Internet Explorer is one of the oldest browser available today and it is still one of the most widely used because it is the main browser in Windows. Internet Explorer though is ancient, and it is not built for the mobile world to which we now belong. Combined with its maligned reputation, it is no wonder why Microsoft would want to move beyond it.
Because of these reasons, Windows 10 is bringing a new web browser called Microsoft Edge.
I find Edge one of a fascinating aspect of Windows 10. Web browsers no matter how light and nimble always get worse with age whether it is Google's Chrome, Opera, or even Firefox. I have preferred Chrome now for many years because of its speed, design and browser extensions. However, even I loathe it as Google crams more and more into it. The core of the browser may be fast, but the bloat around Chrome Apps make it frustrating to use.
A News Portal webpage in Microsoft Edge in regular mode
A News Portal webpage in Microsoft Edge in Reading mode
Microsoft Edge is a chance to start new. Being able to build a web browser from the ground up has to be a liberating experience. This rise from the ashes approach is even more the case with Edge as Microsoft ditched IE legacy support too, something that they had originally planned to keep. Instead, legacy users can still find Internet Explorer in Windows 10, but it is buried within the system. (Need to find it? Just ask Cortana.)
The biggest improvements with Edge come from its new design, feature set, and being built to run on everything from PCs to tablets to phones. The browser has to be light, and it has to be efficient.
Microsoft Edge has a very clean and minimalist look. It blends in with the general UI of Windows 10. In fact, one could argue that it is too austere, with little color or eye candy. According to Microsoft, that is by design as they want web content to be the focus of your eyes, not the browser itself, which should fade into the background. While I agree with this philosophy, Edge in my opinion could use a little bit more flair.
Edge also ditches complex menus and overwhelming options for the casual user. On the main Settings page, users only have around six choices. Under the rarely accessed 'advanced' settings, another twelve. When compared to Google Chrome, Edge feels like a breath of fresh air in terms of simplicity and design.
Microsoft brings live previews for web pages and even more color with highlighted tabs in a future update rumored for October, but for now, users are left with a perhaps a too-clean browser experience.
Users can also choose between Dark and Light theme settings. Microsoft says they were surprised by the number of users who prefer the Dark one, although it seems to be like an obvious choice. Interestingly, though, I prefer Light for my large desktop and Dark for my laptop for some reason. Perhaps having an option is a good thing after all.
Edge also brings a few new functions to make browsing on Windows 10 fun and unique; these include Reading Mode, Annotating web pages, Cortana, and Reading List.
Reading Mode is not that new. It is found in Windows Phone and users of Windows 8.1 who chose to use the Modern version of IE could also access the feature.
However, in Windows 10 is built into the main desktop browser and is readily more accessible.
Reading Mode simply strips away the chrome of a web page, leaving nothing behind except the images and text. The mode is enabled by clicking the book icon in the browser toolbar. There is even neat animation of flipping pages to let you know it can be enabled. It is a fantastic tool to use when reading a very long article as it removes all distractions.
Being able to choose background tones (Default, Light, Medium, or Dark) and text size also gives users just enough customization for their preferred reading style.
Annotating the Web
In Edge, users can enter into an 'edit mode' that lets you draw on a web page (if your device supports a pen) or use the keyboard to add notes. You can then screen capture your work and share with your friends or family. The idea is an old one but applied to a new situation. Ideally, people will use to a collaboration tool when considering purchases, vacation trips, or anything they find interesting. Since the work is saved an image file, the receiver does not need any special software to view it. This neutrality helps break down and barriers that may prevent a user from adopting it.
I am not a frequent user of annotations in Microsoft Office, OneNote, or now Edge, but I do see the value in its function. At least it is easy to use, unique, and it serves a purpose.
Finally, another new feature in Edge is the ability to save a web page for later reading. This Reading List is similar to other services that let you index articles instead of just bookmarking the page or website. To use Reading List, you just hit the Favorites star but instead of listing it under Favorites, you choose Reading List instead. Here the article and lead image are saved in order of date, making it easy to browse through your list.
I like the idea of Reading List, which is why services like Pocket are popular. However, the implementation in Microsoft Edge feels half-baked at this time. For instance, there does not seem to be any real synching between it and different instances of Edge on your other computers. So for now, your Reading List appears to be local, which has to be either an oversight, a coming feature or a bug (if it is supposed to sync). There is also the issue that this does not sync up to Reading List the app, which is a separate app that serves the same purpose but without the browser. That app works by "sharing" a new story to the Reading List app, which then categorizes the listing. You would think that the app and the browser would sync, but alas that does not seem to be the case.
Reading List has the potential to be a big feature, but for now, it remains only a good idea not fully realized.
Edge as a browser
Compared to the Internet Explorer duality of Windows 8 Microsoft Edge is a huge step in the right direction. Having two different web browsers was just insane. Sure, Internet Explorer is still there if you need it so in theory that could be confusing for some, but most people will never even notice. Seeing as the Edge and IE logo are similar, most users should feel comfortable with using it.
The browser itself is really good. I am using the majority of the time even over Chrome. I still prefer Chrome for one reason: extensions. Whether it is LastPass, Reddit Enhancement Suite (RES), Magic Tube, or AdBlock, Chrome extensions are a vital part of my internet life.
The good news here is that Microsoft is adding extension support, likely in October during the 'wave 2' refresh for Windows 10. These are not supposed to be just proprietary ones for Edge either as Microsoft has detailed that Chrome extensions can be ported over directly to their new browser. It remains to be seen how well they can execute on that feature, but if they live up to their promise. Edge could easily overtake Chrome, Firefox, or Opera.
Unless you are bonded to Google and the tight integration of their services into Chrome, I see zero advantage to using it over Microsoft Edge once those extensions arrive. Microsoft has already boasted faster speeds for benchmarks, and this is just the beginning.
Any shortcoming in Edge should easily be fixed in the next year as Microsoft has built a very solid base in which to build off of for the future. For instance, I do find it hard to see which tab is active when I have 20 of them open with the Dark theme (yes, I am one of those people). I also prefer Chrome's omni-search bar, which lets you search within a website from a search. There is also the missing swipe gesture for forward and back (which is still coming). Moreover, yes, I have even seen Edge crash on occasion. However, all of these feel like beginner issues that will be solved over the next few months.