Web
Article

Microsoft Edge: the Review

By Craig Buckler

Microsoft has been doing the right things for several years. They engage with the community, fix bugs and announce new features in advance (certain less open competitors could learn from their example). IE11 is a good browser — or was when it was released in 2013. Despite this, IE’s historical legacy remains. At best, developers ignore the browser, and market share has been dwindling.

In an effort to move beyond the tainted Internet Explorer brand, Microsoft has released Edge. The new browser is based on the same Trident engine, but the bloat has been removed, rendering speed has increased, and modern HTML5 features have been added. It’s a fresh start that consigns ActiveX and VBScript to the technological trash heap.

Edge is the future, but there’s only one way to get it …

Install Windows 10

Windows 7, 8 and 8.1 users can either wait for the upgrade or force it using the Windows 10 Media Creation Tool. Few people will have problems, but there have been scare stories. I was one of the unlucky ones, and ended up with an unusable machine for a couple of days. In my experience, the safest options are:

  1. Back-up your data, applications, configuration options and anything else you’re terrified to lose. Then back-up again. And verify. You can’t be too careful.
  2. Ensure you have a Windows 8 installation DVD to hand. If anything goes wrong, you’ll need to re-install or pay Microsoft for a new Windows 10 license.
  3. If you’re installing on an SSD, you may need to disable fast boot in the BIOS.
  4. Either wait for the update or choose “Upgrade this PC” from the Media Creation Tool. Installing from the ISO or DVD seems more problematic.
  5. Once Windows 10 has installed, ensure it’s activated. This will permit you to install a fresh copy without a Windows 8 upgrade.

This isn’t a full review, but Windows 10 is a great OS. It papers over the cracks in Windows 8 and makes the system more desktop-friendly. It’ll be familiar to those migrating from any version of Windows, which is a considerable achievement.

A real Start button is back, although the ‘All apps’ list is more cramped and less usable. Cortana — Windows’ Siri equivalent — is fun, although she mostly fires a Bing search.

There are a few quirks and inconsistencies. The new Settings panel is an improvement, but the old Control Panel still exists, and you’ll often need to switch between the two. Some Metro (or whatever they want to call it) apps weren’t designed to operate in smaller, non-full-screen windows, which can cause issues. But many problems should be resolved over the coming months. The majority of people will like Windows 10 … but will they like Edge?

Push Over the Edge

Edge is the default Windows 10 browser. It’s easy enough to switch to something else (Settings > System > Default apps) but relatively few people will bother. Microsoft is free to promote Edge now that they’ve paid the fines and satisfied the US and EU regulators. The browser market is healthy and all OSs need a default browser, whether it’s Windows, OS X, Ubuntu, iOS or Android.

IE11 is still present if you run into website problems. That said, I didn’t experience any compatibility issues using Edge — even Gmail worked despite reports to the contrary. The only minor issue was a tendency to give up loading sites on a flaky Wi-Fi connection, when other browsers were more persistent.

The Interface

I didn’t like the post-IE9 interface, but Edge looks great:

Edge

It’s clean, minimalist and has a Dark theme, which makes it less obtrusive. There’s little to configure; you can’t rearrange panels or icons but the standard view is fine. The ‘hub’ icon (it looks like left-aligned text?) opens a tabbed panel with Favorites, Reading List, History and Downloads. Finally, we have a Settings panel that replaces the confusing Internet Options dialog, which has persisted for two decades (although it’s still present in IE11):

Edge settings

Features

There are a few new features. Reading view cleans cluttered pages and is similar to that offered in other browsers, Pocket or Readability:

Edge reading view

Perhaps web developers should be disappointed a reading view is necessary, but there will always be badly designed, overly animated, advert-splattered sites.

Web Note allows you to annotate web pages with text or highlights, then save to your reading list or share with others using OneNote or email. Your clients will love it. Be prepared to be bombarded with “can we just tweak this” requests:

Edge web note

Cortana is integrated. Highlight a phrase, right-click and choose “Ask Cortana” to display further information in a pane. It’s useful, but only a minor improvement on “Search Google” options in other browsers.

Bizarrely, Edge is also the default PDF reader. It’s simple but fast and works well — it could become your preferred option over the increasingly bloated Adobe Reader.

The new features are welcome, but there some strange omissions — such as tab pinning, synchronization and extensions. Perhaps Microsoft should have concentrated on the basics first?

Developer Tools

The F12 Developer Tools are present in Edge. You won’t notice significant changes other than the experimental JavaScript editing option and an inability to dock the tools in the browser?

Edge developer tools

The Developer Tools are good. They’re a little behind those offered in Chrome/Opera and Firefox, but they feel familiar and you won’t mind using them.

HTML5 Support

All browsers, including Edge, score 100/100 in the Acid3 test, so let’s examine the HTML5test.com results:

Browser Score
Edge 402 out of 555
IE11 348
Firefox 39 467
Chrome 44 526

Some will declare this as proof that Chrome is 30% better, but Edge is primarily missing newer technologies such as

  • web components
  • WebRTC
  • the picture element
  • service workers
  • server-sent events
  • web notifications
  • canvas drawing primitives
  • some form fields and audio/video codecs.

Many of these are experimental in Chrome, are likely to change, or only affect a few cutting-edge applications. Fortunately, most are either in development or under consideration. On a personal note, I’m glad to see the CSS3 transform-style: preserve-3d property is supported!

If you want to share a geeky laugh with friends, take a look at Edge’s user-agent string:

Mozilla/5.0 (Windows NT 10.0; Win64; x64) AppleWebKit/537.36 (KHTML, like Gecko) Chrome/42.0.2311.135 Safari/537.36 Edge/12.10240

It mentions every other mainstream browser other than MSIE!

Performance

I can’t claim strict laboratory conditions, but these are my results on a freshly-installed Windows 10 PC launched in a single tab browser with no other applications running. Higher numbers mean better performance:

Benchmark Edge IE11 Chrome Firefox
JetStream 152.92 ± 5.1131 98.522 ± 3.6815 141.61 ± 2.2098 121.01 ± 12.019
Octane 2.0 (Google) 23,984 12,235 24,672 22,209
4,000 fish aquarium (Microsoft) 28 fps 20 fps 17 fps 10 fps

Edge wins overall, and is only marginally slower than Chrome in the (Google-owned) Octane test. Benchmarks aren’t necessarily proof of performance, but Edge feels faster and more responsive than competitors. Memory use is similar to Chrome, although it appears to require fewer processes.

If you want performance, Edge is the fastest browser you can get. Perhaps that’ll change once it’s burdened with extensions but, for now, Edge wins the race.

Conclusion

Microsoft has promised regular updates, but Edge 1.0 is already a great browser:

Pros

  • insanely fast and responsive
  • an attractive, clean, unobtrusive interface
  • excellent website compatibility
  • good OS integration
  • a vastly improved settings panel
  • good, dependable developer tools
  • some innovative features
  • improved HTML5 support without the legacy cruft
  • another nail in IE’s coffin.

Cons

  • Windows 10 only — IE won’t die yet
  • few customization options
  • some strange omissions such as tab pinning
  • no extensions capability.

IE11 was good, but I never considered it as my default browser. There are some niggles stopping me migrating to Edge full-time, but I’m already using it far more than before. I suspect less demanding Windows 10 users will stick with the browser. It’s faster and better-looking than Chrome or Firefox. Even hardcore power users won’t mind switching to Edge during development, or for the odd browsing session. You may even find yourself enjoying the experience!

Presuming Microsoft can keep the updates coming, Edge has a promising future. Competing vendors cannot remain complacent.

More:
  • Sinisa Perovic

    My two cents worth:

    1. Edge does not support Java, which is open for debate, but the author does not mention this very important feature or lack of it.

    2. From the 21st century technology & UX point of view, having a “hidden” browser (IE11) for situations when main browser cannot cope with the web page (for example Java) is so Microsoft old school, ie ridiculous.

    • donotthink

      To be fair, if you rely on any plugin these days, you are going to have a bad time. Chrome has already disabled NPAPI. That they include IE11 for these scenarios is an added bonus. So not MS fault, it’s the general consensus.

      • Sinisa Perovic

        I can agree with you @donotthink:disqus , and also I didn’t want to be negative here, Edge is huge step forward, but I like more the Firefox approach of following the standards as closely as possible rather than “two gorillas” approach of using muscle to force their way. I’m following IT from late 80’s and all bad times we’ve witnessed in the past were result of “two gorillas” approach.

        • Christian Z.

          People seem to want to go for the gorillas. :(

    • IneffableCause

      The reason they’ve had to keep IE11 is for corporate clients. There’s a lot of companies with applications the rely on ActiveX. This is their way of saying we’re moving away from that, while not preventing their clients from upgrading to the new OS. A lot of companies have been dragging their feet on upgrading their IE only software. This is their notice of needing to take the steps towards moving on, or risk being left behind.

  • Kevin Nagurski

    In the past few years, Chrome has become so ubiquitous that it’s nice to see bundled browsers (Edge and Safari) picking up the pace a little. As a Mac user, I’m not going to be picking up Edge any time soon, but as a developer I’m looking forward to knowing that the default browser on Windows will be “evergreen” (I hate that term) and pretty dang good.

    • http://careersreport.com Marie Burke

      Allow me to show you~ a fantastic ways to earn a lot of extra CASH by finishing basic tasks from your house for few short hours a day — See more info by visiting >MY_DISQUS_ACCOUNT

  • http://about.me/neilbradley Neil Bradley

    Wish I knew why web fonts don’t appear to be working on various sites including my own with Edge.

    • Ralph Mason

      Sounds like a great forum topic! We’d love to help out if we can. :-)

    • April Stanton

      I heard from someone (haven’t verified this–can’t find a source) that Microsoft is trying to create a “secure fonts” system whereby they verify font libraries safe for use and use a whitelist-type approval.

      Again, I haven’t been able to find documentation reflecting this, but lots of people seem to be having problems which would be consistent with this being true.

      Anyone have input?

  • http://seenukarthi.com/ Karthikeyan Vaithilingam

    The link for 4,000 fish aquarium (Microsoft) is the same as Octane 2.0 (Google) in the benchmark table.

    • Ralph Mason

      Whoops! Thanks for pointing that out. :-)

  • M S i N Lund

    Windows 10 only?

    Fuck you Microsoft, for not being capable of building browsers that run on you own fucking OSes.
    Others can do this, MS cant.

    What a fucking joke of a company!

    How many parallel versions of IE are there now, that we have to support, because MS cant just make regular normal software that you can just download and install?

  • Uzhiel Bautista

    The performance of Edge can be attributed to it having a single-platform focus, most likely with privileged access to certain features of windows API.

    Chrome and Firefox may have scored lower in this test, but their immense breadth of supported platforms and proven stability make them winners in their own right.

    • Craig Buckler

      Speed isn’t everything and, of course, Microsoft is able to use or change Windows features to make Edge even faster. This review isn’t saying Edge is the best browser – no application is perfect – but it’s very good.

  • Rudolf Rieger

    After having installed windows 10 a week ago I’m not able (besides many more downfalls) to

    – copy from the web and paste into a word 2003 document. “Microsoft Office has stopped working” . Text I copy onto Notepad from there to word but what with imbedded images?

    – convert the web page into a PDF file, after showing the path the
    message is “File not found. Check the file name and try again

    • Alison Mansour

      I have the same problem when trying to convert a web page into a PDF file. I also downloaded windows 10 two weeks ago. I am using Internet Explorer as my default browser since I’m able to use the Adobe Acrobat X Pro toolbar on it to convert to PDF. The only trouble is – I am now also getting the message “File not found. Check the file name and try again.” Does anyone have a solution to this??

  • Alfred

    Nobody seems to object against the very narrow scroll bar in Edge? On a Laptop lacking a mouse it needs a lot of concentration to hit the scroll bar. Moreover in Edge I have not yet found any way to arrange the favorites in a kind of comprehensive scrollable fashion. The way they are arranged in Edge takes a lot of space per entry so that you have to do a lot of scrolling to find a link that is way down in the list. If those two cons (in my view) are not resolved I will stay with IE11 as long as possible regardless of the benefits of the new browser.

    • Malachi

      What about using the cursor keys for this? I use that mainly on a laptop to scroll pages. You just have to make sure that the browser is set up right.. otherwise it’ll “just” hop to the end of the page immediately, which can cause a lot of frustration…

  • Christian Z.

    “Ensure you have a Windows 8 installation DVD on hand.”

  • vintem

    I also found it really fast, but the fact that it does not support extensions is a deal breaker for me, cause I use lastpass to manage all my passwords.

  • PatanjaliS

    The biggest PITA with Edge, and why I am not using it as the default, is that it ALWAYS opens fullscreen on the main screen (the one with the taskbar, if not on all). This is NOT my principal viewing screen.
    That is, it doesn’t remember its size and position from the last time it was used.
    For those with large screens and/or multiple screens, this is INSANELY DISRUPTIVE, as it requires having to manually reposition and resize it EVERY time to be able to conveniently use it.
    My principle screen is a 55″ 4K TV, on which I can comfortably fit three browser windows, but NOT if I have to drag EVERY one of them from a side screen.

  • Beverly Thornton

    So it’s better than IE. Not that it’s difficult to be, because IE is crap. Still not as good as Chrome or Firefox though.

    • Craig Buckler

      IE10/11 weren’t terrible – not as good as other browsers, but OK. Edge is a big step in the right direction. You may not use it as your default but it’ll be fine for many others.

Recommended

Learn Coding Online
Learn Web Development

Start learning web development and design for free with SitePoint Premium!

Instant Website Review

Use Woorank to analyze and optimize your website to improve your website to improve your ranking!

Run a review to see how your site can improve across 70+ metrics!

Get the latest in Front-end, once a week, for free.