Dave Goes to the Microsoft Edge Web Summit 2017

September 23, 2017

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the Microsoft Edge Web Summit. This was the 3rd Edge Web Summit continuing the new tradition of Microsoft being A LOT more open and transparent about their browser’s development.

The Summit itself was very rewarding from a people perspective. I found myself surrounded by my Twitter feed and was able to finally meet and chat in-person with quite a few people I admire from their talks, writing, and open source contributions. Microsoft really is acquiring lots of great talent right now.

As an Edge user, it was a pleasure to meet with and talk to the Edge developers. They heard my feedback and niche gripes, but my primary interest over the whole event was getting a sense of where Edge is going and what Edge developers think needs to be focused on and improved.

Six Must-See Talks from the Edge Web Summit

All the talks from the Summit were great and informative but I wanted to highlight ~6 of the 14 talks I think are generally appealing and worth watching. I broke them up into two categories: How browsers work & New features and APIs.

1. How browsers work

I think most of us take for granted the hard work that goes into building a browser. These talks really illuminate the effort required to update Edge (and other browsers are doing similar things) while the software is being used by millions of people.

“Decisions, Decisions, Decisions: How we plan at Microsoft Edge” by Greg Whitworth

This was one of the last talks but I think it does a great job framing how features we developers crave get shipped in a browser. Every piece of software is a system of compromises. Limited time and resources means the Edge team must prioritize which features are most important. Greg Whitworth did a great job explaining how Edge uses feedback from UserVoice to inform their product decisions.

“Building a safer browser: Four guards to keep users safe” by Nathan Starr

I’ve never heard a talk like this before. Nathan Starr explained in terms I could understand the mechanisms that Edge uses to secure the browser against Remote Code Execution. He walked through the “Four Guards” Edge has employed to cut off the three most common attack vectors.

“What’s new and beyond for the Microsoft Edge DevTools” by Jacob Rossi

Jacob Rossi opens his talk with a bit of honesty; Edge’s F12 Developer Tools are a bit behind. A lot of it is carryover code from the IE days and Edge has begun the process of untangling the legacy code and making it all faster.

2. New Features and APIs

Based on my Twitter mentions, a lot of people still feel the Web is being held back by Edge. I understand the sentiment, but I also like to hear why people think that. Usually it’s some pet feature is missing. Edge is working hard to close the gap. And what I like about these talks is that they aren’t Chrome-only things or Apple-only things, throughout the conference it felt like Edge was talking about “Web Things”.

“CSS Grid: Bringing true two-dimensional layout to the web” by Melanie Richards

This was a fantastic talk. I’ve heard more than a few CSS Grid talks, I use Grid daily, and I still learned a lot. It’s maybe the best “How-to CSS Grid” talk I’ve ever heard and Melanie Richards knows what she’s talking about because she helped build the exemplary summit.microsoftedge.com site.

“Pay the Web Forward: Making payments simpler on the Modern Web” by Molly Dalton

Molly Dalton opened her talk illustrating how web payment capture forms have basically been the same ~14.5 inputs for the last 20 years. It’s time to modernize this. The talk contains a nice walkthru examples showing how the Payment API can revamp the checkout flow.

“Mixed Reality in Microsoft Edge with WebVR” with Nell Waliczek and Lewis Weaver

WebVR probably isn’t on everyone’s radar, but Nell Waliczek and Lewis Weaver’s talk showed how the Promise-based WebVR API works. Microsoft and its OEM partners have some intriguing “Mixed Reality” devices on the horizon. I get excited about WebVR (over all the other VRs) and I’ve built some WebVR experiences with Aframe. I’d love to get my hands on one of these headsets and controllers.

A Summit Summary

The common thread between all of my conversations with Edge developers was that the decision to break away from IE was a great one. Edge is being rebuilt from the ground up; a new layout system, a new networking system, a new DOM tree parser, a new JS engine, and more. Are all coming together to unblock the main UI thread resulting in a better, faster, and more secure browser. You really get a sense that forking Internet Explorer was the best thing to happen for Edge and its users. A risky, monumental re-platforming project that has paid off.

I’m also very encouraged by Microsoft’s support of Progressive Web Apps. Service Workers will be turned on by default in Edge 1617 (behind a flag in 16). Microsoft has plans to scour the web and ingest PWAs into its Windows Store. Microsoft has created tools like ManifestStation and PWA Builder which give you a jump start on you Manifest and your Service Worker. You can even get an .appx bundle (a “Hosted Web App”) that you can deploy to the Windows Store right now if you want.

Edge and Windows embracing PWAs is part of the reason I stuck with Windows and I’m excited to see how PWAs on Windows plays out in the near near future.