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What developers should know about Windows’s shift to Chromium

Microsoft’s seismic shift from its own browser engine to Google’s Chromium for Windows’s Microsoft Edge browser is one of the biggest changes to the Windows platform in a long time. Windows has had its own HTML rendering engine since the launch of the first Internet Explorer, back in 1995.

That’s more than 23 years of first a variant of the Spry engine, then Microsoft’s own Trident, and finally, with the launch of Windows 10, EdgeHTML. Despite efforts to regain the browser dominance Internet Explorer once had, Now Microsoft has looked at its telemetry and seen that how web applications are being built means it needs to switch to using Google’s open source Chromium project and its Blink HTML and V8 JavaScript engines in the next major release of Windows’s Edge browser.

Bringing its browser to where the developers are makes sense for today’s more-pragmatic Microsoft. While that does mean one fewer browser rendering engine for developers to accommodate, and a tilt of the balance of the web in favor of Chromium, we’re not looking at a repeat of the IE6 monoculture. Microsoft has said that it’s going to be a big part of the Chromium open source community, and its developers have already been contributing to the ARM64 branch of the project. Microsoft will also bring some of its expertise to areas like touch and scrolling, where Chromium doesn’t perform as well as Edge.

Having a more diverse team working on Chromium makes stagnation less likely, and the diversity should encourage innovation as the open source project works to support more needs and takes on board more code.

Breaking the link between Edge and Windows

One of the reasons for Edge’s slow uptake was its relationship with Windows 10. Although it could be patched monthly as part of Windows 10’s cumulative updates, more complex changes had to wait for major Windows updates. So where Google could push out new Chrome builds whenever new features were developed, Microsoft could only update Edge twice a year. With many users in businesses locked into a two-year update cycles, they’d only get to see new features every two years or so.

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