Just a few days ago, Microsoft announced that it would switch its modern Edge browser from its custom EdgeHTML to Google’s Chromium open source rendering engine. Chromium is the same engine that runs Google Chrome, Opera, and Vivaldi browsers. Microsoft said at the time that the switch to Chromium would help the browser work better on all devices including smartphones and PCs. It could leverage the open-source Chromium to improve the Edge further.
Why did Microsoft switch the Edge browser to Chromium?
If a former intern at Microsoft is to be believed, Google might have deliberately tried to cripple the Edge browser to gain an advantage. Joshua Bakita, a former intern on Microsoft’s Edge team, said in a post on Hacker News that one of the reasons the Redmond giant was forced to switch to Chromium was that Google kept changing its websites and services frequently, making them difficult to run properly on other browsers.
Google’s actions made life difficult for the Edge team. Of course, the switch to Chromium would help the Edge browser offer better compatibility with websites and services, most of which are designed to be compatible with Google’s Chrome because it’s the most popular web browser in the world. “For example, they (Google) may start integrating technologies for which they have exclusive, or at least ‘special’ access,” said Bakita.
“One of the reasons we decided to end EdgeHTML was because Google kept making changes to its sites that broke other browsers, and we couldn’t keep up,” he added. Bakita went on to elaborate how Google added “a hidden empty div over YouTube videos” that caused the Edge browser’s hardware acceleration fast-path to fail. As a result, the Edge browser started consuming more energy while playing videos.
Before Google added that code to YouTube, the Edge browser was far more energy efficient than Google Chrome while playing videos. Suspiciously, Bakita says Google started advertising Chrome’s dominance over Edge on video-watching battery life “almost the instant they broke things on YouTube.” Chrome gained the upper hand here “not due to ingenious optimization” but due to the failure of YouTube.
To make things worse, when Microsoft reached out to YouTube and requested them to remove the hidden empty div, YouTube declined the request without any explanation. Bakita says “this is only one case,” suggesting such things have happened more than once. The former intern isn’t fully convinced that Google intentionally changed the YouTube code to cripple the Edge browser, but many of his co-workers were “quite convinced – and they’re the ones who looked into it personally.”
Bakita doesn’t directly accuse Google of playing dirty, though. The changes made to YouTube code might have unintentionally affected Edge. Software companies constantly change their code to improve their offerings. But such things have happened more than once with the Edge browser, which raises serious suspicions.
Google to become even stronger
Microsoft’s decision to switch to Chromium will give Google more power over the web. It will also allow Microsoft to separate the Edge browser from Windows 10, meaning it could be updated more frequently to improve the user experience. It would also improve Edge’s compatibility with websites, ensuring a smooth user experience.
The Redmond-based software giant introduced the Edge browser three years ago to replace the Internet Explorer, which had lost significant ground to Google Chrome. Chrome is the default browser on over a billion Android devices and on most Windows PCs. According to StatCounter, Chrome has 62% market share by usage. Though Edge is far superior to Internet Explorer, it hasn’t tasted much success.
Once Edge switched to Chromium, it will use Google’s Blink engine that runs the website programming instructions and presents web pages to users. It also means that now only a small number of browsers such as Apple’s Safari and Mozilla’s Firefox will remain independent. All other major browsers will rely on Google’s Chromium, giving it tighter control over the web standards. The search engine giant already has strong control over our online lives.
Separately, Google is working to prevent malicious websites from hijacking the back button in your Chrome browser. Users often end up on websites that prevent them from going back, most likely because they want to force feed ads. The recent changes in the Chromium code suggest the new version of the browser would analyze your browsing activity to skip or flag websites that you didn’t request.
Recently, Google began blocking malicious websites that used fake system alerts to trick users. However, it’s too early to say whether the ability to prevent websites from hijacking the back button will appear in the stable version of Chrome.