Dear Lifehacker, I heard that Microsoft is releasing a new browser with Windows 10. What’s new? Should I bother using it instead of Chrome or Firefox? Or is it just Internet Explorer with a new paint job? Thanks, Microsoft Edge of Tomorrow
Dear Tom Cruise,
Well, the good news is: this browser isn’t Internet Explorer. While the Windows default has improved over the years, Microsoft has finally given up on it. At Microsoft’s Build event last week, the company announced that Microsoft Edge would ship with Windows 10 and replace Internet Explorer for good.
Of course, the real question is, can it replace your existing browser? Here’s what we think after playing around with it. Keep in mind that this is an unreleased beta and could improve before launch.
Edge Includes A Lot Of Useful Features Out Of The Box
Microsoft announced that Edge would have support for extensions at release, and it’s trying to make sure developers can port their extensions as easily as possible. However, the company also isn’t waiting around for other services to make their browser useful. Here are a few things Edge can already do:
Cortana is baked right in to get quick answers: Google has done some pretty neat things by adding quick answers and Google Now-like features to search, but nothing quite beats a fully integrated assistant. With Edge, you can select text and right-click to get information immediately, including definition of words, maps of addresses, or information on famous people. Unlike Google’s search, you can get that information without leaving the page or opening a new tab.
Annotations and reading lists remove the need for some extensions: Edge allows you to save screenshots of web pages and write notes on them. It also includes a reading list feature that lets you save articles for later. Chrome or Firefox can do this with the help of extensions, but with Edge, it’s baked right in. If you’re a dedicated Evernote or Pocket devotee, this won’t mean much for you. If you just want to save an article every now and then without having to sign up for yet another service, it’s right up your alley.
- Reading mode strips the crap from articles: It is rage-inducing when you’re trying to read an article and giant banner ads push text down, videos fly over the page, or some rogue ad starts making noise. No one needs or likes that crap. While bookmarklets that can strip everything but the text have been around for a while, this is yet another thing that Edge just does.
Most of the time, browsers don’t need to do much, and extensions take care of many of the features that you want to add. However, the more crap you add to your browser, the more it gets bogged down (and we’ll talk about later). Edge doesn’t add a lot of crap, but what it does add is useful.
It’s Not Internet Explorer
One of the most long-standing criticisms of Internet Explorer is that it lacks basic interoperability with web standards and other browsers. Put another way: pages that render fine in Chrome, Firefox, and Safari may still be broken in Internet Explorer because it just has to be different. Microsoft Edge is not in that boat.
Part of the reason that IE causes so many problems is because it’s historically been the absolute worst for HTML5 compatibility. As this HTML5 compatibility test shows, even the most current version of Internet Explorer ranks 348 out of 555. To compare, Chrome gets a score of 523, and Firefox gets a 444. Edge currently ranks at 390, which is actually higher than it was even just a month ago.
That score could be better, but it also means that Microsoft is intentionally trying to make compatibility a priority. That means that web sites shouldn’t render incorrectly as often, nor should developers have to put in extra effort to make sites work on Microsoft’s platform.
It’s Still Bare Bones, But That’s Not A Bad Thing
At the moment, Edge is missing a few features. It doesn’t seem to have pinned tabs, an incognito mode, or a few other niceties that we like in our browsers. Of course, it’s hard to be too critical just yet. The existing beta doesn’t even have the Edge name implemented yet. It’s clearly far from done.
However, the fact that it’s not complete also means it’s not bloated yet. Chrome, for comparison, is a notorious resource hog. Just like Firefox was before it. Perhaps it’s because we rely on them for so much, but browsers have a habit of spiralling out of control with their resource usage.
At the moment, Edge’s comparative dearth of features and bulk makes it pretty great at staying slim. It might not replace a power user’s toolbox, but it is an excellent lightweight alternative. If you have a low-powered laptop, or an older computer you share with the house, Edge may be just what you need. Only the future knows if it will stay that way, but for now, there’s a lot less bloat to deal with.
Of course, all of this is from using an unfinished preview of a product that hasn’t even finished its name change yet. If you’re a hardcore Chrome or Firefox user deploying lots extensions, you probably won’t be tempted away immediately. For now, though, it does look promising. Microsoft is making an effort to add genuinely useful features to a browser that’s shedding its worst parts and starting over on a solid foundation.
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