While the continuous evolution of desktop tools can bring important new features and capabilities, changing desktop tools can also drive endpoint management headaches.
When that tool is as crucial as a web browser, the implications for web application availability and performance can be significant. In January 2020, Microsoft Edge made a major change and moved away from Microsoft's framework in favor of the Chromium platform. Let's consider how this move has impacted Edge and outline the issues that Edge users might expect.
What is Chromium?
Chromium is an open source web browser codebase. Chromium was originally developed and maintained by Google and formed the foundation of Google Chrome. However, the open source nature of the codebase means that Chromium is free and available for any developer to adapt and use -- such as Microsoft adopting Chromium as the foundation for Microsoft Edge. The Chromium codebase has become popular and widely used due to its recognized benefits, including the following:
- Open source availability offers free alternative to custom development.
- Google continues to contribute to the Chromium codebase.
- A large library of browser extensions is available for Chromium-based browsers.
- A simple, minimalist UI allows a fast learning curve.
Chromium is available for Linux, Windows, macOS, iOS, Android and Chrome OS. Developers can learn more about Chromium, access the codebase, review comprehensive documentation and enhance development and testing plans for Chromium-based projects at the Chromium website.
Comparing Edge Chromium vs. Edge
Microsoft Edge Chromium adopts many common interface characteristics in Google Chrome, including the layout of tabs, task manager, navigation bar, three-dot (Settings and more) menu and more. However, Edge includes its own suite of services rather than those included with Chrome.
Edge Chromium also moves away from Edge Legacy to adopt similar Settings found in Chrome. Clicking the three-dot icon in the upper right provides a drop-down menu allowing users to control most aspects of Edge's configuration. Clicking the Settings entry in that drop-down menu and then selecting the Settings icon opens a complete list of setting selections, including Privacy, Downloads, Appearance, Tabs and more.
One significant advantage of Edge Chromium vs. Edge is that Edge Chromium simplifies privacy settings. For example, selecting the Privacy, search, and services entry allows users to easily choose from Basic, Balanced and Strict privacy settings that block web tracking efforts.
Another notable departure for Edge Chromium is the addition of an advanced browser bookmarking capability called Collections. The Collections feature allows users to gather web content, including images and links, into a flexible and versatile list. Users can choose Start new collection to open a new collection and then add current pages, drag links and move images into the open collection to save the content, which the user can annotate with short text entries.
One major benefit of Edge Chromium vs. Edge is support for many Chrome Extensions. While the idea of extensions is nothing new, the Microsoft Edge Add-Ons page offered few official extensions compared to Chrome. By moving to Chromium, Edge can now utilize a far larger assortment of extensions. To enable and manage extensions, click the three-dot icon, select Extensions and then select Get extensions for Microsoft Edge. This opens the available Edge Add-ons page and allows users to browse, search and install desired extensions. Remember that some extensions intended for Chrome may not work properly in Edge, so it's important to test and validate any extensions -- especially before recommending them for use in enterprise endpoints.
Benefits of Chromium
It's not easy to build a web browser. Millions of websites range from static HTML pages to sophisticated web portals accessing a user's most sensitive data. Developers must be concerned with vital issues, including performance, security and reliability. By adopting Chromium and its Blink rendering engine, Microsoft moved away from its proprietary EdgeHTML engine to embrace an open source platform capable of addressing those three issues.
- Security. The Blink rendering engine is critical to website interaction, so it's the most likely attack vector. However, Chromium isolates the renderer with low system privileges, minimal communication with other browser processes and little direct access to the operating system. This design helps to keep Chromium protected against attack.
- Reliability. A crash on a webpage, web app or extension should only impact the tab (process) rendering that site -- other tabs running under Chromium should continue to function, and the overall browser should not crash.
Chromium's frequent open source update schedule boosts its ability to address performance, security and reliability issues. Chromium developers are in a strong position to address bugs, close security flaws and put those fixes out promptly. In contrast, Edge Legacy was typically updated only with major Windows updates.
Implications of Chromium Edge for IT
The move to Chromium helps the browser's underlying performance and resource utilization while enhancing security through Chromium's well-proven browser platform. Chromium has a reputation for being flexible and reliable, so once installed, Edge Chromium should render webpages and access sites as other browsers would.
Most known issues focus on hardware/driver compatibility with some systems, data syncing and extension compatibility issues. In most cases, a combination of updating system hardware drivers, disabling Edge Chromium extensions and resetting Edge Chromium to default values can help address any technical issues.
Getting Edge Chromium
Microsoft Edge Chromium came out of preview on January 15, 2020, and is currently available for Windows, macOS, iOS and Android. Enterprise users can download and deploy Edge Chromium through Microsoft's Edge for Business. Administrators can select the Edge Chromium version (104 is the latest that's stable and supported), build and platform they'd like to use.