Microsoft’s Year-Old Web Browser: On the Edge of Success

Free gift cards and AdBlock aren’t enough

Microsoft’s Edge web browser, first available (excluding betas) in the end of July last year, has made decent strides in a years’ time. It is software with a purpose and an ambition. Its purpose is to do away with the legacy code of Internet Explorer, giving Windows users a lean, responsive, and standards-compliant default browser. Its ambition, although Microsoft will never say it so matter-of-factly, is to be more than just a tool to install Google Chrome.

Credit: http://statcounter.com

Competition has been stiff for Microsoft ever since Chrome dropped in ’08. Built on Apple’s open source WebKit standard (which Google would later fork into Blink) Chrome and Safari would become the standard on both mobile and the desktop, Chrome on Windows and Android and Safari on macOS and iOS. With nearly a decade passing since Chrome was released and the first stable build of Safari coming to market in 2003, these browsers have slowly eroded Microsoft’s market share. Microsoft’s current rendering engine, EdgeHTML, even has the explicit mission statement of matching “WebKit behaviors.”

“Apple and Google have won the standards war.”

And so because Apple and Google have won the standards war, Microsoft must acquiesce and follow the lead of others. Not having to code websites for Microsoft-proprietary technologies, as was the case with Internet Explorer and its Trident engine, will free up resources for web developers and may help to quicken the pace of internet innovation. On the other hand, WebKit now represents a near single point of failure with the exception of Mozilla Firefox, as Safari runs WebKit, Chrome and Opera use the WebKit fork Blink, and Edge is WebKit-compliant.

So Microsoft is unable to compete on its underlying technologies. Extensions and cross-platform availability are the two weapons Microsoft is left to wield in this latest battle of the browser wars.

Microsoft is missing a major opportunity by keeping Edge Windows-exclusive. One of the most enticing features of Safari and Chrome is that they sync between mobile and the desktop. And since Windows Phone is dead, that means MS is left without a foothold on smartphones, save its Bing app. As has been written about at length here on D&theJM, seamlessly integrating mobile and the desktop has been one of Apple’s cornerstones of success and is still a strategy worth borrowing. Edge for Android is a no-brainer and is an alarming oversight given Microsoft’s “Cloud First, Mobile First” strategy. And even though alternative browsers on iOS must use WebKit, Chrome has been on the iPhone for years and recently Mozilla reversed its stance on supporting the platform. Edge is the odd man out on mobile and would serve as a great way to introduce users to its ecosystem.

Sources: Net Applications, StatCounter, DAP

Regarding extensions, they are finally supported in Edge, having been in the works since early 2015. Launch partners include AdBlock, LastPass, Pocket, Evernote, and Amazon. But is it a case of too little too late? Not having such a basic desktop browser feature at launch has hurt Edge and it has been playing catch-up ever since.

In an act of desperation, Microsoft has revamped Bing Rewards and rebranded it Microsoft Rewards in an attempt to win over users by literally paying them to use its web browser. This will only attract fickle users and cannot serve as a long-term substitute for the work that needs to be put into a fully cross-platform solution.