Microsoft previews 'chromified' Edge's group policies to win enterprise approval

Hoping to catch the interest of IT admins, Microsoft is offering a sneak peek of group policies they could use to manage the still-under-development "full-Chromium" Edge.

Microsoft's Chromium Edge browser
Microsoft / Google / Vijay Kumar / Getty Images

Microsoft has unveiled a preliminary catalog of group policies for managing the still-under-development "full-Chromium" Edge, giving IT admins a glimpse at what they will be working with if they adopt the browser.

"We're still working on the list, but I'd like to share an early preview of the management policies we are working on for the new version of Microsoft Edge," Sean Lyndersay, a group program manager on the Edge team, wrote in a June 14 post to the Insider online forum.

An attached file in .zip format contained ADMX and ADML files - the two required to implement group policies on a Windows device - and an HTML document that lists and describes the policies on Windows and macOS machines.

"This is a work in progress," cautioned Lyndersay. "The list will change between now and our final release, with policies being added, removed or changed based on feedback."

Microsoft announced in December 2018 that it was dumping its own technologies, notably rendering and JavaScript engines, and would instead take those from Chromium, the Google-centric, open-source project that feeds into Chrome and some lesser browsers. The revamping of Edge - which is to result in what Computerworld has called "full-Chromium Edge" - does not have a timetable, although with Windows 7's retirement looming in six months, and Edge to run on that edition as well as Windows 10, Windows 8.1 and macOS, one would think the browser will ship before year's end.

While Microsoft has trumpeted the technical progress it's made in the transition to Chromium - boasting of how many "commits" its engineers have added to the project, for instance - the company has not yet made much of a case as to why enterprises should drop Chrome for the new Edge. The appearance of supported group policies, even incomplete as it was, implicitly argues for a change in enterprise browsers.

"Thank you! This was high on my list, to see these GPO templates," said a user identified as Senturion33 in a comment appended to Lyndersay's post.

"The seamlessness of [the planned implementation of IE mode] plus Chromium compatibility will have me pushing this out ASAP when it's available," added jrasmussen.

Historically, Microsoft has had a major advantage over rival browsers in that its applications, particularly Internet Explorer (IE) in the days prior to Windows 10, could be managed by IT using Windows' group policies infrastructure. But as Google's Chrome overtook IE to become the world's most popular browser, it, too, took on enterprise characteristics, including scores of supported group policies. (Mozilla's Firefox, although accounting for less than 10% of global browser user, has also attended to business needs with its ESR, or Extended Support Release, version, in the hope of acquiring customers or keeping those it has.)

The focus on group policies for full-Chromium Edge means Microsoft would like to reclaim its reputational spot.

"Certainly, manageability is something that Microsoft always felt that it had a focus on," said Stephen Kleynhans, of Gartner. "It's always thought it brought an enterprise-class platform set of tools [to browsers]." The company, Kleynhans continued, both hopes and plans to bring a more manageable version of Chromium to enterprise customers. "That's one of the value-adds that Microsoft feels it brings."

Some of the group policies administrators want will come later, not sooner, to Edge, said Lyndersay. Among them: GPOs (group policy objects) to manage the browser update process. "Policies for managing updates aren't included; those will be in a separate administrative template file," he wrote.

"We need to verify each [Edge] update with remote vendors and to ensure policies still work as needed," said Senturion33.

"The policy to disable the native update service is definitely part of the set we will have," Lyndersay answered.

Unlike previous Microsoft browsers - IE and the 2015 Edge - full-Chromium Edge will be updated on a fast cadence, refreshed every six to eight weeks if the company keeps up with Chrome. Enterprises, some at least, will want to verify that each update works as expected with add-ons and web apps, before letting it land on employees' devices. Those organizations will need a way to block the native update mechanism.

Edge on Macs will be managed via policies - those supported on macOS - deployed via a plist file, Lyndersay said. "We have tested with JAMF and a few other Mac management tools and will be publishing documentation with step-by-step instructions," he said on July 3.

Updates to the group policy list will be announced on the group's Twitter account, @MSEdgeDev. And at some point, full-Chromium Edge will have its own policy change history documentation, similar to what the original Edge now has here.

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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