Spartan Win10 Browser Morphs to Edge Build2015

Microsoft confirmed what developers who had peeked into some of Windows 10’s “Project Spartan” files had speculated: The new Windows 10 browser has a new name.

At its Build developers conference in San Francisco today, Microsoft announced it will rename the new browser engine “Microsoft Edge.”

The new name has the virtue of beginning with “E,” so long-time Windows desktop PC users will recognize the logo: a lower-case “e” with a little wavelet-shape cut in it. It’s different enough to be new, but similar enough to be associated as Microsoft’s native web browser.

Getting the Edge

Joe Belfiore, corporate vice president, operating systems group at Microsoft, demonstrated a feature of Edge’s new build: a kind of Bing-like homepage built around each “New Tab” being opened up. Populating that screen with frequently accessed pages has been a common feature for some time, but now Edge will bring in some of the personalized content choices we had seen being developed for Bing.

In fact, you might as well call it Bing.

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“We’ve been testing this a ton,” said Belfiore, “and we’re optimistic about its opportunity to help people discover and connect with work that you all do on the Web an in apps.”

Also confirming speculation (made by people who know how to examine code), Belfiore added that Edge will support browser extensions, including some existing extensions already written using HTML5 and JavaScript for Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox.

Belfiore was somewhat foggy about the full extent of compatibility with existing extensions. Suffice it to say that most Firefox and Chrome browser extensions address specific components of those particular browsers. So some surgery will be required.

But Belfiore didn’t use that word.

During a demonstration, he told attendees, “We’ve grabbed a couple of these from Chrome, and with just a few minor modifications, we’re lighting them up right in here in Microsoft Edge.”

One example of an extension that had already been modified was the Reddit Enhancement Suite, which enables such features as collecting Pinterest photos shared by Reddit users. With that extension, photos already shared using Pinterest on Reddit can be re-pinned to the Edge user’s personal collection.

“You’ll see how we’re going to enable people to discover and engage with code that you’re propping up on the Web,” Belfiore continued, perhaps mixing his metaphors.

This new development does not mean Edge users can just go downloading Chrome extensions and running them in Edge. What it does mean is that Web sites like Reddit that have devised extended functionality using Google’s Chrome code, can have their developers repackage that code for use with Edge. Belfiore demonstrated Reddit’s Chrome extension after having been repackaged for Windows 10.

Google’s objective in devising Chrome extensions was to build its Web platform out a bit, like a new patio, but to render those extensions as exclusive to Google. The hope was to give Chrome a kind of value-add, a reason for both Web developers and users to treat it differently, without hard-wiring exclusive code into the Web itself.

Of course, Chrome’s extensions were not the first: Mozilla Firefox utilized extensions since its inception as the resurrection of Netscape; and even Internet Explorer has tried some mechanism for built-in code extensions. But rather than extend browser functionality, like most Firefox extensions, Chrome extensions can be leveraged by Web sites to build functionality that could not be accessed by other browsers.

Until Windows 10, that is, when it may become trivial for developers to remove that artificial barrier.

Unusually, Belfiore did not actually pin a release date on the next preview build of Windows 10, where testers would be able to experiment with the browser under its new name for the first time.

Infusing Windows Phones with Android

Cross-platform capability was a common theme throughout Microsoft’s three-hour Build keynote extravaganza. Earlier in the program, Microsoft executive vice president for operating systems Terry Myerson gave the first public demonstration of an Android runtime subsystem being built into future Windows 10 phones (and, we can assume from that, other Windows 10 devices).

That subsystem would enable developers to repackage existing Java and C++ code written for Android, and with no code changes, produce an application that will run on Windows 10’s Android subsystem.

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Myerson described this subsystem as a platform “where an app can be written that takes advantage of the Android code, but also the extensions that you would write in the Windows platform to really delight the Windows user.”

It’s something less than the complete portability scenario that veteran Windows journalist Paul Thurrott feared. Windows 10 users won’t be able to plug in the Google Play Store and go to town using both the great Android apps.

In fact, Myerson is being just as fuzzy about this subsystem as Belfiore was about Edge extensions. While he suggested that the addition of Windows-specific code to Android-specific code may help it better adapt to the environment, he did not address the question of whether such additions were absolutely necessary, or just how extensive they may become.

But the new Android subsystem does give mobile developers a platform portability option that they did not have before.

In that same vein, Microsoft also announced it is opening up its new, all-online, Azure-based software development environment, called Visual Studio Code, so it can also compile apps built originally for iPhone and iPod using Apple’s own Objective-C language. This way, apps written for iPhone have the opportunity to be redeveloped for Windows 10 with minimal redevelopment.

Here, Myerson was not afraid to demonstrate a redevelopment process in action: specifically, letting VS Code examine the syntax of an Objective-C program for iOS, followed by, as he put it, “highlighting all of the weirdness of Objective-C.”

Indeed, the highlights looked like a bad markup job from a fifth-grade English teacher. Hopefully the Chrome and Android redevelopment processes won’t look much similar.