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Windows 10 Review: Microsoft Edge web browser

Technical Level : Basic

Summary

For the past 20 years, Microsoft has revised its well-known desktop web browser, Internet Explorer. A critical part of the company’s investments over the years, the web browser has included significant changes while going through challenging periods with the rise of alternatives such as Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome. With the release of Windows 10, the development of new revisions of Internet Explorer comes to an end. Microsoft will be moving the web browser into maintenance mode going forward; which is still being actively used on more than 50% of PCs worldwide. So what’s next? Microsoft realizes there needs to be a clean slate and that obviously means starting over.

 

Details

Be sure to check out: Get Started with Microsoft Edge - Tips and Tricks for the new user. 

Previously:

Windows 10 Review: Introduction, Specifications and Setup

Windows 10 Review: Daily Usage

Windows 10 Review: Applications and Compatibility

Windows 10 Review: Multimedia and Productivity

Windows 10 Review: Advanced features, Security and Connectivity

Windows 10 Review: Windows Update, Support, Recovery, Easy Upgrade

This is where the similarity ends

In early 2015 Microsoft revealed Internet Explorer's successor code named Project Spartan at the time. A browser that promises to align itself with the advances in web development focusing more on the hottest technologies pioneered by browsers such as Google Chrome. Microsoft is planning to make Microsoft Edge the default web browser on both desktop and mobile versions of Windows 10, fear not, Internet Explorer 11 will still hang around for legacy support. This is key for enterprise web apps that are still dependent on technologies such as ActiveX Controls and other legacy web standards.

Microsoft Edge UI

New Features:

  • Uses a new layout engine also known as EdgeHTML, which is forked from Trident designed for interoperability with the modern web technologies.

  • Integration with the Cortana digital assistant to provide voice control, search functionality, and dynamic, personalized information related to searches within the address bar.

  • Users can make annotations to web pages that can be stored to and shared with OneDrive.

  • Integration with the "Reading List" function to sync content between devices, and provides a "Reading Mode" that strips unnecessary formatting from pages to improve their legibility.

Microsoft Edge features integration with Cortana, the new digital assistant built into Windows 10

The first thing users should know is Microsoft Edge is a Universal Windows Application (or what Windows 8/8.1 users would call a Modern app). This means, its one web browser across mobile, desktop and even the XBOX One Console. On a PC Edge functions just like a regular desktop program with a title bar, ability to float on the desktop, resize, minimize and sit on the Taskbar. This is unlike the modern version of Internet Explorer that previously came bundled with Windows 8. If you have been using Google Chrome, you will notice how familiar the web browser feels, an integrated toolbar for back and forward, refresh, address bar, favorites, reading view, set favorite, favorites library, annotation and additional actions. Updates for Microsoft Edge will be delivered through the Store with promises of keeping it ever green with regular updates. At the top you will find all open tabs, which you can perform common actions on such as tearing off, duplicate, create new tabs and rearrange them. The learning curve of Microsoft Edge is honestly a minimum experience. It’s a web browser, but it’s also one optimized for a mobile experience. On screen items are much larger and touch optimized. For instance, the Favorites bar is obviously more finger friendly with better targeting for touch screen devices.

Microsoft Edge includes personalized options such as choosing a light or dark theme

Web browsing

At the end of the day, Microsoft Edge is a web browser and you won't be disappointed with its main objective which is loading web pages. Since its launch earlier this year, the browser has gotten the chance to incubate and so far I have yet to encounter a web site it can't handle. In fact, certain sites I notice just don't render properly at all in Internet Explorer 11 load exceptionally well in Edge. Commenting systems for many sites that uses a social network log in are a head ache with Internet Explorer 11 but they load and work just fine under Edge. I admit, I was skeptical about the browser when I started using it, but over the past few months it has gradually improved and has definitely shown significant progress since it was included in Windows 10 preview builds.

The new tab UI and Hub UI's

Performance

Performance seems to be ongoing and I don't expect to see a complete picture in this initial release. Sites load exceptionally fast on my slow 3G connection and I also like a feature where previously opened tabs are saved even when you close the web browser. This does have some drawback though, since Edge seems to stay resident in memory even when its closed. I suspect this is to give illusion that it starts fast when you launch it. Universal apps even in Windows 10 still display a splash screen and it’s kind of weird to see my web browser display a splash screen before it loads, something I have not seen since Internet Explorer 5. I notice that memory usage is quite high at times when I check Task Manager; in fact, the browser seems to suffer from excessive memory and CPU usage a lot. When I opened an article on mashable.com I noticed just that tab alone was using nearly 600 MBs of memory. At times I have to close the browser because my laptop fan seems to be spinning on constant.

Remove distractions from your reading experience in Microsoft Edge

In build 10240, Microsoft notes that Edge experiences better performance boost beating Chrome and Safari on their own JavaScript benchmarks:

  • On WebKit Sunspider, Edge is 112% faster than Chrome
  • On Google Octane, Edge is 11% faster than Chrome
  • On Apple JetStream, Edge is 37% faster than Chrome

Multi-tasking

Edge is a jack of all trades; taking on task once available to separate applications for instance it’s the default PDF viewer in Windows 10. Edge also supports annotation, so you can do markup on a web page or PDF, great especially if you are using a Tablet device with a stylus although you can still awkwardly perform such actions with your mouse. Edge is also socially aware, meaning you can share PDFs and web pages with the click of the mouse or keyboard (Windows key + H) to Flipboard, Twitter, Reading List, Facebook and even Microsoft's OneNote. You can also talk to Edge since it features built in support for Microsoft's digital assistant Cortana; just say 'Hey Cortana'. Cortana will begin listening; ask your search query and Cortana will begin looking for it. Another feature I love is Reading View which puts clear emphasis on page content, hiding away distractions such as ads, web page themes and branding.

If you can't read it now, save it for later. You can also easily share content through a number of resources.

Navigation and operation

Users will observe that Edge feels quite spartan and eschews many small handy add on’s that have been added to Internet Explorer over the years. Microsoft promises to deliver an extension model for Edge in the near future so developers can enhance the web browser beyond Microsoft’s capabilities. One of the features I liked in IE that you are not going to find in Edge is Live Thumbnail preview a great feature if you have multiple tabs open. Microsoft I understand is working on delivering a similar feature in a future update. Another missing feature is web icons which supports pinning shortcuts to your favorite websites on the Windows Taskbar or Start menu.

The Jump List menu for Edge is quite limited too, lacking some handy functions such as quick access to InPrivate Mode, Open New tab, not to mention frequently visited sites. Hopefully these functions will be delivered over time.  Navigating the browser might feel rigid at first until you get used to it. For example, the Address bar which in IE host links to previously visited web pages is quite down played in Edge, but remnants of it exist. When you create a new tab and attempt to enter a URL it kind of throws you off, that’s because the Address bar is more of a second fiddle to a more search oriented field box which you can use to enter both URL and natural language queries. If you don't enter a URL, it goes back into the more traditional space. So the objective is to anticipate what the user is going to do next, which often is to search or enter a URL. Also, a small notable change with Edge, URLs drop the www displaying only the domain.

Microsoft Edge includes a Task Pane like setting you can pin on the side so you can make on the fly changes.

Customization

Microsoft Edge includes small personalization options; for instance, you can choose between a light or dark theme. A Task Pane like Settings provides quick access to changing your default home page, new tab behavior, managing browser data, reading styles and advanced options such as turning on/off Flash, pop up and cookie settings. It’s a lot saner but understandably limited in comparison to the myriad of options available in Internet Explorer.

Conclusion

Microsoft Edge is not intended to be an exact replacement for Internet Explorer, it’s a fresh start for a predecessor that has grown old and heavy under the weight of years of development and support for esoteric technologies that are either no longer supported or tied to enterprise management needs. Edge will eventually reach the enterprise where IE still has a strong penetration, but that’s not the focus of this beginning. The key here is delivering a refreshing approach to enjoying the web and maximizing it in new ways, features like Cortana support, annotation, social engagement, anticipating user actions adds up to a browser that feels fast, fluid and productive.

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