Mozilla CEO says Microsoft’s switch to Chromium is ‘terrible’ for the web

Microsoft is overhauling its Edge browser to run on Google's Chromium platform, the same one that powers Chrome, and in doing so it's giving Google too much control over the web, according to Mozilla CEO Chris Beard.

"This may sound melodramatic, but it's not... Microsoft's decision gives Google more ability to single-handedly decide what possibilities are available to each one of us," Beard stated in a blog post.

Microsoft's plan is to gradually gut its Edge browser by ripping out its EdgeHTML rendering and Chakra Javascript engines, and replace them with Google's V8 and Blink engines. From Microsoft's perspective, this move will foster better compatibility on the web.

"Our intent is to align the Microsoft Edge web platform simultaneously (a) with web standards and (b) with other Chromium-based browsers. This will deliver improved compatibility for everyone and create a simpler test-matrix for web developers," Microsoft said.

Beard concedes that Microsoft's move makes sense from a business standpoint, as it may not be profitable to continue fighting Google's stranglehold on the overall web experience. However, he feels Microsoft is doing users a disservice by "giving up on the freedom and choice that the internet once offered us."

"From a social, civic and individual empowerment perspective ceding control of fundamental online infrastructure to a single company is terrible. This is why Mozilla exists. We compete with Google not because it’s a good business opportunity. We compete with Google because the health of the internet and online life depend on competition and choice. They depend on consumers being able to decide we want something better and to take action," Beard wrote.

He also acknowledged that Microsoft's decision could make it more difficult for Firefox to prosper, depending on what web developers and businesses who create services and websites do.

"If one product like Chromium has enough market share, then it becomes easier for web developers and businesses to decide not to worry if their services and sites work with anything other than Chromium. That’s what happened when Microsoft had a monopoly on browsers in the early 2000s before Firefox was released. And it could happen again," Beard stated.

Are these legitimate concerns? Possibly, and time will tell if the sky really is getting ready to fall. I'm not as convinced, given Edge's low usage. In theory, I agree with what Beard is saying—Google hardly needs even more control over the web. Competition is almost always a good thing. At the same time, Edge is not widely used. Net Applications pegs Edge's share of the browser market at 4.34 percent, while Stat Counter has it even lower at just 2.15 percent.

Predictably, Google's opinion on the matter is the exact opposite of Beard's. In a comment provided to Venture Beat, Google echoed Microsoft's reasoning behind the move.

"Chrome has been a champion of the open web since inception and we welcome Microsoft to the community of Chromium contributors," Google said. "We look forward to working with Microsoft and the web standards community to advance the open web, support user choice, and deliver great browsing experiences."

Opera also weighed, noting that Microsoft is following in its footsteps (Opera is now based on Chromium as well).

"Switching to Chromium is part of a strategy Opera successfully adopted in 2012. This strategy has proved fruitful for Opera, allowing us to focus on bringing unique features to our products. As for the impact on the Chromium ecosystem, we are yet to see how it will turn out, but we hope this will be a positive move for the future of the web," Opera told Venture Beat.

It could be a long time before we find out for sure. Microsoft isn't changing Edge overnight, and instead plans to make the shift little by little over the next year.