Microsoft’s new Edge browser: Third time’s the charm?


Microsoft’s revamped Edge browser, due to be released today, is the company’s third attempt at building a better browser. The first try, Internet Explorer, was initially released in 1995 and eventually became the world’s most popular browser, peaking at 95% market share in 2003. But Microsoft’s actions in making it difficult for users to use other browsers in Windows put it in the federal government’s crosshairs and led to a successful antitrust suit against the company. After that, Microsoft did little to improve the browser, and Internet Explorer became old, buggy and insecure, allowing nimbler browsers like Firefox and Google Chrome to gain in popularity.

The company’s second browser, Edge, released in July 2015, was an attempt by Microsoft to replace Internet Explorer and regain browser leadership. It failed. That version of Edge, available only for Windows 10, was sluggish, overstuffed with features that few people wanted and severely lacking in something people did want: browser extensions. Edge’s failure to ignite only accelerated rival Chrome’s ascent. According to Statcounter, as of December 2019, Chrome had 69% of the worldwide desktop browser market, compared to 4.6% for Edge and 3.6% for Internet Explorer.

Microsoft’s new Edge browser is as dramatic a break as can be imagined from the company’s past. Instead of developing the browser with proprietary code, Microsoft decided to build the new Edge using open-source Chromium source code, which was originally developed by Google and also underpins Google Chrome and other browsers such as Opera and Brave. Doing that is anathema to the go-it-alone-and-dominate-the-market vision championed by past CEOs Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer.

IDG

Microsoft’s new Edge browser, based on open-source Chromium, is Microsoft’s third attempt to build a better browser. (Click image to enlarge it.)

Current Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has been willing to break with that Microsoft orthodoxy in the past. But using open-source code first developed by Google for Microsoft’s new browser is probably his biggest gamble yet. Looked at another way, though, it was no gamble at all. With Microsoft’s browser market share so minimal and its browsers so widely reviled, he likely felt he had nothing to lose by taking a dramatically new approach.

So how well did Microsoft do with this break-from-the-past browser? Will the third time be the charm, or did Microsoft once again build a browser bound to fail? Read on for details and answers.

Note: Unlike the original Edge browser, the Chromium-based Edge works with Windows 7, Windows 8.1 and macOS in addition to Windows 10 but in this review, I focus on the Windows 10 version.

Faster and clean-looking

One of the first things you’ll notice about the new Edge is just how zippy it is, and how quickly web sites load in it. Even when using 10 or more tabs, I didn’t find it sluggish, as often happens with Chrome.

In my experience, the new Edge also doesn’t suffer from another Chrome problem — the tendency to slow down the longer you use the browser, especially when you have multiple tabs open. Not uncommonly on my machines, when I leave Chrome running for days with multiple tabs in use, it becomes so sluggish I need to close the browser down. In several weeks of testing, that never happened to me with Edge, even when using the beta version.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.



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