Editors' Note: Microsoft Edge is included in Windows 10.
by: Tom McNamara on August 06, 2015
In Windows 10, Microsoft is replacing the Internet Explorer web browser with Microsoft Edge, which comes with an overhauled interface -- and eventually, compatibility with popular browser add-ons like Reddit Enhancement Suite and Lastpass Password Manager.
Snappy performance: Edge loads quickly, renders pages quickly, and scrolls smoothly.
Clean interface: Edge has minimal clutter, so you'll tap or click the wrong thing less often, making menu navigation less frustrating.
Integrated Pocket-like function: Create visual bookmarks with automatically generated thumbnail images and captions.
Integrated sharing: Edge can plug in to other apps on your Windows 10 device without having to wrestle with mobile copy-and-paste behavior.
No add-ons yet: Unfortunately, Edge's much-touted ability to use Chrome and Firefox add-ons was not ready in time for the release of Windows 10, which has a big impact on the browser's overall utility.
Windows 10 only: Edge is not compatible with Windows 8.1, Windows 7, OS X, or any other major operating system, which may hurt its adoption in the long run.
Some confusing designs: Edge doesn't use conventional designs for its menu buttons, which may lead to confusion when you're transitioning from a mobile device. Some sharing options are also missing.
Given the extensive changes and improvements to its interface, Microsoft Edge is more than an Internet Explorer update. But it feels incomplete without an add-on ecosystem, which hopefully will come shortly.
With each new version of Windows, Microsoft attempts to entice us with a few exclusive features. For Windows 10, the Microsoft Edge Web browser is one such example. Internet Explorer 11 is still there in the background, but there's obviously a passing of the torch -- IE's blue "e" icon now starts up Edge. At the same time, IE has been a familiar presence on the desktops of hundreds of millions of people, so Edge can't change too aggressively in its attempt to catch up with Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, and Opera.
Microsoft's Edge browser closes this gap but only to a certain degree, because it's still missing the vast add-on libraries that have made Chrome and Firefox the default choice for most people. The system of plugging Chrome and Firefox add-ons into Edge is slated for "this summer," which means up to a month and a half from now. But in the meantime, a number of other elements are coming together to create a strong foundation to build on in the years ahead.
The general look and feel
When you compare Edge to other browsers side-by-side, you'll notice that Edge's user interface across the top of your screen is slightly larger than the others, with larger buttons. If you need to maximize the amount of webpage that's displayed, Chrome still has the most minimal UI. However, the size of Edge's buttons makes them touch-friendly. It's clearly part of Microsoft's Continuum system.
Continuum is Windows 10's way of adapting automatically to how we use our devices. For example, you can run Windows 10 and Edge on a phone or tablet using the usual touch UI. But then if you plug the device into a monitor, pair it with a keyboard and mouse, and start using it like a desktop computer, the interface on the monitor will adjust from a mobile UI to a desktop UI. When you unplug from peripherals, the phone or tablet will resume its conventional operation.
Improved sharing tools
Share any webpage by clicking the button with three dots connected in a circle (to the immediate left of the More Actions button). Unfortunately, Edge doesn't use the more familiar icon of dots branching out, so that sharing button may escape the attention of many users. When we clicked the button, we got the option to send the page via Windows 10's mail app, add it in Microsoft OneNote, put it in a reading list for later, or plug in to something called Social Jogger. This last one told us that we had to log in to use it, but there was no method to actually do so from within the sharing tool.
In the future, it would be nice to see a link in the sharing list to other things that we could download (perhaps from the Windows Store) to expand sharing options. It was also puzzling that Twitter and Skype were not on this list, despite their Windows 10 apps being present on the testing device. They seem like natural fits.
Writing on webpages
Web Notes, to the left of the sharing button, lets you write, highlight, add text boxes, and take cropped screenshots on a webpage. You can use a stylus or a fingertip, if you have a touch screen. When you're done marking up the page, save it to a file or click the share button to send it somewhere else. The system feels streamlined and easy to understand, and we can see it becoming popular with Web developers and graphic designers.
The Hub, the button to the left of Web Notes with three horizontal lines on it, collects your bookmarks, reading list, browsing history, and download history into four sub-tabs. The reading list, a new addition to the DNA of Microsoft's Web browsers, basically works like Pocket. When you bookmark something, you get the option to add it to your Favorites list or to the Reading list. The Reading list organizes your collection, using thumbnails with captions -- but we found no search function, which will become a problem if you populate your reading list with a lot of items.
On the History sub-tab, individual entries can be listed only chronologically, instead of alphabetically. You can delete stories, as well as clear your entire history, with the option to keep things like passwords, download history, and cookies. Click Show More for a list longer than we've seen in any browser. In case you get overwhelmed by all your options, a link at the bottom opens a Microsoft webpage explaining the different components whose histories you can erase. As with other browsers, you can also access this data-deletion menu by pressing Ctrl-Shift-Del.
The three horizontal lines (aka the hamburger menu) on the icon that opens the Hub is a visual theme usually used for an application settings menu. Edge uses three dots for its settings menu, instead of the hamburger. Combine this with Edge's divergent design of the sharing button, and users have to do extra mental work when transitioning from an Android or iOS device, and that that doesn't feel justified.
Edge's larger buttons are handy for laptops with touchscreens. In the Windows 8 era, Microsoft mandated that the ultrabook tier of laptops had to have touchscreens, so there are a lot of those around, not to mention the company's own Surface tablets.
Edge's whole interface adapts well to touch. When you click or tap the More Actions button (the three dots in a horizontal line in the upper right-hand corner), the submenus list is spaced far enough apart that you can tap with a higher degree of success. The Settings submenu opens a panel of neatly spaced options with large radio buttons and drop-down menus.
Edge scrolls very smoothly with a fingertip or with the Page Up and Page Down keys (as does Internet Explorer). Chrome and Firefox struggle, especially if the page is heavy with graphical elements.
On a side note, there's a toggle in Edge's advanced settings for the Adobe Flash Player, which has been a frequent avenue for security holes over the years. This toggle is not as easy to find as we'd like, but it's more visible than the Flash settings in other browsers.
Keyboard and mouse improvements
In addition to improving touch navigation, Edge has done welcome things with keyboard and mouse input. For example, when you hit the Page Down or Page Up keys, Edge glides very smoothly, so your eyes can track exactly what changes are happening. Internet Explorer does this, too. Firefox tries to, but it's not as smooth. Chrome, surprisingly, doesn't bother at all. Hitting those keys snaps the screen up and down, and it takes a moment to find your bearings on the page.
Chrome is also the only browser of the four that still does not have a menu option to convert a tab into an additional browser window. You have to click and drag the tab, which doesn't necessarily require more work, but the UI doesn't provide any clues for new users. In the other browsers, the functionality is a menu option that pops up when you right-click a tab.
We'd like to see features like a proper integrated password manager, which Firefox has, especially since third-party add-ons like LastPass or Dashlane aren't available (yet). It would also be great to have support for OSes other than Windows 10, though we appreciate that Microsoft wants Edge to entice people to upgrade.
But overall, Edge feels like more than a new browser. It feels like a statement of intent for Microsoft, and we look forward to seeing where the company takes it from here.