Microsoft launches revamped Edge browser – here's what's new
Microsoft first launched its Edge web browser to replace Internet Explorer in 2015, and now it's pushing out the new and improved second generation of the software – rebuilt from scratch and available on all the major platforms. Here's what you get in the new browser, and why Microsoft went back to the drawing board.
The biggest and most controversial change in the upgraded Edge is a switch to a different browsing engine – that's the bit of a browser that interprets raw webpage code and converts it into what you see on your screen. It's not the most visible feature for end users, but it's hugely important to the way a browser works under the hood.
Having first gone with its own proprietary engine, the second incarnation of Edge uses the Chromium engine developed by Google and its partners. Chromium is open source, so anyone can use it, and it's the foundation of Google Chrome as well as other browsers such as Opera and Brave. Firefox and Safari each use different engines.
The problem with introducing a new engine – as Microsoft tried to do – is that web developers have to account for it when they code their pages. If they're pushed for time or resources, they'll only build sites to work properly with the most common browsing engines, and up until this point, that hasn't been Microsoft Edge.
Having now switched to Chromium, Edge should work smoothly with just about every website out there. Chrome is currently the most popular desktop browser available, so website makers are of course going to make sure that their pages function properly in it, and that'll now apply to Edge too.
Where the controversy comes in is that the shift gives even more power to Google, in determining how the web should be built, and what sort of coding languages and web technologies should be in use. Google isn't in sole charge of the Chromium project – Microsoft says it wants to form a "partnership" with the Chromium community going forward – but Google engineers have a major say in how Chromium is developed.
None of this will matter too much to you when you're just browsing social media or checking up on the latest news stories, but it's helpful to know the reason why Microsoft has decided to rebuild Edge from the ground up, and to be aware that some sites that may have previously been buggy in Edge should now work perfectly.
"The new Microsoft Edge provides world class performance with more privacy, more productivity and more value while you browse," writes Microsoft's Joe Belfiore in a blog post. The new browser is available for Windows, macOS, Android and iOS: it can be installed manually from here, or if you're a Windows user, you can wait for it to arrive over Windows Update.
Living on the Edge
We've been testing out the new and improved Microsoft Edge for a few days. It's as speedy and as stable as you would expect from something using the Chromium engine, it zips along even on more complex webpages, and even when you've got several tabs queued up.
If you want to, you can import bookmarks, browsing history, saved passwords and more from Google Chrome when you set up Edge for the first time. Alternatively, you can start with a clean slate. Your Outlook email address is used to sync browsing data across devices, if you want this to happen.
The interface is lean and tidy, cutting out some of the clutter that was in the first version of Edge (such as the ability to markup webpages, which isn't the most commonly used feature). Some of the fonts and icons have been carried over from this browser's predecessor, but everything is improved design-wise, including the settings page.
One of the benefits of switching to the Chromium engine is that Edge now works with the hundreds of extensions built for Google Chrome. Head to the Chrome Web Store or Microsoft's own Edge Extensions page, and you can install add-ons for blocking web trackers, translating pages, managing passwords and much more.
Data privacy tools are a must for a modern-day browser, and Edge handles them very well. Rather than wading through a host of settings menus, you pick from three levels of tracking permission – basic, balanced and strict, depending on how comfortable you are with marketers being able to target you with ads.
The new tab page gets you straight into your bookmarks, a search box, and the day's news, and you can tweak what you see here very easily. Microsoft is also working on a feature called Collections, which improves the process of moving content from the web into Word and Excel, though this hasn't yet appeared in Edge.
Compared with the previous version of the browser, the new Edge feels faster and more streamlined, focusing on the key tools you need for navigating the web. The much larger library of extensions will please power users, while the clean lines and intuitive interface will please just about everyone.
Considering moving over from Chrome is so straightforward (even the keyboard shortcuts are the same), the rebuilt Edge browser is likely to give Google some serious competition. It's still early days for the new app, but the signs are promising.