This post was originally published on Moz.com
With the release of Windows 10, the general public can now use Microsoft Edge, Microsoft’s new flagship web browser. Microsoft is striking out in new directions with Edge and is deprecating Internet Explorer for all modern platforms. Such a drastic change is rare in the web development world, so it makes sense to understand what this change means. In this article we will discuss Microsoft Edge and see how it removes many of the annoying issues of cross-browser development, making it easier for SEO professionals to focus their time and energy on creating compelling content. Below is the simple layout of the new browser.
Where did Edge come from?
To fully understand how Microsoft Edge impacts the SEO and web landscape it’s important to understand where it came from.
Microsoft Edge started as a project to improve the rendering engine inside of Internet Explorer. The rendering engine is pretty important since it is the lens through which your content has to pass. Unfortunately, much like a game of telephone, this process can distort or degrade the experience the author intended by the time it gets to the end user. Indeed, working around browser quirks or bugs which are impacting the experience of viewing your web page is an all too common task web developers and content creators have to deal with.
IE’s rendering engine, Trident, is nearly 20 years old. much like a snowball rolling downhill, over this time it has grown large and unwieldy with 20 years of old technology and browser bugs. Edge started as an attempt to create a new rendering engine from the start, which could leave behind much of the cruft and bulk that had accumulated in Trident. Eventually, this “replace the core of a legacy web browser” project became a “create a new modern web browser” project and Microsoft Edge was born.
By completely replacing IE with Edge, we can see that Microsoft clearly believes Edge represents the path forward. This means that Edge and its capabilities will directly affect SEO professionals for years to come. With this in mind, let’s discuss how Edge is different and represents a new strategy for web development and Microsoft.
Improving by Discarding
One of the biggest differences and primary benefits of Microsoft Edge over IE could be summarized as “better standards support and bug fixes”. Unfortunately, such a statement really doesn’t convey the huge benefits this brings.
Supporting new standards not only lets you create great online experiences, it also means that you won’t need to do special things to make your websites work properly in Edge. You will spend less time writing custom markup or working around browser quirks and more time creating awesome content! By more closely adhering to web standards, there is a lot of cruft in your markup you most likely no longer need such as:
- IE conditional comments
<span>nesting tags to work around CSS bugs
- Using the
X-UA-Compatibleheader to target specific IE Render modes
- Quirks Mode triggers
Luckily, we can see exactly what web standards Microsoft is implementing on the Edge platform status page. We can see support for new web standards like HTTP2 and asm.js are already adopted! The progress of Edge over Internet Explorer is even more obvious in this comparison page from CanIUse. There are dozens and dozens of new APIs and browser features that have already been implemented. By adopting new standards and fixes bugs, web professionals can focus on what’s really important: creating compelling content.
Imitation Begets Functionality
The Mobile web is an area where Microsoft has historically suffered. Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android dominate the smartphone market, and their mobile browsers are both based on WebKit, an open source rendering engine. As a result, many mobile websites are written specifically to work with WebKit features. These WebKit-specific sites then look at the incoming User Agent string from a visiting browser. When the developer is lazy, the site will think the Mobile IE browser is actually a desktop site, and will render as the desktop version instead of as the mobile version. Microsoft discussed this in a blog post last year, and you can see an example of the Hawaiian Air site being rendered as a desktop site on a mobile device in the screenshot below, as well as the proper mobile version:
This creates a pretty poor experience.
With Edge, Microsoft’s browser is actually impersonating both Apple’s Safari browser and Google’s Chrome browser in its User Agent string. In other words, Edge is telling websites it is actually a different, non-Microsoft browser in an attempt to get the correct content and to render the web page properly. Beyond just pretending to be WebKit, Microsoft wants Edge to work just like WebKit. So much so that Microsoft has declared that they consider any difference between how Edge and WebKit render a page to be a bug that they will fix!
While this might be the single most damning indictment of Microsoft’s position in the web browsing space, it is an enormous benefit for content creators. Microsoft is so committed to implement new standards and achieving feature and functionality parity with the other web browsers that it actually pretends to be those other browsers! This is a huge win for web professionals because it means that Microsoft is spending enormous resources to ensure your content is rendered the same across browsers. It’s one less thing for you to worry about.
We’ve seen how browsers supporting new web standards means developers can focus on creating content instead of fighting with browsers to render that content. But we need more than support for standards, we need that support in a timely fashion. After all, the promise of an amazing browser years in the future doesn’t help anyone. So the rate that browsers get these new features is pretty important.
New versions of Firefox and Chrome are released rapidly, usually on the 4-8 week timescale. While release might contain relatively few features, this rapid release schedule means that support can be added quickly for new standards, and major bugs can be addressed before they become a widespread problem.
With IE, Microsoft only made changes to its rendering engine or added support for new standards with major releases. So IE8 didn’t get any new features until IE9 beyond monthly security patches. While each major release of IE could bring an enormous amount of improvements, they could be 1 or 2 years apart. This “seldom but large” release cadence has 2 big issues.
First, consider a world where some version of IE came out that perfectly supported every known web standard. Now let’s say the day after that version of IE was released, a new web standard was created. It would be at least year or more before IE would support that standard whereas Chrome or Firefox could support it in a month or two.
Thankfully, with Microsoft Edge, it appears this “seldom but large” release cadence is being changed to more closely mirror the “small and often” approach of the other browsers. From the Microsoft Edge Dev FAQ:
In Windows 10, we are delivering Windows as a service, updated on a cadence driven by quality and the availability of new features. We won’t have a fixed schedule for browser feature updates. We’re committed to providing regular updates to our evergreen platform for web developers and customers alike.
By embracing a faster release cycle, we should see even faster adoption of web standards and shorter windows of problems if any browser bugs do slip through.
Edge’s Impact and the Future
Microsoft Edge represents a shift in how Microsoft is developing and releasing web browsers. With greater standards support, SEO and web professionals can spend less time working around browser compatibility problems and more time on what’s important: creating compelling content. Since Microsoft Edge impersonates other browsers, you don’t need to know that it exists or do anything special to take advantage of the features. Additionally, if any problems do exist or new standards are released, the accelerated development cycle of Microsoft Edge means those items will quickly be resolved.
In short, Microsoft Edge should make it easier to create compelling sites with a great user experience, which is something we are super passionate about at Rigor. If you’re interested in how you can make a fantastic web experience, be sure to check out our Free Performance Report, powered by Rigor Optimization!
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