Microsoft’s Edge web browser has come a long, long way since its original release. Edge debuted as ‘Project Spartan’ in early Windows 10 previews before the OS was released in July 2015, but even in its post-preview form, the browser left a lot to be desired.
Over the last two years, Microsoft has made substantial improvements and additions to Edge, and with its latest wave of enhancements – as part of the Creators Update for the OS – the company has made Edge even better.
There’s still plenty of room for improvement, though – and one area in which Microsoft needs to do a lot better is that of web extensions for its browser.
When Microsoft introduced Edge to the world at its Build 2015 developer conference, it boasted of the close compatibility of Edge extensions with those developed for Google’s Chrome and Mozilla’s Firefox browsers. Developers, it said, would be able to create extensions for those browsers, and then quickly and easily modify them for use on Edge.
Microsoft later delayed the rollout of extensions support for Edge until 2016, but that support finally arrived with the Windows 10 Anniversary Update last August. “Extensions have been the number one feature request since we first shipped Windows 10 last July,” Microsoft said at the time, “and after previewing a growing set of extensions with Windows Insiders over the last several months, we’re thrilled to make them available to the general public.”
Only a handful of extensions were available for use at the time of launch, but Microsoft said: “We’ll continue to bring others to the Windows Store in future updates, ensuring the highest quality for our customers.” Since then, the number of Edge extensions has barely increased, with only a few dozen now available. In comparison, there are literally thousands of extensions available for Chrome.
It's not at all clear why the number of Edge extensions is growing at such a dismal rate. Microsoft claims that customer demand for extensions on its browsers has been huge, and yet the pace at which that demand is being satisfied has been severely lacking.
It's possible - given that Edge's share of the global browser market stands at less than 6% - that developers simply see little value in bringing their extensions to Edge, when Chrome and Firefox share around three quarters of the market between them. Even with streamlined tools available to make that conversion process easy, developers still face the prospect of competing for the attentions of only a portion of that 6%, since many Edge users - as on other browsers - will likely never use extensions at all.
But even if brands and developers do see value in supporting Edge extensions, Microsoft still isn't accepting submissions in the same way that it processes apps on the Windows Store. Microsoft's documentation for extension developers states:
Submitting a Microsoft Edge extension to the Windows Store is currently a restricted capability. Reach out to us with your requests to be a part of the Windows Store, and we’ll consider you for a future update.
With this "restricted capability" in place, how many developers will really be eager to "reach out" to Microsoft to submit an extension for Edge, when the process of submission and management of their extensions is so much easier on other, more popular browsers?
Two years after it originally announced Edge extensions, and almost a year after that support rolled out to end users, one can't help but wonder how much longer those restrictions will remain. Microsoft barely mentioned browser extensions at Build 2017 last month, and they weren't listed among the company's priorities for Edge development. Neowin asked Microsoft at Build if it intended to relax its submission policy for extensions, but a member of the Edge team made it clear that it has "no plans" to do so.
Microsoft said at Build that it intends to "double down on fundamentals" for its browser leading up to the release of its next major update. If extensions are as popular among its users as Microsoft claims, then it's surely time for the firm to treat them as fundamental to the success of its browser, and to make it easier for developers and brands to release them to those who use it.