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Microsoft must release its ARM64 Edge browser for Surface Pro X users now

Microsoft is a massive company, and with that comes sometimes unexplained decisions. Take Surface Pro X – the company's first real stick to support Windows on ARM architecture in premium hardware. You would think that the company would push on all cylinders to sell the experience, but as it is a familiar story with the company, there are some surprisingly significant tips.

For example, this week Microsoft did a deserved big thing about its new Edge browser built on the Chromium Project. In addition, it got a nice new logo to come with and – credit where credit is due ̵

1; that is, to date, an outstanding browser worthy of Windows 10 (and iOS, Android and even Mac).

So why is it, if you plunk down over $ 1,100 for a new Surface Pro X, you can't use an ARM64 version of that Edge browser? Microsoft is obviously not delivering a final version of the modern Edge until mid-January 2020, so that's understandable. Still, the ARM64 version is not even available as a canary or developer for insider testing.

For those curious, Surface Pro X typically runs Windows 10 Home, but it runs on ARM64 code – which is why it feels as fast as an 8th Gen Intel Core i5 (and it really does). While the custom SQ1 processor together with Qualcomm can run x86 32-bit applications – such as the new Edge browser or even Google Chrome – that code is not optimized for Surface Pro X, resulting in slightly worse performance and also a hit on the battery.

What Microsoft needs is a natively compiled version of Edge for ARM64 – and it has one too. Microsoft has tested that version 80.0.327.0 is the latest when this article goes live (it's the same building as Edge Canary). It is updated almost every day and – get this – it works beautifully on Surface Pro X (and other Windows on ARM computers). It is really good – it is fast, smooth and is good for battery life. But you can't have it, not today.

How this still happens in 2019 is beyond me. And frankly, it's embarrassing.

Microsoft cites undefined "blocking issues" that prevent it from being released to Edge Insiders for testing. I have no doubt – for example, the ARM64 browser cannot update itself. But I've been using this ARM64 browser for months now (you can find ways to get it), and I haven't had any show-stop bugs – it feels as polished as Edge Dev releases.

Regardless, Microsoft should have done one of two things here. Either it should have been waiting to release Surface Pro X until it could sort out this browser issue in January, or have the ARM64 version ready for public testing with the Insider releases. The latter is not ideal, but at least technical reviewers could point it out and try it before fooling Surface Pro X.

The reason why this is important is simple. This week, I talked to Aaron Woodman, Windows Marketing Manager, about Edge. In Microsoft's own account, up to 50 percent of a Windows 10 user's time is spent in the browser. Playing this experience is crucial, especially for riskier technologies like Surface Pro X.

And the Edge browser is just one example. How about Microsoft Teams? The app is available in 32 or 64 bit variants, where the former works on Surface Pro X via the emulation layer. Sure, it works, but a Universal Windows Platform (UWP), or even a built-in ARM64 compiled version, would be much better. Surface Pro X is focused on "tech forward mobile workers" where Microsoft Teams is literally the point of sale; how is it not even on Microsoft's radar? Why, after more than two years with ARMs, is Microsoft still dragging its feet to support its own apps and services?

For someone who has been following Microsoft for years, none of this is surprising – it is actually classic Microsoft. However, it does not make it less frustrating. Surface Pro X is arguably the most innovative hardware of the year, but Microsoft seems to be self-sabotaging with its shiny ARM64 support. This argument goes back to the UWP days, when the company rarely embraced its own technology. How this still happens in 2019, even under CEO Satya Nadella's guidance, is beyond me. And frankly, it's embarrassing.

Come on, Microsoft, collect it.

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