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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.

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