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While the Microsoft Edge browser is definitely a compelling upgrade to Internet Explorer in Windows 10, it's struggled against aggressive competition from Google, Apple, and Mozilla. But with the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update, Edge has had two and half years to mature and improve. Let's see how it stacks up.
A fundamentally fluid and snappy browser: On release day, Edge loaded pages quickly and scrolled smoothly. About a year later, Microsoft added support for add-ons, so you have things like LastPass, Reddit Enhancement Suite, Evernote, Pinterest, and ad blockers -- but they don't slow down the browsing experience like add-ons have been known to do. While Firefox may struggle with HD video streaming, and Chrome may eat up a lot of system memory, Edge has neither of these problems and is a night-and-day improvement over Internet Explorer.
Android and iPhone integration: When this browser launched alongside Windows 10 in mid-2015, it lacked a way to smoothly sync your activity to mobile devices. With no Android or iOS version of Edge, Google Chrome has ended up dominating on Android, and Apple's Safari browser has a deeply integrated presence on Apple devices. Now Microsoft has finally come out with mobile versions, albeit in beta testing form. When you log into your Microsoft account in Edge on Android or iOS, it will now sync your open tabs, browsing history, and saved website passwords with your desktop version of the browser.
Built-in, high-quality PDF reader: In the past, a PDF reader was something that Windows users had to get themselves -- or they wrestled with the version in Windows 8 that had a frustrating UI that took over your whole screen unexpectedly. In Windows 10, Edge is actually the default for PDFs, and it works well. These documents open quickly and scroll smoothly, and you can treat them like any other tab in your browser.
Plus, you can now annotate your PDFs; there's highlighting, copying sections of text, underlining, and integrated Cortana AI (Microsoft's competitor to the Google Assistant and Apple's Siri). For example, you can highlight something and ask Cortana for more information.
Add-on support is still relatively limited: Edge currently has only 71 extensions available for the desktop version, which is a drop in the bucket compared to Chrome and Firefox, and no extensions for the mobile versions (though to be fair, the mobile version of Chrome does not have add-ons either). While raw numbers aren't everything, variety is important.
If you want an add-on to download videos for offline viewing, Video Downloader Professional is the only game in town. There's one add-on for mouse gestures, none for taking screenshots or switching a site to a dark mode, and no official add-ons from Google for things like Gmail, Translate, or image searches. Microsoft has added a lot of the popular add-ons, but there are still some noticeable gaps.
Not available for Windows 7 or 8: According to the latest numbers from NetMarketShare, about 47 percent of Windows users are using Windows 7, while Windows 10 sits at 29 percent. Yet Edge is expanding to Android and iOS instead of older versions of Microsoft's own operating system, leaving hundreds of millions of already loyal customers untapped.
Granted, Edge may be deeply connected to programming code that's specific to the latest version of Windows (the Android and iOS versions are based on code from Google and Apple, respectively), but it's not good optics, and it effectively shepherds hundreds of millions of users into alternative ecosystems where they'll be difficult to win back.
Edge doesn't compete with Chrome or Firefox at the level where it could be a carrot to entice users to upgrade to a new OS, so this just looks like a missed opportunity to win over people who are already inclined to check out their offerings.
Edge still suffers in the add-on department, and its continued absence in Windows 7 and 8 is a puzzler. But it provides a very smooth browsing experience in Windows 10, Android, and iOS; its modest add-on collection includes a lot of popular tools and services; and getting on iOS and Android is a big step forward for users who prefer the Microsoft ecosystem over Google's and Apple's.