Microsoft Edge To Shake Up The Browser Competition On The GNU/Linux Desktop

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Microsoft's announced that they gave up on their own web browser rendering engine a while ago. Future versions of their Edge browser will be based on Google's Chromium web browser and use it's "Blink" rendering engine. Chromium is multi-platform which makes it trivial to port browsers based on it to a variety of platforms. It appears that even Microsoft is able to do this. They have now confirmed that they will be releasing a GNU/Linux version of their upcoming Chromium-based Edge browser.

A Brief History Lesson

WINE ie6.png
Internet Explorer version 6 running on Linux using Wine.

Microsoft's own Internet Explorer web browser used to be the dominant force dictating what "developers" did and did not do. A lot of websites, specially custom-made ones for internal corporate use, required Internet Explorer 6 to function properly. It was a sad and dark time for the Internet. It was particularly dark for free software users who had to fiddle with Wine in order to run Internet Explorer running if they wanted to use things like banks and government services in some countries. Then, one day, Google got into the web browser game and everything changed.

Microsoft quickly lost it's market dominance once Google got a browser together and starting leveraging all their web products to push it. Google's Chrome browser, which has a free software version called Chromium, was and still is faster than the competition. Google leveraging their control of a large portion of the webs most visited sites to make Microsoft's browser look bad did not help. They were still using sites like YouTube to make Edge and Firefox look 5 times slower than their own web browser in 2018. Those of us who remember how Microsoft used to intentionally serve users of the Opera web browser broken pages back when Microsoft had the dominant web browser may find Microsoft's complaints about this kind of behavior on Google's end to be hilarious.

Microsoft tried to gain back some of it's browser market share by re-inventing Internet Explorer as a browser called Edge. It was based on their own EdgeHTML and Chakra rendering engine. The shiny new Edge was bundled with and tightly integrated with their Windows 10 operating system. Edge did manage to get a lot of computer-illiterate users who couldn't figure out how to change their web browser if their life depended on it but it did not help Microsoft take back the large slice of the market who prefer Google's Chrome. That 65% of web traffic comes from smartphones as of late 2019 isn't helping.

Microsoft announced that they have given up on using own Chakra engine for Edge December 2018. Future versions of Edge will be based on the Chromium projects code-base.

Edge Is Coming To GNU/Linux

Microsoft's Colleen Williams confirmed that the chromium-based Edge browser will be available for GNU/Linux in a talk called "State of the browser: Microsoft Edge" at their "Ignite" conference on November 4th.

Microsoft's slide confirms that Edge will be coming to GNU/Linux. The speaker mentioned that it's availability would come "at a later time" while the slide was shown.

The Chromium-based version of Edge will be released on January 15th, 2020. However, the GNU/Linux version will not be released on that date, it will be released "at a later time". There is only this very brief mention of a GNU/Linux version of Edge by Colleen Williams 8 minutes and 20 seconds into the State of the browser: Microsoft Edge talk and the above slide. The rest of the presentation drags on about Microsoft Edge being "ready for business" and things like that.

Will It Be Free Software?

Chromium is free and open source software and all the GNU/Linux distributions have it in their repositories. Google's Chrome product, on the other hand, is not free software. It seems likely that Microsoft will take a similar non-free product based on free software approach with Edge. They do not offer the source code for current products. Microsoft does own github but they don't publish their own source code there.

Some Final Thoughts

An Edge browser running natively on GNU/Linux would be a nice addition even if it's a non-free Microsoft product. There are a lot of web browsers available but none of them are on the same level as Chromium and Firefox. Dooble, Falkon, Konqueror, Lynx, Midori, GNOME Web and a few others can show web pages but they are all, quite frankly, garbage-tier compared to Chromium and Firefox. Edge would provide a kind-of third actually usable alternative. Its underlying rendering engine will be controlled by Google, so it won't be an alternative in that regard, but it will be something distinctly different nevertheless. Time will tell if it will be a worthwhile alternative or not.

Edge will, as mentioned, not be released for GNU/Linux until "a later time" - whatever that means.