Let’s face it Microsoft is playing catchup with regards to its Edge browser. We’re living in a Google Chrome world, where it enjoys a 67-percent market share of the web browsing community; Firefox comes in at around 9-percent, so that leaves a very thin opportunity for Microsoft.
But time moves on, and with the ever-changing update cycle that is now the Windows 10 model, Microsoft’s browser has seen something of an upgrade in recent months.
Edging its way up
At the start of the year Microsoft began an upgrade stream that would give Edge the, well, edge, over the competition. While it may not suddenly climb to the top of the browser charts, it does put Edge in a somewhat better position for the future.
The new Edge, appearing on Windows 10 Home and Pro versions of the operating system, has now incorporated the Chromium opensource engine, making it look and feel more Chrome than ever before. This brings with it a number of advantages. For one, Microsoft has left behind Edge’s clunky way of traversing the Internet in favour of the more streamlined approach that Chrome users experience on a daily basis. Secondly, it’s improved its security elements making more in-line with the competition. And thirdly, since it’s got a Chromium base, then you can utilise and tap into the vast library of extensions that exist in the Chrome Web Store; this means a wealth of ad-blockers and other utilities to make browsing a safer, and better experience for those using it.
Performance was always the thorn in Microsoft’s side when it came to Edge. Despite the upgrade to Edge over Internet Explorer, it was still something of a lumbering beast when compared to other browsers. The re-invention of Edge into something new is a bold turn for Microsoft, after all it needed to do something to spice up Edge.
Edge or Chrome?
For those of you who still back the Chrome team, bear in mind there’s not a lot of difference between Edge and Chrome now. Edge’s style, functionality, base settings, and speed are all in-line with Chrome, so perhaps it’s worth giving Microsoft another shot?
Chief among the many updates to Edge is the User Interface, UI. It’s basically Chrome. In fact you’ll probably be hard pressed to tell the difference.
The Page Layout section, which can be got at by clicking on the cog icon in the upper-right of the Home screen, allows you setup how the browser looks. There are several pre-defined entries: Focused, Inspirational, Informational, and Custom.
Focused drops the screen eye-candy to an absolute minimum. Getting rid of any up to date news pieces, and the usual ‘People born before 1975 need to read this…’ advertising. Instead you’re left with a basic Bing search, with the Microsoft name and logo above the search bar, and quick links to the bottom – it’s very Google, but it works and it’s a familiar interface.
The Inspirational option pulls up a full-window image from the thousands in the Bing collection, together with the Bing search bar to the top of the screen, a weather and temperature reading to one corner, and the quick links toward the bottom. You get the chance here to click ‘Like this image?’, which will offer you two choices: I like it!, or, I’m not a fan. Clicking the like will display more images of a similar vein, while Not a fan will remove the image to something else, and hopefully remove images of that kind from future.
Informational is where all the action takes place. It’s a busy screen setup with constantly updated news items from around the world, as well as advertising. All are displayed in various sized window blocks, ala Windows 8, but do a decent job and are clear enough to read should something catch your eye. There’s also a Breaking News tickertape-like announcement bar to the top of the individual information panes, and in the top third or so of the screen is the Bing search bar and quick links.
The Custom option will pull up a menu offering some personalisation based on the Informational setup. You can decide to display the image of the day, quick links, show a greeting and so on. There’s also an Advanced option toward the bottom of the Page Layout options, clicking it will allow you to change the language and content, and enable or disable Tab Tips. It’s not massively advanced, admittedly, but it’s functional for most users.
Another big update to Edge is its privacy setup. Traditionally, Edge wasn’t the most secure and private browser to choose from, but now, it possibly is.
Click the three horizontal dots to the top-right of the Edge window, followed by Settings from the menu, then Privacy, search and services from the side bar.
In here is a wealth of information that most people will probably never touch. Tracking Prevention, for example, is set to a default of Balanced; which isn’t too bad. However, you’re able to click Basic and Strict, which will either allow trackers and advertising from all sites, or block them nearly entirely. You can view the current list of blocked trackers by clicking on the link below the three Track Prevention boxes, and extend the levels of protection by creating Exceptions in the link below that. There’s also a handy option to include Always use Strict tracking when browsing using InPrivate, which is certainly worth enabling.
Below these options are many more. You’re able to clear your browsing data, or choose what to clear. The Privacy section delves a little deeper into do not track elements of the Internet, and there’s a handy Allow sites to check whether you have payment methods saved switch, along with the ability to manage any HTTPS/SSL certificates.
The usual Help Improve Edge section follows, and allowing Microsoft to improve the web experience by using your browsing history. Do what you like here, but most folks will ensure that this section is left disabled.
There’s an added section to the bottom of the Privacy features, Services. The Services are designed to help Edge improve your browsing by resolving navigation errors, suggesting similar sites if the one you want can’t be found, enabling Microsoft Defender SmartScreen technology, blocking unwanted, and low reputation apps, and managing the address bar and search. It’s worth having a look through them, but by default they’re all enabled.
If extra privacy online isn’t something you’re too bothered about in your browser, then perhaps speed is. Well, you’re in luck. Microsoft has given Edge an impressive speed boost with the latest update, in fact, we found Edge to load pages faster than Chrome, and use less system resources while doing so.
Even more so when it comes to viewing video content. YouTube videos loaded faster, especially those in 4K, and if that’s not enough, Edge has been enhanced to support streaming of 4K content from Netflix along with Dolby Audio and Dolby Vision.
This is where Edge really comes into a league of its own. Microsoft has enabled Edge to work seamlessly with its Office 365 content, integrating the suite so you can collect, organise, share and export from the likes of Word or Excel.
Since the lockdown due to Covid-19, working from home and having access to all the digital tools you’d normally be able to work with in the workplace has become paramount. Edge’s integration with Office 365 is more than step forward, it’s an impressive leap that will enable you to keep up to date with Office and Teams and more.
All you need is an Office 365 account, then head over to the Microsoft Office website and sign in. From there, you’ll get access to all the Office apps, as well as being able to view previous content and content that’s stored in your OneDrive area.
As mentioned previously, since Microsoft decided to use the Chromium base, new Edge now has access to a huge amount of Extensions.
Click on the three horizontal dots in the top-right of the screen, and click Extensions. This will bring you to the Microsoft Edge Add-ons store. From here you can search for a specific Extension via the search box in the upper-left, or through the various categories listed down the left-hand sidebar.
To install an Extension, click the name of the Extension, which will open a new page detailing the Extension, then click the Get button followed by the Add Extension button in the pop-up window. This will install the Extension.
Depending on the type of Extension you’ve installed, it’ll either appear in the top toolbar, or it’ll become a part of Edge when you load content that the Extension is designed to handle – such as an enhanced video viewer or something.
Some Extensions will require you to close Edge and restart it, but most will work without the inconvenience of a Edge restart. Extensions can be easily removed by right-clicking, and selecting Remove from Edge.
Microsoft’s Edge has come a long way in this last year. It’s now quicker, more secure and more feature rich than ever before. And, it’s worth giving it a go, even if you’re a die-hard Chrome fan.