Google's Chromium-based Edge: We're in the second decade of the 21 century, and it seems impossible to imagine that the Microsoft browser was once in its infancy World Wide Web. The journey from total sovereignty to balance and decline has been slow but also steady and with a bunch of errors, facilitating attacks, and causing problems for competition regulators on two continents.
If history can teach us, Microsoft's chances of success are few.
Let's remember the story:
1995: Microsoft releases it Internet Explorer with the first OEM release of Windows 95, promoting the browser to hundreds of millions of computers within a few years. This version is followed by versions of Internet Explorer for Mac and Linux.
2001: Following a court ruling on antitrust laws in the United States, Microsoft releases Internet Explorer 6 and essentially stops developing the browser for all platforms other than Windows.
2004: Mozilla Firefox emerges from the ashes of Netscape and is beginning to gain market share from the increasingly insecure Internet Explorer.
2006: After a series of painful security issues, Microsoft launches Internet Explorer 7, which launches tabbed browsing. However, it does not manage to prevent the loss of market share.
2008: Google releases it Chrome. The new browser in a few minutes surpasses Firefox as the most popular alternative to Internet Explorer and less than a decade later manages to be the undisputed new browser champion on multiple platforms.
2012: With the release of Windows 8, Microsoft is literally betting on Modern Internet Explorer. The operating system stops developing within two years.
2015: With Windows 10, Microsoft is launching a completely new browser, Microsoft Edge, based on a new EdgeHTM processor. Wow!
2019: Microsoft announces it will stop developing EdgeHTML and use Google's Chromium as engine for the next Edge release.
This is the third reboot to build a reliable Microsoft browser in less than a decade. Normally, we could say it's a sign that doesn't inspire too much confidence.
But maybe this time it will be different.
A browser for all platforms (Windows, Linux, Mac) will be able to solve Microsoft's biggest problem, which is that users who do not use Windows 10 do not currently have the ability to run a modern browser from Microsoft. This of course affects the developer community, which develops plugins and addons for browsers running on all systems.
The results for using browsers are terrible. According to the latest statistics from the US Government's Digital Search Program (U.S. Government’s Digital Analytics Program), less than 16% of the traffic on Windows 10 computers comes via Microsoft Edge while Internet Explorer has an even greater share of usage.
This was significantly reduced from the 20% that Edge had in Windows 10 to 2017. Meanwhile, Chrome's share of use of Windows 10 is over 60%.
However, allowing computer users to switch browsers and giving them reasons to do so are two different things. And the obstacles to adoption seem to be many and significant.
By retaining the Microsoft Edge trademark instead of completely changing the browser name, Microsoft may have pulled the carpet under its feet. Busy users will have to understand the difference between the old and the new Edge and this is not easy, especially when the alternative is very easy and completely recognizable: You just use Chrome.
Similarly, developers have every right to be skeptical that things will be different this time. Older people who remember how difficult coding for Internet Explorer compatibility was would probably want to avoid a similar mess. Those who haven't been enthusiastic about some of Microsoft's previous two attempts will undoubtedly look a bit sideways at Redmond.
What can really help Microsoft are the practices Google uses to promote its advertising and privacy policies. In theory, Microsoft could offer a browser that is almost a perfect strand of Chrome without violating (so much) privacy.
But remember that Microsoft tried it once with the utterly unsuccessful ad campaign "Don't Get Scroogled."
Maybe this time it will be different. Maybe Google may not react, maybe it will fall asleep… Or maybe there are too many eager consumers ready to help Microsoft achieve its goals.
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