Microsoft releases its Google Chrome-like Edge browser for testing
For now, it looks a lot like Chrome, but Microsoft promises differences will come.
Stephen Shanklandprincipal writer
Stephen Shankland has been a reporter at CNET since 1998 and writes about processors, digital photography, AI, quantum computing, computer science, materials science, supercomputers, drones, browsers, 3D printing, USB, and new computing technology in general. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces. His first big scoop was about radioactive cat poop.
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I've been covering the technology industry for 24 years and was a science writer for five years before that. I've got deep expertise in microprocessors, digital photography, computer hardware and software, internet standards, web technology, and other dee
, having given up on its own core browser technology, has released test versions of its Edge browser built instead on the same foundations as Google's
"In these first builds we are very much focused on the fundamentals and have not yet included a wide range of feature and language support that will come later," said Joe Belfiore, Microsoft's corporate vice president for Windows, in a blog post Monday. "You'll start to see differences from the current
including subtle design finishes, support for a broader selection of extensions and the ability to manage your sign-in profile."
For years, Microsoft had tried to reclaim some of its browser power by stripping away the legacy technology that hobbled
and by releasing the modernized Edge instead. But it never caught on widely, and in December, Microsoft announced a plan to rebuild Edge on Chromium, the open-source underpinnings of Chrome that's also used in several other browsers.
The new version of Edge is based on Chromium, an open-source project run by Google. Other browsers that rely on Chromium include Brave, Vivaldi, Opera and Samsung Internet. Using Google's software gives access to a mature and frequently updated software project while ensuring websites aren't likely to suffer from incompatibility problems.
Apple's Safari, a cousin to Chrome, and Mozilla's Firefox remain independent.
Watch this: How Chrome changed web browsers 10 years ago
Microsoft's Internet Explorer dominated browsing for years, but Firefox dented that power 15 years ago and injected new life into the technology, even as Microsoft let it languish. Chrome arrived a decade ago, built on the same WebKit core as Safari. But Google parted ways, creating a fork of WebKit called Blink that's the core part of Chromium.
By default, Chromium-based Edge sends search traffic to Microsoft's Bing search engine, not to Google's dominant search service. You can add other search engines if you want. Search traffic from browsers is an important financial consideration since they can lead to revenue from search ads.
Microsoft Edge improvements to Chromium
For now, the Chromium-based Edge is almost all Google's code. But Microsoft plans to change that with contributions of its own, a potentially important shift in the dynamics of the Chromium community. So far, it's contributed 275 changes to the Chromium project, Microsoft's Edge team said in a separate blog post.
Some changes will be more obvious to users. Microsoft promised its Chromium-based Edge will get several features in coming weeks, including a dark mode, a reader mode for decluttered web pages, grammar and translation tools, and smoother scrolling.
Other changes are deeper under the hood. One big example is Microsoft's work to build a version of Chromium-based Edge that runs on Windows
using 64-bit Arm processors, Belfiore said.
Most Windows laptops use
processors, but Arm chips -- notably those built by Qualcomm -- are part of a sustained push to design laptops with longer battery lives and built-in connectivity to 4G and later 5G mobile networks. To make that successful, Arm-based laptops need a full suite of software.
The Chromium-based Edge builds available now change rapidly -- daily for the Canary version and weekly for the Developer version. Later will come Beta and Stable releases that should be more reliable. Those names follow Chrome's labeling conventions. The Canary name refers to the canary-in-the-coal-mine idea for keeping a constant eye on whether something is going wrong.
First published April 8 at 9:30 a.m. PT. Updates at 10:03 a.m. and 10:33 a.m. PT: Adds background and details.