Microsoft

If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. Microsoft brings Windows 10 Edge browser in line with the competition

With the release of Windows 10 on the horizon, Microsoft details the steps its taking to ensure its new Edge browser performs largely the same as Apple's Safari and Google's Chrome.

After years of trying to plow its own furrow with Internet Explorer (IE), Microsoft has said its new Edge browser will broadly behave like Apple Safari and Google Chrome.

Microsoft this week detailed how its Edge browser for Windows 10 will largely match how Safari and Chrome handle web sites and apps.

It follows years of Microsoft being attacked for Internet Explorer (IE) treating HTML, CSS and JavaScript differently to other major browsers - leading to quirks in how sites looked and behaved in IE.

Edge will be different, according to Microsoft. Beyond complying with standards on how to handle web technologies, it will cater to pages written with other browsers in mind.

Microsoft has a battle on its hands in the browser space, gradually losing market share while both Chrome and Safari gain.

Faced with the prospect of ceding users to competitors, Microsoft has announced Edge will properly render sites designed for Safari and Chrome - going as far as to say Edge has more in common with those browsers - based on WebKit layout engine and the WebKit fork Blink - than Internet Explorer.

"Microsoft Edge matches 'WebKit' behaviors, not IE11 behaviors (any Edge-WebKit differences are bugs that we're interested in fixing). In our experience Microsoft Edge runs best on the 'WebKit' code paths in these sites," said Frank Olivier, principal program manager lead for Microsoft Edge in a blog post.

With Edge, Microsoft says it will build on the cross-browser interoperability it began to introduce with Internet Explorer 11, which gained the ability to properly display a wider range of mobile websites following the introduction of support for WebKit-prefixed CSS last year.

"As we're evolving our engine to be more interoperable with Blink and WebKit, we've spent considerable time working with all browser vendors to fix interoperability issues in browsers and specifications," he said, adding one of the most beneficial changes from IE had been altering how the browser identifies itself to servers via its user agent string.

Microsoft has also pledged that Edge will correctly serve web sites and apps that have common errors. Examples include preventing an endless loop where a site has a malformed meta tag for handling refreshes, rendering the expected characters where the character set has been mislabelled and rendering fonts that reside on another web domain. You can see examples of how this translates into a better looking web below.

pullquotes.png
How IE11 rendered sites with mislabelled character sets.

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How Edge will render them.
Image: Microsoft

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The same site rendered on IE 11 on Windows Phone 8.1 and Edge on Windows Phone with the latest tweaks
Image: Microsoft

Edge will support some of the latest web technologies, Olivier said, including ECMAscript6 - the specification that JavaScript is based on, HTTP/2, responsive images, and Media Capture, as well as older features such as XPath and Motion JPEG support.

That said, the latest build of the Edge browser available via the Windows 10 technical preview doesn't match Chrome for support of the newest web technologies. The copy of Edge available with Build 10122 of Windows 10 scored 402 on the HTML6 test site, compared to 526 for Chrome 43, while still beating IE 11's score of 348. Microsoft has also made significant progress in improving Edge's JavaScript performance over IE.

Interoperability also means clearing out the non-standard technologies found in IE, so it means no more support for ActiveX, DirectX filters, VML vector graphics and VBScript.

"These are just some examples of the thousands of large and small interoperability changes we've made to our browser engine. During development, Microsoft Edge has consistently been more interoperable with the broader Web than any previous Microsoft browser," said Olivier.

"Evolving the Web without breaking it is exceedingly hard - any mistakes are very, very hard to clean up - but an interoperable Web that just works across all browsers and devices is closer than ever."

About Nick Heath

Nick Heath is chief reporter for TechRepublic. He writes about the technology that IT decision makers need to know about, and the latest happenings in the European tech scene.

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