Dear Lifehacker, I'm curious about Microsoft's new browser for Windows 10 which I've yet to upgrade to. What’s new? Should I bother using it instead of Chrome or Firefox? Or is it just Internet Explorer with a new paint job? Sincerely, Edge of Tomorrow
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. Instead, Microsoft is shipping the new Edge with Windows 10 which will replace Internet Explorer for good.
Of course, if you've already abandoned Internet Explorer this is irrelevant. The real question is, can it replace your existing browser? Here’s what we think after a month of playing around with it.
Microsoft announced that Edge would have support for extensions out of the box, and it’s even 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 just 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 digital 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 the browser just does.
Most of the time, browsers don’t need to do much, and extensions take care of many of the things 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 ton of crap, but what it does add is useful.
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.
In a recent Windows blog post, Microsoft’s Gabe Aul boasted about Edge's significant performance gains over Google Chrome in its 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
We’re really pleased with those performance gains and we hope that you’ll enjoy faster browsing with Microsoft Edge along with the many great features we’ve added over the last several builds.
As mentioned above, the speed face-off was conducted using benchmarks developed by Microsoft's rivals; Google Octane, Apple JetStream and WebKit Sunspider.
The fact it’s an all-new browser 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, if you’re a hardcore Chrome or Firefox user with a half dozen 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.