Microsoft's new Edge browser must court IT crowd to steal Chrome's crown

Microsoft Edge logo on Start menu
Microsoft Edge logo on Start menu (Image credit: Windows Central)

When Microsoft announced that it was abandoning its own EdgeHTML rendering engine in favor of rebuilding the browser around Chromium, there was a mix of trepidation and hope among Windows users and Edge fans.

On the one hand, the company decided to scrap years of work done on EdgeHTML to start anew, potentially alienating the browser's small but loyal base. On the other hand, the move to Chromium, if done right, gives Microsoft a more mature platform to build on, improving compatibility while bringing over some of the now-old Edge's most-loved features.

In a recent piece by Windows Central Senior Editor Zac Bowden, he argued that Edge built on Chromium "might give Google Chrome a run for its money", and early leaked builds of the browser certainly show promise (see video below). But, in order to truly challenge Chrome's utter dominance of the browser market, it won't be Microsoft fans and consumers that decide Edge's fate. Rather, Microsoft will have to work hard to win over IT departments, according to sources we spoke with for this story.

Related: 6 things we want to see in the new Microsoft Edge

How Chrome captured the crown

Two of the top firms that track browser stats, StatCounter and Net MarketShare, say Chrome currently commands between 66 percent and 71 percent of the desktop browser market, depending on which company's stats you go with. By comparison, Edge currently controls just over four percent of the market, while Firefox comes in at a little under 10 percent. In other words, Chrome absolutely dominates right now.

It wasn't always this way, however. Microsoft's previous flagship browser, Internet Explorer (IE), was the frontrunner for more than a decade leading up to Chrome's launch in 2008. It wasn't universally loved, to be sure, and frequent frustrations with IE were what caused Firefox to gain a healthy following as an alternative before Chrome arrived.

Chrome absolutely dominates right now.

As Chrome gained mindshare, tied the browser to its broader ecosystem, and built out a broad catalogue of extensions, it gradually managed to climb to the current top spot. Microsoft's virtual abandonment of IE (it still lives on, for now, for legacy support) and switch to Edge with Windows 10 accelerated Chrome's rise as the newer browser.

As IE faded into the background, IT departments began looking to Chrome as their browser of choice. Long a bastion for IE, portions of the enterprise sector gradually made the shift to Chrome, based on its maturity as a platform and security. And as web apps have started to become an increasingly important part of the business world, Chrome positioned itself as a fast, secure solution for business needs.

From a recent Google-commissioned report by research group Forrester on the economic impact of deploying Chrome in the enterprise:

Chrome is now being deployed more by organizations due to the additional business solutions and features that it offers. With Chrome Browser, organizations can provide IT teams with more control to govern their employees' internet use, to standardize processes that can be managed centrally, and to increase security in protecting the company data from malware and phishing attacks.

In 2017, Google introduced Chrome Enterprise, further pushing the browser's business chops, along with those of its broader Chrome and cloud ecosystems.

Courting the IT crowd

Microsoft Edge

Many consumers rarely take enterprise scenarios into account, preferring instead to focus on things like "browser wars," but the sector is incredibly important to both Microsoft and Google. More importantly, businesses are slow to change. And it's IT groups, not individuals, that will be some of the key decision makers in the new Edge's success, according to Steve Kleynhans, vice president for mobile and endpoint at analyst firm Gartner.

"IT organizations run on inertia," Kleynhans said. "They don't like to change anything from the way that it's working today."

And that is precisely the challenge Microsoft faces with businesses and, subsequently, a large portion of the browser market. "[IT departments] only grudgingly moved off [Internet Explorer] towards Chrome, and it's going to be really hard to push them off of Chrome to something else," Kleynhans said.

Microsoft will have two main routes of courting businesses, according to Kleynhans. Either the company will have to provide something that is so invaluable that they can't ignore it, or make the process of moving over to the new Edge so simple that it can be done almost without realizing it.

Security will be a major piece of the puzzle for Microsoft.

Security will be a major piece of the puzzle for Microsoft, Kleynhans said. It won't be a "cool" new feature that garners attention. Rather, the company will have to demonstrate that Edge is more secure in some way.

On the other side of things, making the browser easy to adopt, part of Microsoft's job is already done: it comes with Windows. The reason that didn't work with the old Edge is that the browser just "didn't work very well," Kleynhans says. "If Edge does the basics, if it doesn't break their websites [and] everything keeps working the way they want it to, it becomes easy for them to slide into it."

According to Kleynhans, Microsoft could gain traction over the long-term by focusing on that second track: making the switch as seamless as possible. But if the company is looking to push the new Edge on the business side of things much more quickly, it will have to present a compelling reason for why it is more secure.

Opportunity in change

Microsoft Edge

Microsoft Edge logo in Windows search (Image credit: Windows Central)

Microsoft's initial reveal that it was switching Edge to run on Chromium was met with a bit of backlash from Mozilla. The Firefox maker argued that Microsoft was ceding even more control to Google, leaving Chromium and Mozilla's Gecko Quantum engine as the two remaining major players.

"Microsoft is officially giving up on an independent shared platform for the internet," Chris Beard, CEO of Mozilla, wrote at the time. "By adopting Chromium, Microsoft hands over control of even more of online life to Google."

Microsoft's move to Chromium could wrest control from Google.

While the engines behind browsers are essentially invisible to users, Beard argued, they hold great sway over what web developers prioritize and what's possible online. "Microsoft's decision gives Google more ability to single-handedly decide what possibilities are available to each one of us," Beard wrote.

But while Mozilla may see Microsoft's shift as giving up ground to Google, Kleynhans posited an opposite view: Edge's move to Chromium could give Microsoft more of a say in how Chromium moves forward.

"Is Microsoft ceding control to Google, or are they trying to wrest control from Google?" Kleynhans said. On the public-facing side of things, Microsoft is trying to make the embedded browser work well enough for everyone to use. "Behind the scenes, this is a little bit of an opportunity for Microsoft to gain a little bit more control of what goes on and have more say."

Gaining an Edge

Google Chrome

Edge built on Chromium is certainly an interesting move. The refreshed browser is expected to go into preview for developers in the coming weeks, and early leaked builds have shown a surprising amount of polish.

Microsoft must market Edge to consumers and IT departments.

But, even here, if Microsoft hopes to pull people from Chrome, it'll have to offer something extra. One area of focus could be on keeping Edge svelte and nimble, said Peter Tsai, senior technology analyst at Spiceworks, an enterprise IT marketplace and community. "For example, Edge might gain a larger user base if it can offer faster page-load speeds than Chrome while using fewer system resources than Google's browser — which has a reputation for being a CPU and memory hog."

On the general user side of things, there's a contingent of Edge fans that will be excited by the change, which will result in access to a greater catalogue of extensions and faster performance on sites like YouTube. Equally, there will be those who are dissatisfied with popular features that either aren't migrated to the new Edge or take some time to arrive.

But it's clear that converting IT organizations will be incredibly important to the growth of Edge going forward. Switching to Chromium should be a net benefit for all in terms of compatibility, but it's up to Microsoft to make sure that it can implement and successfully market that edge to not only Windows fans, but IT professionals.

Dan Thorp-Lancaster is the former Editor-in-Chief of Windows Central. He began working with Windows Central, Android Central, and iMore as a news writer in 2014 and is obsessed with tech of all sorts. You can follow Dan on Twitter @DthorpL and Instagram @heyitsdtl

28 Comments
  • Microsoft edge can win in enterpise market but is very hard in consumer market because Google's Android monopoly with 2billion installed devices.
  • And their ADVERTISING monopoly, abuse of market position and all of that.
  • I am in charge of the IT at my company and we've all made the move to Firefox (no Chrome adware for us, thank you), but my coworkers all really loved Edge features. Unfortunately the browser itself caused issues and didn't work when exporting some reports, so I had everyone move to Firefox. If Microsoft really delivers on the new Edge, I may recommend that we switch to it, but I'm going to have to really test it to make sure it's going to give us the power and features we need.
  • You didn't consider Chromium?
  • > You didn't consider Chromium?
    You mean, to build your own browser?
  • I'd say that for me out of the gate, I really like to see how much can be tailored/secured/controlled by GPO. If the granularity is there and there is also a deeper enterprise-level integration between Edge on mobile and Edge on the workstation, it becomes certainly interesting enough to give it a deeper look.
  • Group policy settings will be huge in the Enterprise, hopefully they roll those settings out at the same time as the release of the browser.
  • Edge first has to pass Internet Explorer which won't be easy because IE runs on Windows 7 as well. Another problem is that many enterprises still require IE for a one or two very expensive custom made Silverlight or IE only web applications out there. Some people in IT may have learned from that and won't be installing a new Microsoft browser on purpose. Microsoft got away with it before because of IE's popularity. I'd argue that we may not require windows for much longer as everything Microsoft does is focused on the cloud. Google's vision for a browser based desktop maybe accurate and Microsoft is making it happen. Who is the champion for windows? Are they going to even going to talk about UWP development at build? Hololens development currently favors Unity over Microsoft's tools.
  • UWP development is as good as dead. There haven't been any major new UWP in ages. Even in the games department only Microsoft first party studios do that, probably they are forced by company policy. I do use a lot of store apps and think the distribution method is very practical and secure. But they are all repackaged programs and tools I have used for years. The problem is dat Windows has already so many programs and functionality that is already there that people don't bother rewriting their program with a barebones first release. Instead they update the existing version with new features. Personally I think win32 will be the last desktop programming stack that is really successful. It will last for decades.
  • Second and third that. UWP has been decidedly... abandoned. Every new app on the MS Store in the last year has simply been a Win32 distributed via UWP AppxPackage smoke-n-mirrors act.
  • The new Edge will work on Windows and Windows 8.1. It's part of the reason for the new direction. Microsoft aren't removing IE11 from Windows 7, 8.1 or 10.
  • "Edge first has to pass Internet Explorer which won't be easy because IE runs on Windows 7 as well. Another problem is that many enterprises still require IE for a one or two very expensive custom made Silverlight or IE only web applications out there. "
    You are correct, that is why I love how MSFT has built IE integration into the new Edge that one can enable under Flags. I did, it was awesome on the build "Version 75.0.111.0 (Official build) (64-bit)"
  • I had switched to Chrome once I heard MS was building the Chromium based Edge to get a used to it. I immediately missed the deep MS integration. That said, I think it will flourish in the corp. environment. I've been using the leaked "ChEd" and I'm super excited about its performance despite its currently lacking (early build) feature set.
    I can't help but wonder, If MS had taken this approach a couple years ago and ported a version to Windows Phone, could it have saved it from the chopping block? Just yesterday I used ChEd to install Domino's... If it looks like an app/feels like an app... It must be closing the gap. I miss my Elite X3.
    Taking it a step further, combining mobile and IT, the mobile contracts MS has/had with the NYPD, Home Depot, etc. could've evolved. Just imagine the inclusion of Windows Mobile in the current MS/Defense contracts.
    My only reservation at this point, whether it be the consumer or corp. market, is staying with the "Edge" branding. While I personally don't have anything against it, MS, from my perspective, has a notorious history of failing to reach corresponding audiences' or their message is misinterpreted and ignored.
  • I am the final IT decision maker and advisor for a 700 people company. I am willing to look into using the new Edge and have an open mind. Things that are important for me are:
    - security
    - stability
    - easy deployment and updates
    - UI. The leaked version has a great UI. A lot of people say it looks and feels like chrome. This is a big bonus since all of our technical and non technical users know how to use it from the first minute. Documentation with screenshots for our webapplications can still be used. A bit of fluent design would be nice but if they start rearrarring stuff like in the current edge it is certainly a no-go So far things are looking good. Only roadblocks can be: reinventing the UI or add so much bloat that stability suffers like the current edge.
  • Has anyone heard whether MS intends to make a version of Edge on Chromium that runs on a Mac? Since Chromium already runs on Macs, I'm hoping that MS builds one.
  • Joe Belfiore's original announcement said "Microsoft Edge will now be delivered and updated for all supported versions of Windows and on a more frequent cadence. We also expect this work to enable us to bring Microsoft Edge to other platforms like macOS." See https://blogs.windows.com/windowsexperience/2018/12/06/microsoft-edge-ma.... [Disclaimer: I'm on the Microsoft Edge team. :-) ]
  • If what you say is true Fred, and you really work on the Edge team, then I can give you no more well meaning advice than to advise your boss to get up at Build and SWEAR, absolutely SWEAR TO US that Microsoft is committed to this browser come hell or highwater. That under no circumstances whatsoever will he abandon it in a couple of years should it not meet with immediate smashing success. (See my comment below). At least under Gates and Ballmer Microsoft stood behind what it started. Now we're not sure what you will stand behind and what you will abandon. And it's simply not worth the risk.
  • They went to this browser because they don't expect it to be successful. It just needs to be cheap and easy so it can fill the role as the default browser in Windows.
  • Another thing you could pass on Fred... nearly 100% of the apps IT Pros build and purchase "off the shelf" these days are WEB apps. That means... there is no reason whatsoever anymore that 95% of the cubicle dwellers in our office couldn't get their jobs done just fine on a light, easy to administer/maintain, Chromebook. The ONLY reason that hasn't happened yet is because of the "inertia" factor mentioned in the article. But should us slow-to-change IT pros finally get pissed enough to take the leap, it will be an even greater uphill battle to win them back to any Windows "Lite" offering. Again... how can we trust you will stand behind said "light computing" offering? And should "light computing" take over first-line-worker-world, I personally can't see any reason to go with Azure as a cloud offering nor O365 as a productivity offering. My boss for one makes that exact argument. He sees Microsoft becoming more and more irrelevant as its competitors take not only more consumer and education market share, but enterprise market share. Again... your boss needs to convince us... and soon... preferably at Build 2019... that Microsoft is no longer in retreat... but is COMMITTED to its products and services... AND that it has a believable vision for mobile in an increasingly mobile world.
  • Been using edge from the beginning, including the latest leaked chromium edge build. It's infinitely better than EdgeHTML.
  • What.. what did you say?
  • 25 years experience in IT speaking Dan, and you are spot on. Inertia. :0) "If it ain't broke don't fix it", is another way of putting it. It will be a serious uphill battle to win back IT pros who distrust Microsoft. And right now the biggest trust issues result with Microsoft (under Nadella) pretty much so abandoning just about every initiative it starts these days. Bottom line... how can you implement something you're not sure will simply be abandoned in a couple of years? I predict IT pros will pass on this new browser to see if the great retreatist Nadella up and abandons it by 2020 something. Speaking for my team, at least, there is no way in H-E-doubletoothpicks I'd install this browser until I see Nadella get up on stage at some major MS event and swear on a stack of bibles a mile high that he will stand behind it for at least a decade. I don't see that happening... so yeah... pass! Don't believe a word that tool... those tools... say anymore.
  • You're less fun than your father, BleachedJr. Probably even more time on your hands.
  • Im Using the lates leaked build and I really love it 99%. I'm a Microsoft fan but i don't use the old Edge coz it's too slow and most websites have issues with it. Now, I have no reason to not to use Edge coz everything is fine, except the UI looks old. Hope they use white with transparency effect as main color of the UI not dirty white as it associates with windows 98 look. I suggest that they quite change the logo of the new Edge coz people will associate it with the old edge which is known as a problematic, too slow and UGLY browser.
  • Somehow this move reminds me a lot about borg assimilation. Edge chromium also has to win me over. I'm happy with the current Edge. I need all the UI AND pen and touch features for my own and business use. The current UI of chromium Edge is not good enough, despite the hype. Exciting times: are we moving forward, or going three steps back?
  • "On the one hand, the company decided to scrap years of work done on EdgeHTML" You misspelled "months". But seriously. MS needs to re-brand it. Dump the blue E logo and the Edge name. No one cares about "Edge" because it has sucked for so long.
  • It won't happen, the tech press will continue to fawn over the advertising company known as google, and say why change to Edge when chrome is so much better. It is all about cool factor not technical chops. The IT crowd will just keep saying that chrome is the best ever and what is the point of Edge. Two groups who think they know more than they really do. The whole chrome is most secure is another load of BS, it is just an advertising gateway for scroogle.
  • Edge is a piece of doo doo. It has NEVER worked on Australia's government web sites and even explorer has issues. When their help desk was asked about this they told me point blank to move to Firefox, Mozilla or Chrome. I called my parliamentary epresentative to see if I could get an explanation, sked why and was told that the government believed it was because the MS products were not the future given their track record of not supporting their own products and keeping promises. Thanks Satya. Not even the biggest employer in my country thinks you have a future and let's not even begin to think about consumers.