Microsoft is officially giving up on an independent shared platform for the internet. By adopting Chromium, Microsoft hands over control of even more of online life to Google.
This may sound melodramatic, but it’s not. The “browser engines” — Chromium from Google and Gecko Quantum from Mozilla — are “inside baseball” pieces of software that actually determine a great deal of what each of us can do online. They determine core capabilities such as which content we as consumers can see, how secure we are when we watch content, and how much control we have over what websites and services can do to us. Microsoft’s decision gives Google more ability to single-handedly decide what possibilities are available to each one of us.
From a business point of view Microsoft’s decision may well make sense. Google is so close to almost complete control of the infrastructure of our online lives that it may not be profitable to continue to fight this. The interests of Microsoft’s shareholders may well be served by giving up on the freedom and choice that the internet once offered us. Google is a fierce competitor with highly talented employees and a monopolistic hold on unique assets. Google’s dominance across search, advertising, smartphones, and data capture creates a vastly tilted playing field that works against the rest of us.
This is a worrying development indeed.
What would have made more sense is for Microsoft to embrace Gecko, and contribute to Firefox’s rendering engine. It would have allowed the software giant to reconcile with the successor (Mozilla) of its former opponent (Netscape) in the “browser wars”, and given a boost to the Firefox project.
Instead, Microsoft is moving to shore up Google’s dominance in the browser space.
It is worth noting here that Mozilla is financially dependent on Google — Google currently pays Mozilla to make its search engine the default in Firefox. (Defaults matter because most people don’t change them.) So even Mozilla hasn’t been able to chart a totally independent course from the Monster of Mountain View.
A Microsoft-Mozilla alliance makes so much sense: Firefox could help steer people to Bing, and Microsoft could help Gecko’s future development. It’s a shame it’s not happening.