SPOILER: Because Google.
Microsoft recently released the newest version of their Edge browser. Instead of being based on EdgeHTML (a fork of Trident, Internet Explorer’s engine), the reimagined Edge is based on Chromium- the engine behind Chrome. This means that if you don’t want to rely on Chromium, your only option is Firefox or Safari.
An article from The Verge’s Dieter Bohn puts it well:
Google is notorious for collecting a disgusting amount of data on its users and customers. (Seriously, have you ever actually checked? Go here to do so) Many people- myself included- have switched to using browsers like Brave or Vivaldi that are based on Chromium that have severed the connection to Google. To the websites you visit, you are using a Chromium based browser and for all they know you are using Chrome.
But Matthew: why should I care that one of the last holdouts has switched to Chromium?
As I mentioned earlier, the Chromium engine is what Chrome is based on- which means that Google is the chief developer. Even if we forget that Google collects a lot of data, it’s still a bad thing. If 80% of browsers in the market are using Chromium, Google controls the web. Google has a direct influence on Chromium’s development, meaning that they could add or remove features at will. Of course, each browser could add in these features on their own, but that means that the web becomes more fragmented. If every browser has their own standard for handling images (for example), site developers will have to make sure that images will display properly on at least a majority of browsers.
I am in no way blaming any browser developer for using the Chromium engine- it does work quite well, and most websites are optimized for Chromium. Brave, my personal browser of choice, has actually added a good many features beyond Google’s Chrome. Instead of embracing data collection, Brave blocks trackers out of the box. I must admit, they’ve done a great job. If Brave Software had chose to develop their own HTML engine from scratch, chances are that it wouldn’t have worked on every website out there. Using Chromium allows them to guarantee compatibility with most websites.
Let’s go back to that Verge article:
The term “browser wars” refers to a time where Microsoft’s Internet Explorer and Netscape’s Navigator fought for the top spot in the browser market. Each browser implemented features a little differently, meaning that a website developed for Netscape may not work in Internet Explorer. The Verge’s article is stating that the browser wars have been revived. But, instead of being about marketshare, it’s about privacy. Almost all of these browsers that are based on Chromium focus on one thing: privacy. Even though they are based on Google’s engine, these browsers are advertising themselves as being privacy focused. I fear that in the future they will be unable to maintain this claim, but I can only hope.