After announcing that it would throw in the towel and no longer compete in the browser wars, Microsoft, today, announces the launch of their new browser: Edge. Kind of.
What they actually announced in December of 2018 was that they would no longer have an in-house development team work on the Edge browser. Instead, they were shifting over to base future versions of Edge on Chromium source code (the open-source project that is an offshoot of Google’s Chrome browser).
The purpose of this move was to allow Microsoft to focus on more of the features around the user experience, rather than trying to keep up with updating source code.
At the time, there was a lot of discussion about whether or not this was a good thing. With fewer options for browser base-code, a lot of power controlling how most people interact with technology on a daily bases was left in the hands of a very small group of developers. But that’s a whole other issue that we can address in another article.
If you’re not in the IT world, Jan 14th has little to no meaning to your work. If you are in the IT world, Jan 14th, 2020 is a day of reckoning that has been coming for years. It is the day for Windows 7 end-of-life.
Windows 7 has been around since October of 2009. Think about that. In a world of perpetual software updates and versioning, Windows 7 has been around for ten years. During this time, IT has exploded in offices around the world. There are many techs today who have built the majority of their career experience deploying and managing Windows 7.
Moving to a new operating system is a scary thing in today’s world. On a corporate level, changing operating systems means major disruptions across every department, each with their own specific needs and specialized software.
In enterprise environments, it’s not uncommon to be running custom software designed with very narrow operating scopes. Changing out the underlying operating system might mean throwing out a piece of software that runs a core business function and cost the company hundreds of thousands of dollars to develop.
Nonetheless, yesterday, like it or not, after many warnings, years of extensions, and pushback from the very industry that Microsoft is trying to help, offices around the world needed to have already moved away from Windows 7. It was the dawn of a new age.
So how does this relate to Edge? With the death of Windows 7, Microsoft Houses (companies relying on Microsoft’s servers and software tools) also lost Internet Explorer.
Who The Hell Still Uses Internet Explorer?
Average uses figured out a long time ago that Internet Explorer was bloated and slow. In terms of market share, IE hovers around the 7% - 8% range. Most modern websites won’t run properly on older versions of Internet Explorer and even the last version (11) had a ton of compatibility problems that were never really addressed.
The thing is, if you are in an enterprise environment, you might have some piece of software that you need to run for work. A piece of software that only runs in Internet Explorer and cost the company hundreds of thousands of dollars to create.
This is not uncommon. For all of its modern-day failings, Internet Explorer back-in-the-day was a powerhouse and a godsend for enterprise development.
When people started realizing the ease of web interfaces, enterprise development in .NET exploded. It was a win-win-win for all sides. IT didn’t have to install client applications (since the user was accessing everything online). Users like the consistency of being able to have access to web interfaces from any computer (and sometimes from home). Developers didn’t have to worry about underlying operating system settings yet, using .NET, could still grab user credentials from the network domain.
The problem, however, is that as more and more people started using the internet in their personal lives, they started getting used to interfaces like Gmail and Facebook. You click on something, a nice animation takes place, the entire page doesn’t have to reload, you move on with your life.
In other words, it made sense, at the time, to create software that was dependent on Internet Explorer as a platform.
Microsoft Sees an Opportunity!
Note: the rest of this is speculation and my personal opinion. However, given the above information, I do think that someone at Microsoft was able to see the writing on the wall the same way I do.
Something to keep in mind is that, even though Microsoft has essentially conceded defeat in the browser wars, their search engine, Bing, is still a moderate success. It might not be huge by Silicon Valley numbers, but an annual revenue of $3.2Bn is nothing to scoff at. (https://www.ventureharbour.com/visualising-size-google-bing-yahoo/)
With Windows 7’s end-of-life, Microsoft knew that there would be an issue with enterprise environments no longer having access to Internet Explorer. Now focused more on browser features, the one feature that stands out is the “backwards compatibility” option. The only reason this would be necessary would be for enterprise environments running custom software.
By offering this feature, IT departments everywhere are now armed with a very good reason to deploy Edge and make sure their users are aware of this feature.
This also means that Microsoft figured out a way for users to have certain sites run in compatibility mode while still seeing the modern web via the new Chromium based code. The average user who doesn’t care about browsers and just wants to get online will like just stick to Edge now.
This in turn will mean that many users will be using Bing as their default search. This should boost Bing’s numbers and bring in more revenue. The new win-win-win scenario.
Conclusion: Nothing to See Here
While this new browser won’t really affect the majority of us, it was a fun little thought exercise to think about why they were releasing a new version of Edge today. I haven’t been on the IT side of things in a few years now but it’s always interesting to take a step back and look at the larger picture to try and understand why certain developments happen the way they do.
We’re going to keep an eye out for new developments related to the new browser but with less than 5% market share, personally, I doubt that this new version of Edge will make any major waves impacting webdev.