Rumors circulated this week that Microsoft will be replacing the coretechnology in its Edge browser for Windows 10 with Chromium, theopen source software from Google that is the core of the Chromebrowser.
Google’s Blink — the browser engine that is responsible forinterpreting website coding and displaying it on a user’s device — willbe basis of the new browser, codenamed “Anaheim,” according to online reports first published by Windows Central.
Microsoft Edge, developed by Microsoft as a replacement forInternet Explorer, is now on Windows 10, Windows 10 Mobile andXbox One devices. However, it does not run on older versions of the Windowsoperating system. It was designed as a lightweight Web browser thatfeatures a layout engine built around Web standards, as well as integration with Microsoft’s assistant tool Cortana, annotation tools, and even a reading mode.
Despite the upgrades, Edge hasn’t garnered much of an edge in thebrowser space, and it currently lags even Internet Explorer. One issuehas been that Edge runs only on Windows 10 devices and the XboxOne, although Windows 7 is still widely used.
Microsoft in essence split market share between its own browsers, while losing ground overall to Chrome, which now has 62 percent of the market.
A Unified Standard
One of the strongest pros for Microsoft moving to a Chromium-basedplatform is that it would mean that Web developers no longer would have to worryabout compatibility of sites across different browsers.
However, just as the Web community worried about a Microsoft monopoly when IE displaced Netscape, the same concerns could resurfaceover Google’s dominance over Web creation and browsing tools.
There is little actual money or profit from browsersthese days, which also highlights why Microsoft seemingly has let themarket go, even after fighting so hard to control it.
“The issue with browsers is that they don’t generate revenue directlyand thus are treated like cost centers — with resources cut overtime,” said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.
“That’s how Microsoft lost their dominance. Because IT didn’t generaterevenue support and development was cut to the bone, it stoppedadvancing. User satisfaction cratered, and first Firefox and thenGoogle stepped on them hard,” he told TechNewsWorld.
“Edge bifurcated their market. IE effectively became legacy, withcompatibility with IT apps but little else, and Edge was slated to moveagainst Google’s Chrome browser but with zero market share to start –and still free, so marketing funding was well below what was needed fora displacement effort,” Enderle added. “It also gave users a choicethat Chrome users didn’t have — IE or Edge — and people like simple.”
A Major Microsoft Misstep
The move away from IE now seems to be a major misstep for Microsoft,especially considering that Microsoft once faced antitrustinvestigations that stemmed from its browser being built into theWindows operating system.
“Microsoft’s mistake was in changing both the user experience (UX) andthe browser app extension APIs at the same time,” said Paul Teich,principal analyst at LiftrCloud, a DoubleHorn service.
“Edge is arguably a better browser than IE,” he TechNewsWorld, “but when you’ve built upyears of consumer UX expectations and you’ve got a strong third-partyecosystem of apps, why change everything at once?”
Yet Microsoft was in a tough spot when it came to IE, noted JoshCrandall, principal analyst at Netpop Research.
“It’s like that first car you want to hold onto as long as possible.It’s got a lot of great memories, but it’s not as fun to drive as yournew car,” he told TechNewsWorld. “So, it just sits in the driveway unless you need it as backup.”
As a result, Microsoft’s failure to secure its dominance allowed Chrometo surpass it, and that again was due simply to not investing inbrowser technology.
“Microsoft has an historic funding problem in that they fund to a levelthey want to spend, not a level that ensures success,” suggestedEnderle. “Microsoft, particularly Ballmer, felt that Microsoft couldeasily roll over Google, not realizing that the company had achievedcritical mass, and instead of defending a dominant position, Microsofthad become a challenger again. The ease that they rolled over Netscapealso likely led to a conclusion that resulted in underfunding.”
Not a Better Browser
Instead of investing in and improving its browser, Microsoft wentback to the drawing board and created Edge, and then limited its availability to its Windows 10 and Xbox One devices. Fragmentation of the market wasn’t the only negative consequence. To date, the transition from IE to Edge hasn’tbeen simple for Microsoft because the changes haven’t materially improves on the user experience.
Simply put, two browsers aren’t better than one.
“The logos may be similar, but the interfaces aren’t; userscomfortable with IE don’t find the switch to Edge intuitive, and changeis hard,” explained NetPop’s Crandall.
“When users and partners both have to change what they are doing, theylook for better options. Moving from IE to Edge meant they consideredmoving to Chrome, Firefox, etc., as well,” suggested LiftrCloud’s Teich.
“It really hurt Edge in that Microsoft-only browser apps have prettymuch disappeared as app vendors diversified their browser platformsupport,” he added.
“Use of Chrome had already caught on, and Google built considerablemomentum even before Edge was released,” said Crandall.
Beyond the Browser
One factor that has been significant for Microsoft is thatbrowsers ultimately aren’t a revenue stream — they’re just a gateway to thatstream. Hence, for Google the browser has become far more important, butfor Microsoft, which has pivoted in a different direction, thebrowser has become even less crucial for its business.
“Microsoft’s adoption of Chrome as its browser standard is one morestep on the road to being an online service provider rather than asoftware company,” observed Stephen Blum, principal analyst at Tellus Venture Associates.
“It’s leaning into its user base. By adopting Chrome as a standardfor its own software, it can concentrate on building platforms thatmaximize the user experience and the functionality of its services,”he told TechNewsWorld.
“The move is a logical follow-on to Microsoft’s decision to drop theWindows mobile operating system in favor of Android. If you can’t leadyour customers, you need to follow them,” added Blum.
With Microsoft utilizing Google’s Chromium technology, it means that Microsoft and Google could work more closely together in the space rather than being adversarial.In the end, it could be a win-win and the basis for future partnerships.
“Microsoft has something to offer Google Cloud — enterprise-classsales, consulting, integration and support,” said Teich.
“If Google Cloud really wants to catch up to AWS, they may have topartner with the No. 2 public cloud vendor, which is MicrosoftAzure,” he pointed out.
With Thomas Kurian now at the helm of Google Cloud, how this plays outwill be worth watching, but “a partnership between Google Cloud andAzure will benefit both companies,” said Teich.
“But first steps first,” he cautioned. “If true, Microsoft moving from IE to Chromium will be a test run for both companies to get a little closer to each other.”
What About Bing?
One other significant aspect of this move is where it mightleave Bing, Microsoft’s search engine rival to Google’score search business. It was just six years ago that Microsoft compared Google Shopping to Ebenezer Scrooge in a “Don’t Get Scroogled” campaign.
However, six years can feel like an eternity in the tech world — andmore importantly, these companies are very compartmentalized, so theycan be partners in one segment and fierce rivals in another. Anotherconsideration is that Bing isn’t a serious threat to Google, and it’s not asignificant piece of the Microsoft ecosystem either.
“Bing as a search engine is probably more of a niche market productgoing forward,” noted Teich, “as is Bing Maps, which has better prospects. Partnerships and ecosystem development need attention here.”
However, Microsoft could be unwise to cast Bing aside.
“Bing was a Ballmer effort, and he doesn’t run the company anymore — butit is profitable, which makes it unlikely the firm will kill it,” said Enderle.
“The browser is an important tool for computer use today, but evenmore meaningful are the applications that consumers access,” Netpop Research’s Crandall pointed out. “Microsoft needs to focus on Bing, as wellas their other properties, to provide value for their users andaffinity in return.”