The renewed Microsoft Edge browser, which will be launched today, is the company’s third attempt to build a better browser. The first attempt, Internet Explorer, was initially launched in 1995 and eventually became the most popular browser in the world, reaching a 95% market share in 2003. But Microsoft’s actions to make it difficult for users to use other browsers in Windows They put him on the government’s crosshairs list and led to a successful antitrust lawsuit against the company. After that, Microsoft did little to improve the browser, and Internet Explorer became old, buggy and insecure, allowing agile browsers like Firefox and Google Chrome to gain popularity.
The company’s second browser, Edge, launched in July 2015, was an attempt by Microsoft to replace Internet Explorer and regain the leadership of the browser. Failure. That version of Edge, available only for Windows 10, was slow, packed with features that few people wanted and severely lacked something that people did want: browser extensions. Edge’s failure to turn on only accelerated Chrome’s rival ascent. According to Statcounter, as of December 2019, Chrome had 69% of the global desktop browser market, compared with Edge’s 4.6% and Internet Explorer 3.6%.
Microsoft’s new Edge browser is a break as dramatic as you can imagine from the company’s past. Instead of developing the browser with proprietary code, Microsoft decided to build the new Edge using the open source Chromium source code, which was originally developed by Google and also supports Google Chrome and other browsers such as Opera and Brave. Doing that is anathema to the vision of going alone and dominating the market championed by former CEO Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer.
The current CEO of Microsoft, Satya Nadella, has been willing to break with that orthodoxy of Microsoft in the past. But the use of open source code first developed by Google for Microsoft’s new browser is probably your biggest bet so far. Viewed another way, however, it was not a bet at all. With Microsoft’s browser market share so minimal and its browsers so vilified, he probably felt he had nothing to lose by taking a dramatically new approach.
So how well did Microsoft do with this innovative browser? Will the third time be the charm, or did Microsoft re-build a browser destined to fail? Read on for details and answers.
Note: Unlike the original Edge browser, the Chromium-based Edge works with Windows 7, Windows 8.1 and macOS in addition to Windows 10 – but in this review, I focus on the version of Windows 10.
Faster and cleaner
One of the first things you’ll notice about the new Edge is how fast it is and how quickly websites are loaded. Even when I used 10 or more tabs, I didn’t find it slow, as is often the case with Chrome.
In my experience, the new Edge also does not suffer from another Chrome problem: the tendency to slow down as you use the browser, especially when you have several tabs open. It’s not uncommon on my machines, when I leave Chrome running for days with several tabs in use, it becomes so slow that I need to close the browser. In several weeks of testing, that never happened to me with Edge, even when I was using the beta version.
The tests I ran using Task Manager to measure RAM usage found that Edge uses less RAM than Chrome. When running browsers with the same five tabs open and with all extensions removed, Chrome used an average of 14% more RAM than Edge.
As for the design, the new Edge borrows from the less ethos is more than Chrome. Microsoft ruled out many of the little-loved and little-used features of the old Edge. Therefore, there are no unnecessary resources such as the ability to bookmark web pages and share them with others. There are no reading lists or e-readers so you can buy and read books in your browser. The confusing Edge tab management functions accessed from the upper left of the screen also disappeared.
Features like that always seemed like a lipstick on a pig: they couldn’t hide the essential shortcomings of the Edge browser. With the new Edge, lipstick is not needed. Chromium Edge is not a pig. It is a very good browser.
Finally, extensions for Edge
Microsoft has long had a problem attracting developers to write extensions for their browsers, first Internet Explorer and then Edge. Chrome and Firefox each have thousands of extensions for everything imaginable, while the original version of Edge is only 298 when I write this, four and a half years after it was first introduced. Given the time that most people spend using their browsers and the useful capabilities that extensions can add to them, this was one of Edge’s biggest drawbacks.
With this Chromium version of Edge, those days are over. The new browser was created to work with existing Chrome extensions, and in my tests, those extensions worked flawlessly. I went to Chrome Web Store and downloaded and installed Google Translate, the New York Times Cooking extension, the smart PDF conversion tool, Adblock Plus, Evernote Web Clipper and Checker Plus for Gmail, and everything worked smoothly. Microsoft also has its own extension store for Edge, Microsoft Edge Addons, which as I write this has more than 700 extensions. I use the Ghostery Ad Blocker extension from the Microsoft Store, and it looks and works like the version I’ve used in Chrome’s Chrome Web Store.
To use Chrome Web Store extensions or any location other than the Microsoft Edge add-ons site, click on the three-dot icon in the upper right corner of Edge, select “Extensions” from the drop-down menu and at the bottom of On the left of the screen that appears, move the slider next to “Allow extensions from other stores” to the On position. Then, you can download and install apps from the Chrome Web Store.
Microsoft warns that some Chrome extensions may not work on Edge, including those that depend on the functionality of the Google account to log in or synchronize data and those that depend on the complementary software on your PC. However, I didn’t find any Chrome extensions that didn’t work, including Checker Plus for Gmail, which requires signing in to a Google account.
All this is a great victory for Edge and solves a problem that has affected Microsoft web browsers for many years. One of the several reasons I have always preferred Chrome to Edge was the lack of Edge extensions. However, that is no longer the case.
Stop following in your tracks
The lack of privacy has become one of the most common complaints that people have about Internet browsing, and Edge has taken a solid step to address it. It offers a feature called tracking prevention, which prevents ad providers from tracking it from one website to another. That makes it more difficult for companies like Google, Facebook and others to create comprehensive profiles of their activities and interests.
By default, follow-up prevention is activated. But you can customize how it works, making it less or more restrictive depending on how much privacy you would like when browsing the web and how much you want to see ads and content that reflect your interests.
To do so, click on the three dot icon in the upper right corner of the Edge screen and select Settings> Privacy and services. You have three options:
- Basic, which allows most crawlers and blocks only those that Microsoft considers harmful. You will have less privacy, but you are more likely to see personalized ads and content.
- Balanced, It blocks many trackers and is more restrictive than Basic. This is the default Edge setting. You will have more privacy than with Basic, but ads and content are less likely to be customized. And like Basic, it blocks harmful ads. With the balanced and basic configuration, the websites you visit will work as you expect.
- Strict, It blocks most crawlers of all websites, as well as harmful ads. You will have the most privacy, and the ads and content will probably have minimal customization. Parts of websites may not work correctly when you choose this setting.
You can further customize tracking prevention by clicking on Exceptions. That will allow you to specify the sites where you want to allow all crawlers. Edge also allows you to see which ad trackers you have blocked. Click Trackers locked to see them.
Edge also offers you an ingenious way to see which crawlers have been blocked on any website you are currently visiting. To do so, click on the lock icon to the left of the URL, then click on “Trackers” at the bottom of the menu that appears.
You might wonder why I installed the AdBlock Plus and Ghostery extensions on Edge, since it offers built-in tracking prevention. Tracking prevention only stops tracking ads that follow you from one site to another. But Ghostery and Adblock Plus (and similar software) also stop ads that don’t follow you. In my tests, for example, Ghostery blocked quite a few ads that were not blocked by follow-up prevention; The tools work very well in concert.
Keep in mind that Firefox also offers tracking prevention, but Chrome does not. The way Microsoft determines which trackers to block is quite complex. For more information, see the blog post “Improving Tracking Prevention in Microsoft Edge”.
Run websites as applications
Although the new Edge has abandoned many of Edge’s old features that are not useful, it has added a new and interesting one: it allows you to run websites such as Twitter or Computerworld as standalone applications, without having to run Edge.
To do so, when you are on a website that you want to run as an application, click on the three dot icon in the upper right corner of the screen, then select Applications> Install this site as an application and click on the Install button. When you do that, the website will appear in your list of Windows 10 applications (and you can pin it to the taskbar) like any other application. Simply click on the application icon, and the website will be represented by Edge with all its functions, but it will work as your own application without any other Edge features.
You can also run the application by selecting Applications from the Edge three point icon, then click on the application from the menu that appears. To remove any application you have installed, click Manage applications From the menu, and in the new screen that appears, click on the X next to any application you wish to remove.
This is not a new and impressive feature, but I found it moderately useful to be able to create applications from websites that I visit frequently. I can run them on their own, which allows me to run fewer tabs on Edge, so I don’t have to search so much on a messy Edge for the sites I want to visit.
Edge has a variety of other minor but useful features as well. The most welcome is the ability to mute the audio in any individual tab. If you listen to audio playback, look at each tab and look for the audio icon that tells you that audio is playing. Click on the icon and it will mute the audio, indicated by an X next to the audio icon. Click again to turn on the audio again.
You can also customize, site by site, what kind of permissions you want to grant to websites to access your PC. When on a page, click on the lock icon to the left of the URL in the address bar and select Site Permissions. On the screen that appears, you can select whether to allow the site to access your location, camera and microphone on your computer, if you run or block Adobe Flash, allow pop-ups and automatic downloads, etc.
Those who like to go to the dark side will be delighted to see that the new Edge has a dark mode, just like the previous one. Also like the old Edge, the new one offers a function of reading aloud that will read web pages. Because the browser is based on Chromium, it can also stream Chromecast video streams to tablets, PCs and televisions that allow streaming, something that the old Edge couldn’t do.
Microsoft has also made it extremely easy to switch from another browser to the new Edge. It will import Favorites and passwords. When I imported them from Chrome, the import happened instantly, so fast that I thought Edge had made a mistake and only claimed to have imported them. However, it also imported them quickly and accurately.
Collections that are missing in action at the moment
One of the most useful new features of Edge, called Collections, is not yet ready for primetime and is not available in the newly released version of Edge. However, it has been available since August on the latest Edge test channel called Canary and recently launched a more stable Dev channel, which is where the features appear before they go to the beta version. So, even if you don’t see it in the newly released version of Edge, you may soon do it; Together with the Chromium source code, Microsoft is adopting a more frequent update rate, approximately every six weeks, the company says.
Collections does exactly what it looks like: it allows you to create collections of websites so you can see them easily grouped and then perform actions on them, such as submitting your URLs to Excel or Word.
On Dev and Canary channels, Collections are not enabled by default, so if you have one of those versions of Edge, you must activate it. To do it, write edge: // flags # edge-collections in the address bar. That opens the experimental configuration page. Scroll down to “Experimental Collections Function” on the page, select Enabled, then click on Restart button at the bottom of the screen.
After restarting, a new Collections icon appears to the right of the Star-shaped Favorites icon on the right edge of the address bar. The Collections icon has a square with a cross. Click to start the Collections panel.
From here, click Start a new collection, Name the collection and you will be ready to start. You can now add pages to the collection. Whenever you are on a web page that you want to add to one of your collections, click on the Collections icon to display the Collections panel, click on the collection to which you want to add the page and then click on Add current page.
When you go to a collection, you can click on any web page to access it in a new tab. You can also create notes in any collection by clicking on the note icon to the right of the “Add current page” button.
Click on the three dot icon to the right of the note icon and you will get these options:
- Send to Excel. This creates a new Excel spreadsheet in OneDrive in a new Microsoft Edge Collections folder, with the title and file name of the collection, and a list of all the titles in the collection, including links to them.
- Send to Word. This creates a new Word document in OneDrive in a new Microsoft Edge Collections folder, with the title and file name of the collection, and a list of all the titles in the collection, including links to them. It also shows your notes.
- Open all This launches a new instance of Edge, with all the pages of the collection in their own tabs.
- Copy everything. This copies the list to the Windows clipboard.
I found the Collections especially suitable for research, as a way to get instant access to all the useful pages for the projects I am working on. But some of its features are work in progress. When you created a new worksheet with the “Send to Excel” function, for example, you created rows and columns for each website, but some of those columns were empty because they had nothing to do with the websites: price, rating, number of reviews and Brand. In addition, there were errors when I chose to copy information about the collection to the clipboard.
Despite that, I found that the Collections are extremely useful and one of my new favorite features of Edge. We will have to see if your imperfections have been cleared when it reaches its formal launch.
What IT needs to know about the new Edge
One way Microsoft hopes to make the new Edge stand out from its rivals is to include a variety of business-friendly capabilities. For example, it allows IT administrators to use Group Policy (GPO) objects to create company-centered web pages that employees who sign in to an Azure Active Directory (AAD) account see when they open a new tab in Edge . This new custom tab page essentially acts as a front-end for Office 365, giving employees access to Office documents, company sites and other resources. In addition, when users log into their corporate account, they can search the company’s intranet from the Edge search bar.
Microsoft has also worked to ensure that all business applications and websites designed to work with Internet Explorer 11 (through a function called IE Mode), the version prior to Edge Chromium or Google Chrome also work with the new Edge. If your company’s website works with one of those browsers and not with the new Edge, Microsoft says it will “help you solve it at no additional cost” under the company’s App Assure program.
Microsoft has also assembled a security baseline, a group of preconfigured security settings and default values, for the new version of Edge. IT staff can use that baseline as a starting point to establish security controls.
Finally, you can implement and manage Edge using familiar Microsoft tools, including group policies, Configuration Manager and Intune.
For more details on business functions, see the Microsoft publication “Introducing the new Microsoft Edge and Bing” and the company’s Edge business blog.
The bottom line
What does all this add up to? The third time has really proved to be the charm for Microsoft: its new Chromium-based Edge is a winner. It’s fast, works with many thousands of Chrome extensions, does a good job of protecting your privacy and has some new and useful features, such as the ability to convert web pages into applications and, finally, the ability to create collections of web pages.
Edge is now at least a good browser like Chrome and possibly better, particularly for business use. Whether for personal or business browsing, you would do well to at least try, even if in the past you promised to stay away from Microsoft browsers forever.
Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.