More than a year after Microsoft waved the white flag, saying it would scrap Edge’s rendering engine and replace it with Blink, the engine that powers Google’s Chrome, the company has now delivered its reborn browser to the public.
But the result? That’s still up for grabs. Although there was little downside to the radical shift to Chromium – Internet Explorer had long been on legacy life support and Edge was at a near-death 4% user share – it’s vastly unclear whether the switch to Chromium will save Microsoft’s browser bacon.
(It may be just as unclear a year from now, for even though Edge now boasts a share of nearly 7%, much of that growth stemmed from Windows 10’s gains, not the browser’s. We’ll be keeping tabs on Edge’s share over the coming year.)
Microsoft is hoping to snap up some new users by getting those now running Chrome on Windows to reconsider. We’ll see how that works out. But now that Edge has gone live, it’s time to answer important questions about the world’s newest browser remodel.
Why did Microsoft replace its own technologies in Edge with Chromium?
Microsoft’s sticking to its original answer. “A little over a year ago, we announced our intention to rebuild Microsoft Edge on the Chromium open source project with the goals of delivering better compatibility for everyone, less fragmentation for web developers, and a partnership with the Chromium community to improve the Chromium engine itself,” Joe Belfiore, the top Windows executive, wrote in a Jan. 15 post to a company blog.
More than a year ago, when Belfiore announced the revamp, he cited the same three altruistic motivations.
Although there’s no evidence that Microsoft wasn’t sincere, Belfiore’s trio certainly weren’t the only reasons. It’s just as likely that Edge’s dismal adoption rate – used on just 10% of all Windows 10 PCs when he declared the decision, 12% in December 2019 – and Chrome’s overwhelming lead (67% of all personal computer-based browsing last month) were why Edge went Chromium. Other justifications may have included an expected decrease in Microsoft’s engineering head count, increased revenue from Bing if Edge’s share expands (Belfiore mentioned Bing on Wednesday) and a faster release cycle than the company could produce on its own.
How do I get the Chromium Edge?
If you want Edge immediately, you’ll need to download it manually from this site. Versions for Windows 7, 8/8.1 and 10 are available, as is Edge for macOS.
Users of PCs powered by Windows 10 Home or Windows 10 Pro that are not managed by an IT staff will be automatically upgraded to the new Edge via Windows Update. Such upgrades will not begin immediately – Microsoft said “in the coming weeks” – and will be distributed in stages, as is Microsoft’s habit, rather than all at once. (The practice lets Microsoft turn off the spigot if the upgrade goes sideways on, say, some systems, before afflicting the entire Windows 10 user base.)
It’s probable that others – workers whose PCs are handled by IT, for example – will be blocked from manually upgrading by group policies deployed to their machines.
What happens to the old Edge when the new ‘full-Chromium’ version is installed? What happens to Internet Explorer (IE)?
The old Edge is scrubbed from the PC. “When you install Microsoft Edge on an up-to-date Windows 10 device, it will replace the previous (legacy) version on your device,” wrote Kyle Pflug, a senior program manager on the Edge developer experience team, in a separate blog post.
Before the old Edge is deleted, its bookmarks, passwords and some settings are automatically migrated to the new Edge.
As for IE, it’s staying put.
Is Chromium Edge a straight-out clone of Chrome?
No. But put them side by side and it’s tough to tell them apart.
Although the look-and-feel, the user interface (UI) and user experience (UX), of Chrome and Edge may seem alike at first glance (or second or third for that matter), Microsoft has already staked out differences under the hood. Edge, for instance, already sports some anti-tracking defenses; only recently did Google say it is on a two-year plan to equip Chrome with something similar.
What about Windows 7? Does Chromium-Edge run on that? Or Mac? How about macOS?
Yes, Edge now runs on Windows 7. And macOS. Also, Windows 8 and Windows 8.1, for the three or four of you out there still on that debacle of an OS.
Because there was no earlier Edge on those platforms, there’s nothing to remove when the new one lands. Microsoft has said nothing about automatically adding Edge to Windows 8/8.1, the only operating systems which connect to Windows Update. (Windows 7 exited support Tuesday, Jan. 14.) Anyone who wants Edge on a personal computer running anything, but Windows 10 will thus need to grab the browser themselves.
Can Edge run add-ons available for Chrome?
Edge has its own add-on market, reached by selecting Extensions from the menu at the right of the address bar (the three horizontal dots), but it can also install those at the Chrome Web Store. There, the process is identical to that with Chrome itself, although users will have to one-time-approve that Edge may install extensions from other – read non-Microsoft – outlets.
Isn’t Windows 7 retired? Will Microsoft really support Edge on that out-to-pasture OS?
Yes, but for how long we don’t know. “We’re going to continue to support Windows 7 users with the new Microsoft Edge,” a Microsoft spokesperson said in an email reply to when the company would half that support.
Chrome has already promised to keep patching Chrome on Windows 7 until at least July 15, 2021. Microsoft would be foolish to do the same before Google, so consider that date as the earliest it would drop support.
Another possible termination date would be Jan. 10, 2023, the end of Microsoft’s Extended Security Updates (ESU) support for Windows 7. Since businesses pay for ESU, Microsoft will patch Edge on the machines covered by the deal. And since it has to craft the fixes for ESU customers in any case, it could just as well share them with everyone running the browser on Windows 7.
How often will Microsoft upgrade full-Chromium Edge?
About eight times a year. Or once every six to eight weeks, depending on, not Microsoft, but Chromium.
Edge, like Chrome, will refresh on or near Chromium’s schedule. Developers working the Chromium project branch the code – lock down the changes by saving the build as a separate instance for the testing, bug fixing and polishing that leads to a stable release – on this schedule for the first half of 2020. In turn, that leads to Chrome releases on dates up to 10 weeks later.
Chromium 80 Branch: Dec. 5, 2019 Release, Chrome 80: Feb. 4, 2020
Chromium 81 Branch: Jan. 30 Release, Chrome 81: March 17
Chromium 82 Branch: March 12 Release, Chrome 82: April 28
Chromium 83 Branch: April 23 Release, Chrome 83: June 9
Microsoft hasn’t committed to copying Chrome’s release calendar – Edge 79, which debuted this week, arrived five weeks after Chrome 79, for example – but it most likely will come close. Computerworld expects Edge to quickly narrow the gap and before the year’s half over, deliver Edge on the same day as Chrome.
How will Chromium Edge be updated?
Through the usual Windows channels, which for consumers and small businesses means Windows Update. Larger organizations will be offered Edge updates via Windows Server Update Services (WSUS) and can also dole them out using Configuration Manager or Intune. (On macOS, IT must create plist files, which can be distributed through Intune or Jamf, the latter the de facto management platform for Macs in business or education.)
Because Microsoft has not yet clarified Edge’s release schedule – most importantly, whether it will mimic Chrome’s calendar – it’s unclear whether Microsoft will hold Edge updates until the next available Patch Tuesday or simply issue them on its own timetable.
Relying on Patch Tuesday would insert yet another update into Microsoft’s crowded schedule; Windows 10 has as many as four each month already. On the other hand, loosing updates on just any day runs counter to customer expectations that refreshes come at designated moments during the month.
Can we pilot Edge using a preview – like the Beta or Dev builds – on systems which have the stable Edge already on them?
Like Chrome, Edge comes in four builds, in increasing order of stability and polish: Canary, Dev, Beta and Stable. One or more of the first three can be installed on personal computers already hosting Stable.
Microsoft even cast the multiple builds as a way around problems users encounter. “You can mitigate the risk of testing for users who have opted to install a pre-release channel,” a support document stated. “For example, if you have a user who’s using the Beta Channel, and there’s a problem, they can switch to the Stable Channel and continue working.”
The Stable and Beta builds are refreshed approximately every six weeks (meaning that as Edge 79 went live in Stable, Beta was promoted to version 80); Dev and Canary are updated weekly and daily, respectively (both of them are on version 81).
Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.