Just thought I would dump some of my incoherent ramblings on the recent developments in Windows…
I believe (in agreement with Paul) that launching Edge from Mail is the just the beginning when it comes to forcing Edge usage in Windows. But I don’t think the Windows team is testing the level of backlash they can get away with or looking to measure how many insiders will notice that their browser choice is gradually disappearing. Rather, I suspect this is likely just another stepping stone in Microsoft’s vision to fully integrate Windows and Edge.
Mail is just one app, a curious exception, and as many have argued it is easy enough to look past it. After all, if the mail app were a PWA installed from the store (which would thus undoubtedly be running in Edge), then of course links would open in Edge, as they would within any browser regardless of the system default. Would it be excusable then if Mail were a PWA?
Now imagine that Mail, again as a PWA from the store, took advantage of sets and launched your external links in a new tab in the same window. Proceed to browse and open another new tab in sets and, in addition to displaying a list of your recent apps, a list of your recently visited sites is displayed. If it were done cleverly enough, a casual user might not even notice that they were using Edge underneath the entire time.
Take this a few steps further throughout the system and the outcome is what I imagine Microsoft’s vision is for Windows and Edge. Sets, while probably a nice productivity enhancement for traditional window management, mainly aims to make all of your windows also tabbed browser windows, that is, Microsoft Edge windows. If I can get a bit cynical, it would otherwise seem be a bit odd that they would go out of their way to develop what is simply a handy feature for mostly power users and nothing else, as if the investment might increase their desktop market share…
Why exactly are Microsoft (and others) so obsessed with browser share? Given all the fuss these days about openness and choice, it seems awfully hypocritical that Microsoft and other browser vendors continue to unapologetically harass people to switch in increasingly obnoxious and incessant ways. Why go through all the trouble to annoy their own users and continue to push a browser that most people have clearly made an effort to avoid?
There are many subtleties to consider when it comes to Microsoft’s control of the platform, but I don’t think it is simply an issue of moving toward a more closed, secure system. Chrome could surely still be made to work without sacrificing the potential for a more mobile-like, locked down operating system. In fact, it’s Microsoft’s own rules that prevent Chrome from properly existing in the store despite Google’s apparent desire to include it. This is because, looking at the big picture, the browser is much more than just an important component of the system — it could be the future of the OS.
If you imagine PWA to be the universal app platform of the future, and plenty of evidence suggests that this is shaping up to be the case, then it makes sense that a browser could someday be considered to be the new OS, at least as far as the user is concerned. Consider the case that a user spends most or all of their time browsing the web and using PWAs in a browser, then the actual underlying OS becomes mostly transparent, if not nearly irrelevant. In Microsoft’s case, this would mean that Google essentially came in with Chrome and stole nearly their entire platform and its strategic advantages right out from under them.
Assuming that the browser does become the predominant platform for apps, it is worth asking then, why does browser choice in Windows matter? Choosing to use Windows in this hypothetical eventuality is choosing to use Edge. Microsoft would not be the first OS vendor to enforce this paradigm, of course. If you want to use Chrome, then it may eventually become time to reconsider Chrome OS… And while I’m generally fairly impressed with how far Edge has come so far, if Microsoft does continue down this path, one can only hope that they close the quality gap quite a bit more before they force the hand of anyone that still has a browser preference.
Obviously, the reality of this is more complex. Please tell me all about how many hardcore win32 apps you use every day. Seriously though, at least a good portion of this seems fairly inevitable and/or obvious to me and I’m curious what others think. And don’t hate, this is just intended to be harmless speculation and observation ;). Clearly software companies are taking browsers and PWAs very seriously and no matter how you look at it, Microsoft has a single-digit share in that right now. If PWAs are half of what some think they’ll be, it is understandably in Microsoft’s best interests to leverage the control they have to try not to be completely left out of the next (and possibly final) big app platform… (again).