to GitHub on Thursday, and it's even bigger than we could have imagined. Edge will not only use Chromium as a rendering engine, but Microsoft is actively investing in the development of the open source engine to optimize it for every device it touches.
A rendering engine is the software that the browser uses to display Web pages. Different rendering engines have different aspects and characteristics, maintained by their parent companies, with the largest in use today owned by Mozilla, Google, Microsoft and Apple.
Here is some of the company's long and detailed post on why it is making this change:
"We will develop the architecture of Microsoft Edge apps, enabling deployment to all supported versions of Windows, including Windows 7 and Windows 8, as well as Windows 10. We will also bring Microsoft Edge to other desktop platforms, such as macOS. 39. Web experience for end users (better compatibility) and developers (less fragmentation) requires a coherent web platform as widely available as possible.To do so, we will use Chromium's cross-platform app technology together with a change in our model of distribution, so that the experience and the Microsoft Edge web platform become available on all supported operating systems. "
Yes, it's true: not only will Microsoft switch to Chromium as a rendering engine, it will start sending Edge on all the supported desktop devices on the planet, is will start to develop it in the web platform inside Windows.
This is huge industry news at all levels, and is ready to push the web to a first class experience on par with the development of native applications, as well as making it a much better experience for a wide range of users of the Internet that may not have the power over which browser they are using.
The web has already swallowed the development of native applications, but is about to improve a lot. Here are some reasons why this news is exciting and will open the next chapter for the web:
Web browsers as first-class citizens
One of the biggest problems today is that despite the popularity of Chromium, it is not very good for resources: it drains the battery, the system resources of pigs and generally does not play well. This is largely due to the fact that Google and Chromium do not have their own operating system (outside of ChromeOS) and do not get exclusive access to the low-level system APIs that Safari and Edge have enjoyed.
Since Microsoft and Apple have historically had their first-party browsers, Chromium has always been destined to be worse: the project simply does not have the platform resources that these giants had, and was always building a level further than the official browser of each platform.
This move changes everything about that equation. Microsoft can fire Chromium on Windows is the Edge browser in the middle, which means that you can incorporate a first-class experience into any app with a native Windows-Chromium view, is he's bringing it up Mac OS:
"Outside the Microsoft Edge browser, users of other browsers on Windows PCs sometimes have to cope with inconsistent sets of features and battery performance / life on all types of devices.Some browsers have progressed slower to embrace new Windows like the touch and ARM processors.As you know, we recently started making contributions that provide this type of hardware support to Chromium-based browsers and we believe this approach can be generalized. "
Microsoft, in essence, declares that it will offer a high-end browser experience, regardless of the platform for which it is being developed, with the same engine on every device. Not only does it intend to optimize Windows for Chromium, but it will also share it, bringing it to ARM-based devices such as the iPhone is ensuring that it is resource efficient at the absolute level: the level of the operating system.
But what really matters is what comes from all this work: the absolute best way to create multiplatform apps, on a scale that we've never seen before.
The web as a desktop platform
If you are a company of any size and are looking to create an application for desktop or laptop users, frankly, the best choice today is Electron. IS no coincidence that Microsoft acquired GitHub, which happens with a small project called Electron as part of this acquisition.
Many apps appreciate Electron under the hood, including Slack, Visual Studio Code, WhatsApp desktop and many others, largely because it is so easy to target multiple types of systems with a single common language.
Today, however, Electron has a considerable disadvantage: it is based on the Chromium browser, which means it is bundled with an entire instance for each application that uses it on the machine. For example, if you open Slack and Chrome, you generate two isolated instances of Chromium, both of which consume resources to do more or less the same thing.
With this step, it's easy to imagine a single shared thread for Chromium on Windows, which can be accessed from any Electron-based instance. This change would allow Electron's apps to be more efficient, stable and more friendly on system resources (especially memory and battery).
Not only that, but because Microsoft provides technical resources a every The Chromium-based browser, Electron-based apps will acquire an easy-to-use killer experience at startup, setting the stage for convertible devices to truly replace laptops.
If Electron was already overwhelmingly the platform of choice despite its enormous constraints, this will open a new wave of web-based apps on the desktop. Why should you build in any other language at this point, if you can write once and run anywhere?
Web technology is ready for this
Microsoft has made many attempts over the years to create frameworks to be used by developers who have failed miserably. There were Silverlight, XAML, WPF, Metro, anything else you could think of, but to a large extent every technology struggled to attract developers on a scale that mattered.
Recently, however, Microsoft went all-in on progressive web apps as a next platform. PWAs have been one of the most exciting developments on the web for years, allowing web applications to access many native features without the need for a wrapper like Electron. They work offline, can send notifications, cache data and so on, and many app developers, like Twitter, has built interesting first-class PWA experiences that also work on Windows.
The final move of all this is that Microsoft shows how busy it is on the Web as a platform for the future of the app. He wanted developers to build PWA for the Microsoft Store, but now he is putting the weight of his resources behind those home applications on the operating system, spending huge amounts of resources to make them a great experience regardless of whether you're using one in Chrome or an Electron wrapper.
Not only is this the most constructive result of all this, it is the key to opening the desktop environment to the next generation of web-enabled tools. Writing a & # 39; application for custom targeting on all devices is about to disappear, and Microsoft wants to be its bet for the future.
The differences in strategy here are very different from that of Apple, which has largely ignored any feature of the open web that could threaten its own domain. There are no web-based notifications in Safari on iOS, nor the ability to perform tasks or caching in the background, and so on. Marzipan, Apple's next-generation cross-platform app development framework, essentially has iOS apps backed to work on Mac-based hardware.
Microsoft is throwing all the nonsense of a platform out of the window, saying it only wants to provide developers with an effective and consistent way to create apps that work anywhere, written once. It seems good, and this changes the game after years of quarrels on which the native platform was better to write.
Apparently, it was the network all the time. I think in the long run, this is the right horse to bet on, especially because web tools continue to improve so quickly despite its age.
This is only the beginning
We are still in the early days, and Microsoft's plans are not yet fully prepared, but I am thrilled that we are turning into a new gear in which web-based technology is treated as a first-class citizen by operating system manufacturers .
To be clear, there we are the disadvantages of this change: the web as a platform is shrinking in a duopoly of rendering engines, with only Chromium, Webkit (which is a variant Chromium) and Gecko, which powers Firefox, left standing. Less choice hurts us all, as the CEO of Mozilla pointed out in a post on the news that he did not use half terms:
"Google is so close to almost complete control of the infrastructure of our online lives that it may not be profitable to continue fighting this. […] From a social, civic and individual perspective of empowerment, giving up the control of the fundamental online infrastructure to a single company is terrible. "
What is surprising is that it seems that this is the right thing to do, even with Microsoft's long history in web browsers. It has not been long since Microsoft had been punished with the antitrust law for forcing Internet Explorer on users, but today's Microsoft has repeatedly demonstrated a new leaf.
It's true that fewer choices are bad and can also hurt alternative browsers like Firefox, but it's hard to justify that Microsoft continues along the path of creating a dedicated browser that nobody really wanted to use.
This time it's different because Chromium is an open source project, with many contributors already, so Microsoft who launched its weight behind the standard could actually encourage better project collaboration rather than leaving it alone with Google.
If you can not beat them, join them and it seems like Microsoft is betting on the web for the long run.