New Chromium-based Edge browser
Microsoft Edge - Chromium Edge Browser 79

Microsoft rolled out the latest version of its Edge browser, Edge 79, on January 15, 2020. This update, codenamed ‘Project Anaheim’, is a landmark shift for Microsoft, from the EdgeHTML engine to the Chromium engine.

Switching to Chromium puts Microsoft Edge on par with Google Chrome in terms of functionality, so user adoption and market share are expected to increase. Users who switch to or update the Edge browser are going to expect seamless, bug-free experiences on every website they access. Web developers need to test their websites for compatibility on Chromium Edge —among other things.

BrowserStack has partnered with Microsoft to give you unlimited access to Edge for Live testing. If you want to run automated tests,you can leverage BrowserStack Automate to run all your Selenium test cases on the Edge browser—on multiple devices—at the same time.

So why has Microsoft decided to switch to Chromium?

Microsoft has stated multiple reasons for making the switch from EdgeHTML to Chromium:

  • Greater reach: Microsoft can now leverage Chromium’s cross-platform technology—and make Edge available to all supported versions of Windows and other desktop platforms like macOS.
  • Better alignment: This will help both Microsoft and Edge align better with web standards—and other Chromium-based browsers.
  • Fewer bugs: Due to Chrome’s immense popularity, some web developers simply chose not to validate websites on the EdgeHTML codebase. This created occasional compatibility issues for Edge users.
  • Faster releases: Because EdgeHTML shipped on the same schedule as the Windows operating system, Microsoft’s ability to update the Edge browser was slowed down. This, in turn, caused platform fragmentation and exposed compatibility gaps.
  • Increased OS contribution: By switching to the Chromium project, Microsoft can contribute new capabilities to the Chromium open source project, for the benefit of all browsers, users and developers. This will, ultimately, help other browsers support Windows capabilities (like touch and ARM processors) better.
  • Partnering opportunities: This switch will give Microsoft a ‘welcome opportunity’ to partner with the global Chromium community in terms of battery life, touch, accessibility, security, and other areas of mutual interest.
  • Collaboration with Google: Microsoft intends to work directly with Google to improve the Chromium engine.

How does this benefit my end-user?

Along with upgraded performance, support for the latest rendering capabilities, powerful developer tools, and best-in-class compatibility with extensions, this new update to the Microsoft Edge browser gives users (among other benefits):

  • New privacy-enhancing features like tracking prevention, which is ‘On’ by default
  • ‘Collections’, to allow users to easily collect and organize web content—and export into Word/Excel files. This will ultimately help users with content creation or decision-making
  • A new ‘InPrivate’ mode across the entire web experience. This means online searches and browsers will not be attributed to the user
  • ‘Smartscreen and tracking prevention’ to prevent users from phishing schemes, malicious software, and malware like cryptojacking
  • Keyboard shortcuts to mute tabs on Mac devices
  • Dark themes for the search box, Microsoft news feeds and other top websites
  • Bug fixes for UI/UX issues

Why is this update so crucial to test?

The new Edge 79 is new and uncharted territory. There are several new factors at play—the Chromium project, the V8 JavaScript engine, and the Blink rendering engine. This version is completely different and utterly unrelated to any existing version of Microsoft Edge.

Wait, what’s a browser engine?

A ‘browser engine’, to put it simply, takes in HTML code and puts out a visual representation of the code.

When you ask your browser to pull up a website, here’s what happens: The browser requests data from the webserver. It then uses a browser engine to:

1. Process the HTML data (received from the webserver),

2. Calculate graphical coordinates,

3. Display it visually.

Apart from rendering and layout, the browser engine even handles security policy implementations, data submissions and the like. Among others, the most popular browser engines in use today include:

  • Blink, used by Google Chrome
  • Gecko, used by Mozilla Firefox
  • WebKit, used by Apple’s Safari
  • Trident, used by Internet Explorer

Does the browser engine handle JavaScript as well?

No. Browser engines only interpret HTML and CSS code. You will require a separate JavaScript engine to compile any JavaScript code for your browser.

Some notable JavaScript engines include:

  • V8, used to power Google Chrome
  • Spidermonkey, used by Mozilla Firefox
  • JavaScript Core, a.k.a Nitro, used by Apple’s Safari
  • Chakra, used by older Microsoft Edge versions

So what does Microsoft Edge use?

Microsoft, in true maverick fashion, built its Edge browser with its own EdgeHTML browser engine and Chakra JavaScript Engine. With the Edge 79 release, Microsoft is switching to Blink browser engine with V8 JavaScript engine.

Both Blink and V8 are developed under Chromium—an open-source project with an open-source web browser of the same name. Chromium—the open-source browser—is used by Google for its own Chrome browser. Now, Microsoft's Chromium Edge will do the same.

Does this mean Edge will become the same as Chrome?

No. They’ll become similar in terms of underlying rendering performance and OS compatibility‚ but to an end-user, the experience will remain markedly different. This is to reflect the vendors' (Google's and Microsoft's) own development and design philosophies.

"Despite the same underlying (and open-source) browser engine, the end-user experience turns out to be very different on Chrome and UC Browser. This is because Chrome focuses on delivering performance and integrating with Google’s ecosystem. On the other hand, UC Browser focuses on efficiency through page compression and lower data consumption."

(Source: Why is cross-browser compatibility an issue in 2020)

Sharing the same underlying browser (Chromium) won’t change what Google and Microsoft decide to deliver through their proprietary browsers. Google’s Chrome will continue to favor performance and ease-of-integration with the rest of Google’s ecosystem. And with the switch to Chromium, Microsoft Edge will become more agile.

But whether it can catch up to Chrome’s market share remains to be seen.

To automate your Selenium test scripts to run on Chromium Edge (in different devices), try BrowserStack Automate. To test your website interactively on a real device, try BrowserStack Live.

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