The Web Is The New Desktop: Microsoft Announces Chromium To Power Edge

I remember a heated debate I had with a colleague years ago about how web browsers are platforms (he was arguing they weren't...the irony is that he was a designer, but that's neither here nor there), and if the past few years have been any indication, this is most decidedly the case now more than ever. And most would argue that Chromium is what is now powering this "new desktop", especially when you factor in Electron, which powers many apps like Slack, Teams, VS Code, and a whole slew of others. Electron is powered by Chromium, but is owned by GitHub (which in turn is now owned by Microsoft).

Seems like a tangled love story, but really what this means is that Microsoft now has a substantial amount of skin in the future of Chromium since it owns the platform (Electron) that is powering a huge new wave of "desktop" apps. Microsoft has had a storied history of different frameworks for desktop apps: Windows Forms, Then WPF and XAML (which was quite nice admittedly, once you understood the plumbing behind it).

It is my opinion that with Microsoft making the move to Chromium as the engine powering Edge, and its ownership of Electron, we're about to see a new shift to web apps on the desktop. Microsoft has also announced what they are calling Progressive Web Apps (albeit in its current incarnation, using EdgeHTML as the rendering engine), which are web apps that run in sandboxes that have full access to underlying native OS API's. I expect the Electron framework to have a lot to do with this going forward, and soon we'll have a unified framework API to build both web applications, and "desktop" applications with a single codebase.

This has long been the dream of application developers who sometimes need to maintain several different codebases for a single application (web, desktop (and then you have to support Windows, Mac, and sometimes *nix), mobile, with mobile having 2 codebases as well: Android and iOS): One codebase to rule them all. And at its heart, the Chromium rendering engine, powering everything. Browsers have indeed become full fledged development platforms, and while developing for the web is extremely complicated, it's also extremely versatile and flexible. Browsers are evolving faster than their OS counterparts as well, and writing applications for the web, even as complex as it is now, is still easier than writing full blown native Windows applications. And it's much, MUCH cheaper since web developers are plentiful. I haven't met a "Windows" developer in a while to be honest. It’s web or nothing these days.

So where does this leave Firefox? Firefox is a powerful platform in its own right, but their core mission statement is basically the complete opposite of Google's, where they put user privacy at the core of their business. But they are going to get absolutely crushed now that Microsoft will be actively contributing to the Chromium codebase. It'll be interesting to see what direction Mozilla chooses to take with this new development. I doubt they'll ever abandon the Gecko rendering engine, and as a company I trust them more than I'd ever trust Google, or even Microsoft for that matter. But they'll never be a viable "new desktop" platform once Microsoft consolidates and solidifies their Progressive Web App + Electron framework.