The Web Development world has been rocked by some unexpected news: Edge is switching to Chromium. As an Edge user this is a somewhat personal change for me. And let it be known, I’m totally comfortable with the possibility that I’m the only Edge user you know on the Internet. Statistically, there’s dozens of us.
In processing this news, I’ve discovered three different facets of myself that all have strong and sometimes conflicting opinions:
- Dave Rupert, Business Man
- Dave Rupert, exhausted Web Developer
- Dave Rupert, person who cares about the capital-W “Web”
I’ll address all of these points of view.
The Business Angle
Business Man me think this move by Edge makes total sense. Even though Edge has many talented engineers working very hard to bring Edge up to feature parity, Chrome has twice as many piling on more features that other browser vendors then struggle to implement. It’s a Sisyphean prison of trailing Chrome’s feature set so you don’t disappoint users and call down developer disdain.
This isn’t too different from a decision I’ve been pouring over about one of my own codebases. With any legacy software project you eventually hit a point where you’re faced with three choices:
- Do nothing, you die
- Patch upgrade it, still end up with a bad thing
- Burn it all down and start over
This is a major Kill Your Darlings moment for Edge and Microsoft, the kind we idolize at Design & Dev conferences. Don’t believe in the sunk cost fallacy, cut losses, and push forward. I can only imagine the emotional conversations that took place over this.
Why not Gecko or Webkit? This crossed my mind too, but again from a business standpoint it doesn’t make sense to wholesale your entire browser engine and still be behind. With Chromium, Edge is no longer the laggard in the pack. Those old memes and the stigma I think Web Developers still carry around about IE are wiped away.
The Web Developer Angle
Edge switching to Chromium is good for Web Developers on a variety of levels:
- Continuous upgrades, not pegged to OS cycle
- Less grey hairs from quirky engines, especially around PWAs
- Edge (or at least the browser part) is now open source
EdgeHTML was the only major browser engine that wasn’t Open Source. While Edge’s User Voice forum for voting on features was cool, it was also like throwing coins in a wishing well hoping your feature gets picked up for the next major release cycle. Switching to Chromium in that regard is good for the web and starts to make Safari’s brand of governance, that I’d call “Opaque Source”, the major outlier.
As a Web Developer, my life just got a whole lot easier. My brain instantly jumps to “Welp, one less browser to support”… and therein lies the problem.
The Defender of the Internet Angle
I think there is a danger of the “Web Platform” being Chrome’s version of the Web. If you’ve lived through browser monocultures before, you are probably keen to view this tectonic shift as a dark cloud on the horizon. Fatalists will say that Chrome’s majority position already determines the direction of Web Standards, which isn’t entirely wrong. What I’m concerned about is a profit-driven centralization of power, a Corporatocracy of Google, Microsoft, and Samsung now making decisions about the Web Platform inside a Google Code repo instead of inside a Working Group.
Is Edge going to be a check or a multiplier of Chrome’s influence on the Web?
Let’s say Chrome unilaterally wants to implement a really stupid feature that damages the Web like.. oh, I dunno, just picking one out of thin air.. Encrypted Media Extensions. Microsoft now has an opportunity to push back on bad ideas before they get implemented. Will they? …
History says, “No.” But in the past we had browser disparity as a mechanism for delaying bad ideas from becoming ubiquitous so they could be hashed out in a Web Standards body. Some of the best ideas we have today, like CSS Grid, were pioneered in one browser (IE10) and then polished in a Working Group. If V1 of
-ms-grid was now the de facto standard, we’d have some regrets.
In Mozilla’s statement on the EdgeHTML departure they twist the nails on Microsoft and Google. Even though the tone of this statement is punchy af, I think I agree with every word of it.
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.
If there’s one thing I know about developers, it’s that we love to ignore edge cases because edge cases make our jobs more difficult. Google itself regularly ships Chrome-only products and I’ve been told by Googlers that they’re directed to only care about Chrome. So I share Mozilla’s worry that non-Chromium browser engines will get denigrated to “edge case”. I mean, heck, I’m guilty of this because my site’s footer has been broken for a year because Firefox doesn’t support
<link rel="preload"> yet and my Care-O-Meter to fix it has been too low.
With responsive sites across infinite devices Web Developers have a lot of concerns. Browsers lingering at the ~1% usage cutoff mark get harder and harder to support. If I wasn’t a Edge on Windows user, our shop would be like most web shops that say we support Edge, but never actually check it.
One of the big reasons I switched to Edge was because I wanted to promote this idea of “Browser Diversity”. Developers who listen to Shop Talk would at least know one person who doesn’t use Chrome daily. I’m not sure where this news puts me. I like Edge. I think it’s by far the best browser on Windows 10. By miles. Not even kidding. So it’d be a tough pill to swallow and give up. In many ways, I just got a major upgrade that includes my preferred performance dev tooling.
The people I’ve met who work on Edge are very pro-Standards, pro-Accessibility, and work very hard on listening to users and developers. They’ve invited me out to Redmond on a couple occasions to attend round tables, prod about feature timelines, and let me air gripes. The Edge team was always listening earnestly. I can only hope that effort they put into making a good browser doesn’t get quashed when moving to the Chromium project.
Is Firefox in my future? Not sure. But if the idea of a Google-driven Web is of concern to you, then I’d encourage you to use Firefox. And don’t be a passive consumer; blog, tweet, and speak about its killer features. I’ll start: Firefox’s CSS Grid, Flexbox, and Variable Font tools are the best in the business. And Firefox Color is the best thing to happen to browser theming in a decade (my Firefox currently looks like Saved by the Bell). There’s a bigger world beyond Chromium, I encourage you to explore it.