David O'Reilly

Edge on Chromium is bad for the web

In a blog post at the beginning of the month, Microsoft announced their plans to scrap EdgeHTML, and focus on developing a more compatible web browser. TL;DR future iterations of Edge will be built on Chromium.

On the face of it, greater compatibility sounds like a win all round. Not all web browsers all built equal, each with their own individual behaviours, and the way in which web content is rendered is largely down to the underlying browser engine. If the same browser engine was used by all, users would get a consistent experience across multiple browsers, and web developers would have less frustrations implementing features across said multiple browsers. Furthermore, not all browsers share support for the same web technologies.

Let’s take the CSS property font-smooth as an example, used to control anti-aliasing in font rendering. Currently, the font-smooth property is only supported by four of the major browsers, and only on macOS. Even then, the property must be tailored to individual browsers with a vendor prefix. As much as we are able to override the anti-aliasing in Safari on a Mac, we’ve got no chance in Internet Explorer on a Windows PC, meaning our site or app will display differently on these two devices.

It’s these idiosyncrasies that cause web developers so many headaches, but they also allow the web to evolve and grow. Without competition, there’s a risk the web will stagnate, or move in a direction that’s not in the best interest of users.

Google already has the lion’s share of the browser market, with Chrome taking up over 60%. With such a large stake, the desire for developers to disregard all other browsers is strong. The dawn of the “only works in Chrome” web app is upon us, and with this, Google will continue to dominate the web.

Control of the flow and direction of fundamental web technologies affects us all, and the danger is that these web technologies are more likely to align with Google’s business model than their user’s needs. Diversity is essential to the health of the web. By relinquishing control to Google’s Chromium, Microsoft are giving up their right to decide the capabilities of their browser, and thus the future of the Internet.