Just how evergreen is Microsoft Edge?

by Ashley | 3rd, February 2016

Microsoft has occasionally described their new browser Edge as being evergreen, so "developers can rely on Microsoft Edge users always having the latest version of the rendering engine". In this context, "evergreen" means browsers which auto-update, like Google Chrome. However I was a little skeptical of the description of Edge as evergreen. One aspect they have not highlighted is that Edge updates still come as an operating-system level update through Windows Update - just as Internet Explorer updates did. This means updating your browser means running an OS upgrade, with all the surrounding issues with compatibility, drivers, UI changes, and an often bafflingly lengthy install process. I think this is crazy especially on platforms where there is an app store, like there is on Windows 10. A browser is just an app, not an OS-level component like the driver support or memory management engine, and the app store provides the perfect place to host OS-bundled apps and update them on an independent schedule to the OS itself. Despite how much sense it makes to do this, both Apple and Microsoft have their browsers as built-in OS components, and their browsers thus have the same fate as their OS.

So I was curious to find out how Edge compares to, say, Chrome's update cycle. StatCounter global stats is my favourite source of data for browser usage, covering a sample of 3 million websites. Lots of sources reference Net Applications data, but it samples just 40,000 websites and has considerably different results. StatCounter covers a whole 75x as many websites, so I think they have a better representation! Anyway, Edge 12 was the original release of Edge, and Edge 13 came out in November. So let's see how Edge updates are progressing according to StatCounter:

Microsoft Edge browser share, November 2015 - February 2016

This data covers November 1st 2015 to February 2nd 2016. Since Edge 13 comes as an OS update, we are really measuring how many people are updating Windows 10. Over two months later, Edge 12 still represents about 26% of all Edge users. There are two ways of looking at this: on the one hand, wow, that's a pretty fast rate of OS updates! On the other hand, that's not the fastest update rate for a browser. Let's compare it to Google Chrome over the same period:

Google Chrome browser share, November 2015 - February 2016

Over the same period there were actually two Chrome updates, with versions 47 and 48 coming out (48 being a very recent update). By the end of this period, the starting version 46 fell to just 2.5% of these Chrome versions. Even version 47 has already fallen to about 10% within a week of 48's release. I'm not entirely clear why 2.5% of users would be left behind. Perhaps they are using special settings to block Chrome updating. Another possible explanation is since Chrome's engine is open source, some vendors release their own-brand variants that identify themselves as Chrome to websites but lack the official auto-update mechanism (for example "Chromodo", Comodo's shockingly insecure variant.) This could mean "official" Chrome is more-or-less 100% updated over this period, but I don't have any real data to back that up. Either way, the upgrades are so close to complete that old versions quickly become irrelevant, and the web can move on.

Is this the case with Edge? The situation is still far better than with Internet Explorer. IE8, released six years ago, clings on with 1.5% of the global browser share (ironically, still more than Edge 13!). It seems unlikely Edge 12 will stick around that long. However Edge 12 remains in significant use a couple of months after an update. Updates even look like they are starting to slow down. There's also uncertainty around the Windows 10 update schedule: there may be options for enterprises to stick to a much slower cycle to avoid surprises with updates, and this will correspondingly lock them to an older version of Edge. There does not appear to be an option for Edge to still be updated while staying on the same version of Windows. This raises the worrying prospect of old Edge versions clinging on with small shares just like old versions of IE still do.

Defining 'evergreen'

I don't think it's fair to say that Edge is evergreen. As web developers keen to use the latest browser technologies, it appears we can't rely on Edge users always having the latest version. The update process is too slow, and there is too much uncertainty about whether future users will regularly update, because Edge is still shackled to the OS. I would like to propose a new definition for "evergreen" which I think is reasonable:

An evergreen browser will update 90% of its users within 6 weeks of a new release.

I think there should also be a provision for something like "at least four updates a year" specifically to exclude the annual cycle Safari has taken in the past, but let's ignore that for now. How well does each browser meet this definition, according to StatCounter's data?

  • Chrome: 96.8% of v46 users updated to v47 after 6 weeks = evergreen
  • Firefox: 96.0% of v42 users updated to v43 after 6 weeks = evergreen
  • Edge: 60.3% of v12 users updated to v13 after 6 weeks = not evergreen
  • Safari (desktop): 72.4% of v8 users updated to v9 after 6 weeks = not evergreen

Even Safari on iOS 9, where Apple highlight the adoption rates of new releases, only reached 74% of iOS 8 users after six weeks, according to Mixpanel Trends, which appears to be more optimistic than Apple's own official data.

When Microsoft decided to make a whole new browser to leave behind the IE legacy, they missed a great opportunity: to unshackle the browser from the OS. Sadly Edge remains a component of Windows. I don't know any technical reason that has to be - Android exemplifies a system where both the default browser and the system webview control auto-update independently of the OS. Perhaps Microsoft are still tied up in awkward legal issues left behind from the early-2000's antitrust cases.

It seems to be impossible to reach this definition of evergreen with a browser that only updates with the operating system. I think that makes it a good definition! Based on this, I don't think Microsoft should call Edge evergreen, as it's closer to Safari than Chrome. Browser vendors, please - follow Android's example.

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Comments

7
SamRock 2,465 rep

Sorry Ashley I did not read the entire article, but you said the right points.

Reason I am commenting here is, we put so much of effort into releasing a Windows Universal version on Windows 10 and honestly its not worth the all the hardwork :(
The Ad revenue on pubCenter is miserable, especially after Jan 2016. I earned $6 from 15K requests.

Leaving Ad revenue aside, Microsoft has not clear vision on future of their mobile platform. That means we have to concentrate on developing games for larger screens that run on PC. This again is an additional effort given the fact that we devs want our games to run on multiple Mobile/Tabs with least amount of rework. If we design game separately for Windows 10, then we have to spend time on larger high res assets, Bigger screen formats. Keyboard/mouse functionality and more. Whatever the case, in the end its not worth effort. If you are a PC user, you would prefer playing games from Steam or EA Origin/Ubisoft, not from the Stores :D

Wednesday, February 03, 2016 at 2:08:45 PM
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chadorireborn 10.2k rep

I agree on what @SamRock said. Microsoft only focuses on the big screens not on the smaller ones. The only reason they made the Windows store is to secretly advertise Xbox and it's controllers, well there is also to follow the trend for the reason other platforms also have this. Microsoft Edge is still Internet Explorer but they only added a few tweaks so that people will stop hating Microsoft Browsers, they call it "placedo effect". Microsoft Edge & Internet Explorer will always be an OS built in browser until they change their mind. @Ashley don't waste your time on this, focus more on the important things like Construct 3. Thanks for sharing BTW.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016 at 3:45:47 PM
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TheRealDannyyy 2,943 rep

Very informative and well detailed blog post Ashley!
As much as I agree with your statement about Edge "not beeing evergreen" at it's current state, I can only hope (and wish) that Microsoft is going to improve the current method they're using to update their browser and make a more intuitive-build in update system in future.

(But well, at the end it is still Microsoft we're talking about here and I guess they will keep on using their automatic windows update system which most of the users disable anyway.)

Wednesday, February 03, 2016 at 3:46:54 PM
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TheRealDannyyy 2,943 rep
... @Ashley don't waste your time on this, focus more on the important things like Construct 3. ...
quoted from chadorireborn

@chadorireborn Every developer needs a break sometimes from non-stop working on their projects. ;)

Wednesday, February 03, 2016 at 3:51:26 PM
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kburgoyne 281 rep

Personally I hate using Chrome and FireFox because every time I fire them up it seems like they're updating, and sometimes they've made some critical (to me) add-in no longer compatible. I used to use FF when IE didn't work, but with Edge if I stumble upon a web site that isn't working, every time I've cross-checked it using Chrome/FF the site also hasn't worked with those browsers.

My system is too important to me and my livelihood to be allowing anything to be auto-updating without my knowing about it, so every time something wants to update it's an imposition upon me. It's something that also annoys me about iTunes -- for which I keep updates disabled because of the annoyance. Not to mention about 1 in 8 iTunes updates fails and I have to completely uninstall and reinstall iTunes.

Microsoft learned a long time ago people hated getting hit with constant updates. Now updates only come out once a month unless something was of particularly high criticality. That's a WONDERFUL improvement. I've made negative comments to app sellers when sometimes they've gone into some crazy once a week update cycle.

I want all my non-MS apps to be bundled into the once-a-month Windows update cycle. Just one complete single time during the month when I have to deal with anything changing on my system that might break "something".

"Something" doesn't mean my system in general. It can mean just no longer being able to do something at the time when I need to. Like finding out when I'm in a rush to complete some task that Chrome, FireFox, iTunes, (or Edge), or whatever isn't working right, or some add-in I need no longer works.

If everything is constantly updating itself willy-nilly at random times it makes it much more confusing to figure out it was some update that broke something. If I know everything needing updating was updated all at once on one day of the month, that makes it MUCH easier to figure out what may be the cause of some problem suddenly popping up.

People get into the habit of viewing the world from their own little niches. That leaves people involved with consumer-oriented stuff to overlook the fact Microsoft has to support thousands of computer systems at huge enterprises like Boeing. The thousands of computers at someplace like Boeing are not allowed to randomly install updates because the IT group doesn't need thousands of users suddenly complaining some app is "broken" (based on what the company needs it to do).

Wednesday, February 03, 2016 at 4:26:41 PM
1
birbilis 583 rep

Store apps update if you open the store I think and some users may rarely if ever open it

Wednesday, February 03, 2016 at 8:03:29 PM
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birbilis 583 rep

@SamRock maybe have vector images support in construct 3?

Wednesday, February 03, 2016 at 8:07:49 PM
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Lordshiva1948 30.8k rep

install process I think this is crazy especially on platforms where there is an app store, like there is on Windows 10 says Ashley/

I totally agree with Ashley

Wednesday, February 03, 2016 at 8:08:04 PM
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birbilis 583 rep

...btw even a loader that renders vector assets into bitmaps when display size changesvsignificantly could be written and keep the engine bitmap based

Wednesday, February 03, 2016 at 8:09:44 PM
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arcab072081 1,316 rep

I agree with with @kburgoyne, im very pleased with edge, hasnt given me a single problem since i updated to windows 10, and also like the idea of just getting updates when its critical. This is my opinion, im not expert, but i feel that when an app needs to update so often is because is full of bugs n cant seem to get right. Again, is how i see it.

Thursday, February 04, 2016 at 2:34:12 AM
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edwardr 732 rep

Yes and No. The stats are nice, but some other points should be considered.

Windows is also the leading OS for companies and many of them don't allow Chrome or Firefox in the company. Beside that they have their own small programs / add ins and update servers. Some big companies still uses Windows 7, because they are testing if Windows 10 will work in the company or if they have to make changes in their programs. Also when an update comes they download it, test it with their programs and then put it on their own server. After that all companies computer get the updates. (so this takes a while, till the computer get the latest update)

On the other side there is Chrome and Firefox. They are pretty strong in the private sector. The user doesn't think about company rules they just auto-update.

So maybe that's the reason why there are also so strong peaks.

Thursday, February 04, 2016 at 8:47:22 AM

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