I’ve been thinking a lot about Microsoft’s embrace of Chromium for Edge on desktops. There’s the joke “why do we need a Chromium-powered Edge? To better download Chrome?” but there’s also the reverse point “why even download Chrome if Edge is powered by Chromium?”
Yesterday’s news made me think again why I don’t spend more time using Edge, especially given that Microsoft really has done a decent job with it. And the reality is that first and foremost, I’m not able to give up my Chrome extensions.
Just like when Firefox was making headway against Internet Explorer, and users were falling in love with all its third-party add-ons, I think that for many people, their browser choice today really boils down to extension support. Almost all websites nowadays work fine in Edge, but if you rely on certain extensions, Edge simply isn’t an option.
(I’m not talking about users who don’t really know what a browser is, and that will keep clicking on the “blue e” that gets them to “the google.” That’s likely the primary reason Microsoft made sure Edge’s logo was similar to Internet Explorer’s, and also likely why this new Chromium-powered Edge is not getting a rebranding.)
Microsoft expects that it will be very easy for developers to bring their Chrome extensions to Edge. The details are still scarce, but most Chrome extensions should work. If the handful of Chrome extensions that I use are available on Edge, then certainly I will give Microsoft’s browser a proper try.
Extension support is also the main reason why, although I have Firefox installed, it’s not my main browser. This kills me given Mozilla’s reaction to Microsoft’s Chromium announcement.
Every so often, there is a big backlash against Chrome, largely because it is so dominant, and Google often does whatever the hell it wants (Chrome has 63.60 percent desktop browser market share, according to Net Applications). But the most recent faux pas was a particularly big headache, especially because Google still doesn’t understand the problem it created.
Chrome 69 tried to “simplify” how it handles Google site sign-ins by also signing you into Chrome with the same account. If you sign out, whether from Chrome or from any Google site, you’re signed out of both.
This led to a massive outcry from Chrome users, at least in part because there was concern that the change meant Chrome sync was turned on. While that wasn’t the case (you still had to turn on syncing of data like browsing history, passwords, and bookmarks to make it available on other devices), many still didn’t appreciate Google automatically signing them into Chrome just because they were signed into a Google site.
Chrome 70 added an option to turn off linking web-based sign-in with browser-based sign-in, tweaked the user interface a bit, and reverted to again deleting auth cookies that allow you to stay signed in after cookies are cleared. But Google didn’t fix the main issue: Chrome users should not have to opt out of automatic sign-in if they use Google sites, but instead opt in if they want the functionality.
Episodes like this, plus all the other things that Google does as a company whose parent company makes almost all its money from ads, give plenty of reason to use other browsers. If Chrome extension support works out, the next thing on my list is frequent updates.
In its Chromium Edge announcement, Microsoft promised to decouple Edge updates from Windows 10 updates, which arrive every six months. As I noted yesterday, that has always been a huge criticism of Edge: Six months is way too long for a browser to receive compatibility fixes, performance improvements, and new features. (Chrome and Firefox get updates every six weeks.)
So both of those things have to come true for me to give Edge a shot: Chrome extensions and frequent updates. Once I do, however, Microsoft will need a reason to get me to stay. Edge will have to offer interesting features, including privacy-focused enhancements, better integration with mobile devices, and of course performance gains.
Google is working on all those areas for Chrome, to varying extents. It’s not going to be easy for Edge to break out.
But with 4 percent market share, what does Microsoft have to lose?
ProBeat is a column in which Emil rants about whatever crosses him that week.