Windows 10 In-Depth: Microsoft Edge, the modern browser

Web browsers are gateways to the internet and are probably the most used programs on PCs today. One of the biggest additions to Windows 10 was their new browser, Microsoft Edge. Historically, Internet Explorer had been the default, built-in, standard Windows browser, but Windows 10 has changed everything.

Edge was built for browsing the modern web at high speeds and making modern browsing easy with built-in features like Cortana and Web Notes. Users can expect a minimalist UI and more robust standards compliance. For most users, most of the time this means their sites will load fast and accurately and the browser will fade into the background.

MS Edge Reading Mode

Use reading mode to making reading easier with less distractions

User Experience

The design of Edge stands out against any other popular browser especially Internet Explorer. The UI elements are big enough that they can be used easily with mouse or touch. Tabs are across the top and a new tab can be opened by pressing the plus sign on the right of the tabs. The upper right hand corner has the standard three buttons for minimize, maximize/resize, and close.

Buttons on the bar below are grouped by function starting with the arrows in the top left which navigate back, forward, and refresh. To the right of the refresh button is the address bar which serves double duty as website input or web search. URLs which have been secured are preceded by a lock and the company who is authenticating the security.

On the right end of the address bar are two symbols; first a book, then a star. The book symbol, if pressed, enables reading mode which isolates the article from all surrounding content such as ads, recommended articles, or other website content. Clicking the button again exits reading mode and returns the website to its normal state. The Star button initiates the process to add a website to favorites or the reading list for access later.

MS Edge HUB Pane

Access favorites, reading list, history, and downloads from the hub pane

The next four buttons are where users can activate Edge’s Hub pane, Web Notes, Share pane, and additional settings. The Hub pane is activated with the first of the four icons which is represented by three horizontal lines of differing length. When clicked the Hub pane slides out from the right and gives users access to favorites, reading list, history, and downloads. If users want to keep this pane open while browsing, they can click the pin in the upper right corner of the pane. Next to the Hub icon is the Web Notes button which freezes the website so users can draw, highlight, and comment over the website and save or share these notes.

The third button is the Share button and should look familiar to users of other Microsoft products. This button opens the Share pane which was introduced in Windows 8. From this pane, users can pick an app from a list to share the website via social media, email, or a notes app. Along with the URL, Edge includes a snippet from the website to give the link some context. This pane also appears when users click the share button after they are done taking Web Notes.

Lastly the three dots represent ‘more’ and in this case that opens a drop down containing more technical options. These options are new window, new InPrivate window, zoom, find on page, print, pin to start, F12 Developer Tools, open with Internet Explorer, send feedback, and settings. These are not commonly used features but can be accessed by clicking the three dots icon which should be familiar to Windows 8 or Windows Phone users.

MS Edge Settings Pane

Change settings like dark mode, or New Tab options from the settings pane

Features

One of the first features users are greeted by would be the new tab page. This page can be customized but by default shows the address bar (shifted down), Top sites, and a personalized news feed. There is also a small circle containing the account photo if a Microsoft Account is being used; clicking this opens a menu for changing account setting or opening a new InPrivate window.

Customizing the New Tab page can be done by clicking the word ‘customize’ which is on the right above the Top Sites boxes. From this page, users can tailor their New Tab experience to their liking, for example showing just top sites, or simply a blank page. Topics which show up on the news feed can be customized by clicking the preferred categories which gain a blue outline when selected.

Top sites sit below the address bar and are an easy way to access frequent or popular websites. Any site which you want to remove can be taken off by clicking the “x” which appears in the top right corner of the tile when hovered over. Microsoft recommends popular websites which behave just like frequent sites and can be removed in the exact same way. Oddly though, Top Sites cannot be added, pinned, reordered, or customized and there has been no word if this functionality will be coming.

In addition to news the news feed also shows sports scores, stocks, weather, and app recommendations. App recommendations accompany a related story or are shown like a news story but the word ‘Sponsored’ sits above the title with Windows Store below. These app recommendations are unique but do offer a nice way to make useful apps more visible to users who may not go exploring the app store. When a website such as AP or Netflix has an app there will be a link to the app below or next to the name with either ‘Get the app’ or ‘Open the app’ if the app is already installed.

MS Edge Web Notes Pen

Change pen or highlighter color or size from their drop down menus

One unique and built in feature to Edge is Web Notes which enables users to markup web pages with handwritten notes or typed comments. When users are done these notes can be saved or shared with ease. When taking notes on sites with moving content such as video, or moving ads, all content is frozen. Also when the notes are saved, they are saved as an image so text cannot be selected easily.

While Web Notes are being taken, the bar below the tabs is overtaken with a new purple bar with new buttons. From this new toolbar, users can change between pen, highlighter, eraser, comments, and crop on the left and save, share, or exit on the right. Change color or size of a tool by clicking it again after it has been selected; you can tell there are additional options because by the small triangle below the active tool icon. When a Web Notes session ends, the page refreshes which could be an issue if the content is unique or will be lost on refresh.

MS Edge Web Notes Save

Save or share Web Notes when you’re done

Cortana gets lots of attention at the bottom of the Taskbar, but she is also built into Microsoft Edge to help in any way she can. Some web searches do not need the to be completely executed before Cortana can return the important info. For example, typing ‘Chicago weather’ will return the current weather in Chicago without hitting enter for a full search. Other commands include stocks, currency conversions, math, definitions, quick facts, and unit conversions. These quick answers help save time and more importantly avoids page loads which can be distracting and pointless.

Have you ever been reading an article and read a word which you would like more details on? Well in Edge now you don’t need to load a new page to satisfy that thirst for knowledge. Highlight the text in question, right click, then choose ‘Ask Cortana’ to activate a pane which slides in to give more detailed information concerning the highlighted text. The results are powered by Bing and usually contain definitions, images, facts, and a quick link to Wikipedia. While most other panes have a pin in the upper right hand corner to keep the pane open while the user continues browsing, the Cortana pane seems to be missing this icon. However the same functionality can be achieved by click the space where the pin would be, and clicking there again hides the pane.

Microsoft Edge Cortana Quick Answers

Ask Cortana simple questions and get quick answers

Finally, when Cortana has useful information she will let you know in the address bar with blue text and her iconic spinning circles. Viewing a restaurant but just want to know quick facts like hours, location or menu? Well sometimes (rarely in my experience) Cortana will pop into the address bar and when clicked will open a pane on the right showing the relevant information.

Cortana can save you money while shopping online by suggesting coupons when visiting a site. The coupons are listed with the coupon code in plain text ready for copying and pasting at checkout, as well as a link to the fine print of each offer. Currently this feature works on only a few websites such as Dell.com or Staples.

Edge does support pinning websites to the Start Menu but, unlike in Windows 8, these pinned website tiles are not live. Simply, they are shortcuts to a URL and nothing more. So far there hasn’t been any word from the Edge team if they plan to bring this feature to Edge but that is a possibility. Edge was a massive undertaking and when the release of Windows 10 was made several months early, the team needed to cut some features. It also may be that few users actually used pinned websites, regardless of how nice and functional the feature was for those who used it.

When Microsoft began the process of building Edge, they had a choice to make regarding the rendering engine and JavaScript engine. Apple developed WebKit, which is extremely popular and has been used by Opera and Chrome. Mozilla uses Gecko for Firefox, which falls under the Mozilla Public License. Microsoft’s layout engine for Internet Explorer has been Trident and while Trident has a long history of compatibility, IE has never been praised for how it supports modern websites.

[pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Edge was born out of the ashes of Internet Explorer and aims to become the best browser on Windows.[/pullquote]

For their new browser, Microsoft knew they could not rely upon competitor’s technology like WebKit (or Blink) but they also had to make a change; thus EdgeHTML was born. Essentially, Microsoft took Trident and began developing a new branch; keeping the relevant parts, and cutting out the legacy parts. The end result is a modern unique engine which is fast and robust. Edge was born out of the ashes of Internet Explorer and aims to become the best browser on Windows.

While the future for Microsoft’s new browser is bright, the current situation to many users feels incomplete. There is great promise around what Edge will become very soon but competitors like Chrome and Firefox still have a very specific advantage; extensions. Since Edge does not have extension support, there are many who will not give it a second look. However, to most users, Edge provides a fast, complete, and unique experience with features like Cortana and Web Notes not found in any other browsers.

Summary

If you seek a fast and new alternative to your current browser then check out Edge. Modern devices with stylus support light up with the Web Notes feature which makes highlighting and sharing content easy, fast, and natural. Reading mode removes the noise to deliver only the article free from distractions and ads. The minimalist UI suits both mouse and touch making it the perfect browser for modern multi-mode devices. The new tab page does a good job mixing top sites with other data from around the web like weather, news, stocks, and sports.

MS Edge Cortana Ask

Ask Cortana about the highlighted text by selecting Ask Cortana from the menu

Cortana takes Edge from ‘just another browser’ to a browser with an assistant to help solve problems which everyone experiences on the web. Finding important information about a restaurant, doing fast math, or a quick definition. Having an assistant browsing with you makes deals easier to find and since Cortana loads in a pane you do not have to launch a new tab and load a new page of results to learn about Hurricane Joaquin.

There is no doubt Microsoft still has work to do before Edge is completely finished, but the majority of features are present today. Syncing your favorites, reading lists, and tabs will be added soon but the browsing experience does not suffer too badly with them missing. With Windows 10 Mobile coming, the interconnected features will be more important and that is when Microsoft will deliver them. For now, enjoy scribbling on web pages and asking Cortana questions within the new browser.

What do you think about Microsoft Edge? Let us know in the comments below!

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