Microsoft has released the first stable version of its new Edge browser based on the open source version of Chrome, Chromium. When Microsoft announced it was going to abandon its current browser and start over, it took the tech industry by surprise, myself included. With this new Edge browser, let’s see how the new Edge browser stacks up against the competition.
While it looks similar to Chrome, it seems more minimalistic if that was even possible. I did notice that all the menus seem to be very wide and spacious, most likely to accommodate computers with touch screens (Microsoft Surface tablets). I’m not against this, but it was just an observation.
One thing I love is the minimalistic black and white icons next to most items in menus, whether it’s the hamburger menu or right-clicking on a page. I’m so used to standard context menus, but seeing these wonderfully simple icons next to options was nice eye candy. I don’t know if this is part of Microsoft’s “Fluent” design language or not, but it is very similar to the Settings menus in Windows 10, which aren’t bad.
Main Edge Settings
I like how the settings are laid out in the new Edge browser. Each category is represented with a simple icon, and everything is self-explanatory. The only problem I have with it is the lack of search engine category, which I talk about later. For comparison, here are the settings from Firefox, Brave, and Opera.
Privacy in Edge
Microsoft has included tracker protection, which has three modes, basic, balanced, and strict. This may not protect you from all the nasty stuff on the web, but it’s probably better than the lack of protection Google Chrome offers.
When it comes to big companies, it’s easy to be doubtful about their promises regarding data and privacy. Microsoft has some telemetry in their new edge browser, but it’s easily turned off in the settings. If you are using Windows 10, it adopts whatever setting you have for Windows diagnostic data setting. I use the free tool O&O ShutUp10 to turn off as much Windows 10 telemetry as I can, so the modes were off by default. However, I imagine these options will be on for most people when they install/upgrade to the new Edge. Toggle them off, and you should be good to go.
Tabs and the new tab page
When Google changed the way that muting tabs worked (muting domains instead of the specific tab), I was pretty annoyed. It’s good to see that Microsoft knew better and reimplemented the old behavior.
When opening a new tab, you’re greeted with a new tab page. Here you can customize how it looks choosing from three options: Inspirational, Focused, and Informational. All of these options change the layout and what things appear. I went with focused because I didn’t need or want news feeds showing up every time I opened a new tab. However, I can see how some people would like this feature. Hell, I even caught myself reading some of the headlines when I accidentally toggled the news section open.
Built-in Microsoft services (Translate and Sync)
Although all of the Google stuff has been removed, Microsoft replaced some things with their own services, which is actually quite nice. One particular example is the built-in translation feature.
When I’m on a website that is not in my default language, I get the option to use Bing Translate, and the page instantly changes to whatever language I selected. It’s nice to have an alternative to Google Translate.
Another major service from Microsoft is sync. If you have a Microsoft account, you can sync your settings such as passwords, favorites (bookmarks), and settings. Eventually, you will be able to sync open tabs, extensions, and more, but that is currently not available for the current stable release. Sync is incredibly useful for anyone that uses multiple computers and devices, so it’s great that Edge has this right out of the gate. Having sync is so important, and it mystifies me that another one of Chrome’s competitors, the Brave browser, is still without a real sync feature.
The download bar
I’ve never been a big fan of Chromium/Chrome’s download bar at the bottom of the screen. It usually takes up too much space and I have to manually close it when downloads are finished. I prefer the way it’s done in Opera and Firefox.
In the new Microsoft Edge, the downloads bar is still there similar to Chrome, but at least the progress bar is an actual bar instead of the circle ones used by Google.
Performance and the removal of Google-specific features
The dev team even posted a list of all the things they removed or replaced from Google in the Chromium code. This means Edge will use less memory and be more efficient than Google Chrome.
It’s not just me, benchmarks done by VentureBeat show that Edge “edged” out the competition in 4 out of 8 browser benchmarks.
Immersive reader and Read Aloud
I was pleasantly surprised to see that Edge had a reader mode. When clicked, an article is stripped of only the essentials and formatted to be pleasing to read. I used this feature a lot in Safari when I was a Mac user but hadn’t really since I switched back to Windows. Having that reader icon show up in the address bar is great for being able to toggle a page quickly.
Another thing I was surprised by was the “read aloud” feature. You can choose to have an article read to you using one of many different voices, depending on language, dialect, etc.
Changing the search engine
It should be no surprise that the new Edge has Bing (also owned by Microsoft) set as the default search engine. That’s to be expected, but it should be easy to change it, right? Well, not quite.
It takes slightly longer in Edge to change the default search engine. It involves going to settings, scrolling down to Services, then clicking Address bar. Only then will you see the dropdown list of search engines that you can change.
In most other browsers, including Chrome, Firefox, and Brave, the search engine option is one click away by being under the main category of “search”. I’m not sure what Microsoft’s game is here, but maybe it’s a way to make it slightly more difficult to change the defaults and boost the default search engine (Bing).
Another thing I noticed was that DuckDuckGo was not part of the default search engine list. Instead, there was Baidu, the Chinese search engine. I’m going to assume that the list differs by region, but I’m not sure.
New Edge browser extensions and Chrome compatibility
If you need a browser extension, Edge by default will take you to the Microsoft store, where you can find quite a few add-ons already there that work with the new Edge. I have to say, I love the clean look and how fast everything loads when browsing categories.
However, upon clicking an extension to learn more about it, I am given nothing more than a short description. No links to the developer, no reviews from other users, no changelog. Maybe this will change as the extension store changes, but right now, it’s just not enough information to go on.
Upon visiting an add-on page on the Chrome web store, a thin banner message will appear at the top of the page from Microsoft, stating that the new Edge supports other add-on stores too. You won’t be able to install Chrome extensions until you click the “Allow extensions from other stores” button, but that’s pretty reasonable.
Because Edge only has tracking protection and no built-in ad blocker, I ended up installing Nano Adblocker to keep me protected on the web. It works the same way it does in Chrome or any other Chromium browser.
Final Thoughts on the new Edge browser
I think it was wise of Microsoft to switch to Chromium and start over on their browser. With both Microsoft, Google, and others working on the Chromium base, that means that more improvements will come down the line for anyone on a Chromium browser, which is mostly everything except Firefox.
I think the new Edge browser is pretty great and a fine release from Microsoft. That’s saying something considering I haven’t considered using a Microsoft browser since the early 2000s. Edge can work with Chrome extensions, there is a focus on privacy, accessibility, and performance.
It’s definitely worth switching to if you’re still running Google Chrome. As someone that hops between Brave and Firefox myself, the urge to switch over is rather strong. I might wait and see how updates go and if Microsoft keeps it up, they might have a new Edge user in the future too.
The new Edge browser is available for most platforms out there, not just Windows. It’ll work on Windows 7, 8, 10, macOS, and there are mobile versions for iOS and Android.