The development team behind Microsoft’s Edge browser has now reached out in a public letter of intent addressed to the wider Chromium community to outline its plans to help make Edge better by improving the code underlying Chromium-based browsers. Initially, the team plans to focus efforts on ARM-64 development, security, accessibility features, and ‘PC-hardware evolution’. The former of those is well underway and is porting work over to bring Chromium support to ARM-64 environments such as those found on the Samsung Galaxy Book 2 or Lenovo’s Yoga C630. For accessibility, the company wants to add Microsoft UI Automation interfaced directly to the Chromium codebase in order to support Windows assistive implementations like Narrator and bring integration with Windows Ease of Access settings. That will allow Chromium browsers on Windows to access and use high contrast or caption settings, as well as keyboard-based browsing from the Windows environment and settings directly.
The team also hopes to help improve touchscreen interactions such as gesture recognition and smooth UI movements on new Windows devices with help from the Chromium source code. Finally, Microsoft hopes to share security expertise with the Chromium Security team in order to improve security in Chrome on Windows. The company’s interest in the matter is said to be centered around improving capabilities and compatibility for end users and to help extend a degree consistency across all of the browsers that work on Windows. In part, the consistency has suffered because of a disconnect in standards and slow adaptability tied to Windows OS patches and updates. Improving conditions for developers and IT managers ties directly back into that since generating better cross-platform and cross-device compatibility will make managing projects easier — as well as reducing the complexity of testing during development. In any case, the team plans to be involved for the long term and expects to become experts in Chromium development within short order. To accomplish that, the team will be reaching out to project managers across the wider community to see where it’s help can be put to the best use.
Background: Microsoft has been dabbling in Chromium since at least October when its work on the above-mentioned ARM-64 compatibility began. As outlined in reports on the matter and the new letter from Microsoft devs themselves, that work is geared toward enabling compatibility between Windows environments on the architecture and both Chrome and other Chromium-based browsers. The team describes the effort as an ‘example’ of an investment made to improve the web experience across a broader array of browsers on those types of PCs. It also says that the work will improve both battery life and performance. The latter of those may be more important since quite a few third-party and first-party apps have been running much more slowly than they should on the Microsoft’s Windows 10 on ARM program platform. Once the work on the project is complete, browsers will be able to ship that support the platform natively.
The note also confirms that Microsoft currently plans to adopt Chromium for the Microsoft Edge desktop platform, which it has already done for its mobile browser. An internal project at Microsoft had been rumored under the codename “Anaheim” over the past several weeks but this may be the first official confirmation from the company. Prior reports had suggested that developers would simply be moving from the EdgeHTML rendering engine to Chromium’s Blink Engine. That hasn’t been clarified yet but Microsoft’s stated goal is to ensure that its browser adheres to web standards and conforms to other Chromium-based browsers. The company hopes that move will help improve compatibility and easier testing for the wider web developer community.
Impact: Microsoft’s focus here appears to be well grounded in the fact that in spite of its best efforts, Edge has consistently fallen behind in terms of both keeping up with the latest standards and the wider needs of end users. The company also seems acutely aware of the problems associated with shipping its browser alongside Windows updates instead of investing more completely in a web exploration tool that stands on its own. In fact, as noted in its own letter, fragmentation and compatibility gaps have largely been due to its release of updates on the same schedule as the OS. By working with the open-source community on Chromium, that problem and others should be relatively straightforward to solve. Moreover, it will help the company push Edge outside of the Windows 10 environment, with plans to launch as far back as Windows 7 and onto macOS systems. The new Edge browser will be able to maintain most of its user-facing features but will become more widely available and easier to keep updated. At the same time, the engineers at the company will be helping Chromium and web development move forward.