Microsoft Edge, the successor to the now antediluvian Internet Explorer, first shipped 2 years ago as part of Windows 10. In its first iteration, Edge was bare boned compared to Google Chrome and Mozilla’s Firefox. It lacked features that most customers had come to expect from a modern browser, not the least of which was extensions or plugins. Since then, Microsoft has continued to update Edge and advance the feature set. It is now almost good enough to be the browser of choice for the average user. But, as the old saying goes, almost only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.
Let’s get one thing out of the way: Edge is fast. On my rather normal system it clearly outpaces both Firefox and Chrome in page loading and responsiveness. This is purely perceptual but that’s what matters. To the average consumer, benchmarks showing millisecond differences in page loads is utterly irrelevant. It’s how the browser seems to respond that makes the difference in user experience. Edge is lightening quick on most common browser type functions.
Another positive is memory usage compared to Chrome and the memory hog that Firefox has become. Perhaps it’s the lack of extensions (more later) or a design that is better able to leverage OS functions better, Edge sips memory where Chrome drinks freely and Firefox gulps.
By all rights, Edge should have become everyone’s everyday browser by now. Alas, it has been hampered by a lack of key, critical features to make that a reality. The latest update is clearly an attempt to address these shortcomings. Tab management, one of the big needs for power users, is now vastly improved. Tabs can be “set aside” or saved for later. Once collected, tabs an easily be recalled or removed from the saved tabs list. The Tab Preview feature helps to visually see all of the open tabs so that it is easier to find just the tab that is needed at the moment. Both features are important for power users who open a lot of tabs at once and need to keep track of them or move them temporarily out of site. Ironically, tab management such as this was pioneered by Mozilla for Firefox as Tab Groups, moved into the core product, and then extracted out later. Firefox now requires an extension to perform similar tab management.
Another catch-up feature is the reading view. The reader mimics similar features in Chrome and Firefox, as well as the Amazon Kindle, in which written content is displayed in a manner that more closely resembles how book and magazine pages look. Extraneous content is stripped away and the layout and font changed to make it easier to read. This is a great feature for consumers who get the majority of their reading material online. The shortcoming of the Microsoft Edge flavor is that there are very few websites that support reading view outside of Microsoft content such as books from the Windows Store and MSNBC.
Microsoft has also fixed the bookmark importer. Previously, when attempting to pull in bookmarks from Firefox, Edge would either generate errors or simply not do it. Now it works flawlessly. This is a big deal for someone considering switching. Having to go find all of those favorite bookmarks is a chore. The improved importer makes migration much easier. Customers can also now sync their bookmarks, passwords, and other settings between Edge browsers on other computers.
Given the progress, speed, and memory saving habits of Microsoft Edge, why is it still not ready to be the everyday browser? The short answer is that Edge still has some serious flaws. There are too few extensions, only 31 at the moment. Another way to look at this is that the Edge ecosystem is still a bit thin. Along the same lines, the lack of Linux, Macintosh, Android, and iOS versions of Edge is a major issue. Being able to sync browser settings is only half useful when they can’t sync to non-Windows devices. For the average consumer, this means having to have different browser experiences for different types of devices. Advantage Chrome, Firefox, and Safari. For power users especially, these are fatal flaws that keep them from adopting Edge as their default browser.
Microsoft Edge has come a long way. It’s increased compatibility with other sites, new features, and stability plus superior speed and memory management should propel it into a neck and neck race with Chrome and probably overtake Firefox in popularity. That may be the future but it can’t happen until the key issues of multi-device support and lack of a meaningful developer ecosystem are addressed. If that takes another year then Microsoft will have squandered an opportunity. Firefox is becoming slow and ponderous and Chrome seems in stasis, and alternatives such as Opera too odd or costly for most people to seriously consider their everyday browser. Microsoft has the ability to repeat it’s 1990s stomping of incumbent browser Netscape Navigator if it can just build up these last few bits.