Stepping Back from the Edge

By now it is old news, in Internet time, that Microsoft Edge will replace its rendering engine with Chromium. Nearly six years ago I wrote about Opera dumping Presto to move to Chromium. The landscape is slightly different now.

Standards

The W3C has a process that requires independent implementations of standards, ideally two implementations, before they can be considered fully baked. WHATWG, the organization primarily driven by browser makers, is more likely to incorporate syntax or features based on browser implementations even if they have not been fully specified first.

I have an opinion on which has been a better standards home for accessibility, and it is W3C. I am interested in seeing W3C continue as the primary specifier of standards that directly impact user interfaces.

Google is now in a better position to block a W3C standard but force it through WHATWG, where it has an out-sized presence. Microsoft will still have a voice, but no rendering engine to back it up. Safari, powered by WebKit, has demonstrated it can be nearly impossible to move (see Pointer Events), which is not helped by its opaque development process and lack of developer relations.

Google has a stranglehold on the web, thanks to its search engine, browser dominance, mobile platform, and pile of services. Google is also happy to do an end-run around standards in favor of its own market needs, as we see with AMP.

Mozilla is not motivated by the market share of its own platform, for good and for bad, and so it should be more likely to honor standards. Expecting Firefox to be the bulwark against the erosion of standards is a lot to ask.

Another Monoculture

Web standards survived the monoculture of Mosaic because Netscape came to the market. Web standards survived the Netscape monoculture because Internet Explorer emerged as a challenger. Internet Explorer’s monoculture was broken by Chrome, backed up by a push for web standards and interoperability. Chrome has no obvious challenger because no other company has the scale, the market and product saturation, nor the truly independent standards bodies to contain it.

There is a certain irony that Hyrum’s Law is named by and for a Google engineer.

Do This

Install Firefox. Use it as your primary browser, for both browsing and developing. Its developer tools are often better anyway (see the shape editor or the grid layout view). Use DuckDuckGo as your search engine. Set it as the default search engine in your browser. Do what little you can to prevent this browser monoculture from becoming permanent.

Raise a stink when Chrome or Edge (or Safari or Firefox) do not follow standards. Raise an even bigger stink when they screw up accessibility standards.

Other Reading

Update: 29 May 2019

Chromiedge will not save us from Google’s under-handed tactics.

6 Comments

Reply

IMO: “Internet Explorer’s monoculture was broken by Firefox” not Chrome. Chrome came afterwards.

mark; . Permalink
In response to mark. Reply

Chrome happened during IE’s reign and also got the needed market share to become the de facto standard browser. So, to your point, Chrome maybe did not break the IE monoculture, it just replaced it.

In response to Adrian Roselli. Reply

Great article! :-)

There was a time where Firefox was the leading browser around 2011/2012 (at least in some countries, like Germany, where there was and hopefully still is a bit of scepticism towards Google).

I like that Edge will have more frequent release cycles that are not necessarily coupled to Windows releases. But that could’ve been possible with the existing rendering engine, as well.

Reply

“Web standards survived the monoculture of Mosaic because Netscape came to the market.” Wait, what? Mosaic was all about the standards. Netscape’s appeal was that it implemented things that weren’t in the standards, like BLINK and IMG.

The others are bang on though. Internet Explorer rescued us from Netscape, but then it became as bad as what it had replaced. Firefox and Chrome rescued us from Internet Explorer.

Safari always had its own thing going, and Opera, try though it might and as good as it is, just has never been able to get traction. Edge couldn’t get out from under the shadow of Internet Explorer. UC Browser is huge in Asia but has fatal security flaws. So Firefox and Chrome are where it’s at. And for now, they’re both really good.

So sure, use Firefox and DuckDuckGo if you want to avoid a monoculture. But just don’t knock Mosaic. Unlike the others in the list, it was more standards-compliant than what replaced it.

Kivi Shapiro; . Permalink
In response to Kivi Shapiro. Reply

Kivi, “monoculture” does not necessarily mean that the single browser is not standards compliant, but it does mean developers generally won’t test on other browsers. Interestingly, as I noted in my 20 year anniversary post, Mosaic offered an option to choose a font for heading level 7.

Reply

no, I won’t install firefox
there is a simple reason for that: due to mozilla getting senile it got equally useless as chrome forcing me to switch to waterfox

zakius; . Permalink

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