Microsoft announced in December that they were rebuilding their proprietary browser Edge using the Chromium open source project. The basis for this is for Microsoft to contribute to more open source projects and make the web surfing experience better for a large audience.

The impact for the majority of us is fairly simple: when a website loads it should look much more like it does in Google Chrome because it will be using the same browser or rendering engine.

If you don’t know what a browser engine is, read on.

A Primer on Web Browsers and Their Engines

If you are like the grand majority of the population or at least not a developer, you probably haven’t given much thought to how browsers actually run.

Each web browser, whether it be Chrome, Safari, Edge, Internet Explorer, Firefox or Opera, all run on what’s called a browser engine, a part of the web browser that is responsible for transforming HTML code into the website layout you see on the screen.  This is separate to the JavaScript engine which works in combination with the browser engine to render the page.

The main browser engines and their associated browsers are listed below:

  1. Blink – Google Chrome (a forked version of Webkit)
  2. Webkit – Apple Safari
  3. Gecko – Mozilla Firefox
  4. Trident (discontinued) – Microsoft Internet Explorer
  5. EdgeHTML (discontinued) and now Blink – Microsoft Internet Explorer

The browser engines are what are primarily responsible for why a website looks different in different browsers. For developers, when working with new CSS style rules that do not enjoy full browser support, we add vendor prefixes to ensure that they will operate in a given browser.

Microsoft’s Troubled History with Browsers

Microsoft dominated browser market share in the early 2000’s with its infamous Internet Explorer. Although it was dominant, it did not mean it was user friendly. With the rise of Mozilla’s Firefox and then Google Chrome, it was quickly unseated with Chrome’s popularity skyrocketing.

Microsoft Edge replaced the struggling Internet Explorer as the default browser in Windows 10 in 2015. It marked a huge improvement over its predecessor, but the EdgeHTML engine did not fully hit the mark again leading to frustration in the development world.

What Does the Switch Mean for Users?

In practice the switch to using Chromium as its base should mean that websites render more consistently between Chrome and Edge as they are now on the same engine. For Windows users who use Edge regularly this will be a welcome change.

There are other consequences though to Edge switching to Chromium. The most concerning development is that it leaves the internet essentially smaller than it was before with less choice for users.

For developers, it could lead to a dependency on Google Chrome at the expense of users of Safari or Firefox. If Chrome (and its engine) holds a monopoly on users, developers will be much more inclined to only test their products on Chrome and not account for other browsers leading to poorer user experiences (see Mozilla’s opinions on this matter).

We’ll have to wait to see how the new and improved Edge running on Chromium before passing any further judgement. The question is though, should we be mourning the loss of a more open browser landscape? We probably would if Mozilla made the same change, but given Microsoft’s history with browsers, we probably won’t lose any sleep over it.

In the meantime though, we urge you to use the browser that best works for you and with the majority of the websites. At The Artlab we support all major browsers so users of our websites don’t feel disenfranchised or forced into using a particular browser.