Microsoft’s Internet Explorer successor, Edge, is being moved to the Chromium browser format. This means that it has the same foundations as many other web browsers, including Google Chrome, Opera and Vivaldi.
Microsoft Edge was first released in the summer of 2015 but wasn’t adopted widely by those surfing the web. Google’s Chrome browser currently holds the largest market share for browsers worldwide, being the software of choice for over 70% of users. In comparison, Edge is the fifth most popular, used by 4.35% of those accessing the internet worldwide.
It is important to note that Microsoft is not destroying the browser – it will still have the same name and icon. However, the behind-the-scenes technologies will change dramatically.
Edge is the default browser for the Windows 10 Operating System, and should have followed the success of Internet Explorer, which was the most widely used browser before the introduction of Chrome. However, upon setting up a new device a lot of users open Edge in order to download a rival browser, and then never again.
As an ever-curious person, as soon as the Canary version of Edge for Mac was released, I was keen to try it out (when I say ‘released’, it was actually leaked on Twitter). Being predominantly a Mac user, I had limited exposure to Edge in the past, even though I am constantly cycling through different browsers to try and decide which is my favourite this particular week.
The move to Chromium is one that will go largely unnoticed by Edge users – the branding will remain the same, as will the interface for the most part. However, some previous features will disappear, with others taking their place.
Chromium is an open-source project which “aims to build a safer, faster, and more stable way for all Internet users to experience the web”. Developed by Google for its Chrome browser, this is now the basis for many other browsers. For example, Opera was initially released in 1995 but was transitioned to run on Chromium in 2013.
Microsoft are committed to contributing to the Chromium open-source project as a whole, and not just for their own benefit. By implementing Edge features onto the Chrome platform, they are potentially improving the experience for users of other browsers. These include making browsers more compatible with the Windows Operating System and improving scrolling and drawing for touch-enabled devices.
Chromium has a number of test versions, known as release channels, for browsers before the full version is released.
- The Canary Build is released daily and is not yet tested or thoroughly used. It is released as soon as it is built, so bugs and changes are common. This is not a generally stable release and should be used with caution.
- The Dev Channel is updated once or twice per week and allows for developers to keep up to date with the latest changes.
- The Beta Channel allows for a low-risk preview of the upcoming major release. It is usually updated every week, with a major update every six weeks. This is typically a month or more ahead of the Stable Release.
- The Stable Release is the full release of the updated browser. This is updated roughly every two weeks, with major updates every 6 weeks. This is the version which is used by those generally surfing the web and should not have any bugs or issues.
The Canary build sounds the most exciting and dangerous, so that was of course the one I was going to go for. Exciting and dangerous, that’s me, sat behind my desk with a packet of crisps.
The move away from the previous basis, EdgeHTML, will allow for the browser to be updated independently from Windows itself. This allows for more frequent updates to improve security and usability issues and means that the programme can be used on non-Windows 10 devices. Hence why Edge is now available on MacOS.
Upon opening the current version of Edge on Windows, one is presented with the browser claiming that it is ‘faster than both Chrome and Firefox’. A bold claim, considering that Opera say that speed is one of their top priorities, and have a ‘Turbo’ mode to increase speeds, even on a slow network. On top of this, Mozilla boast that with their new Firefox Quantum, their browser is now twice as fast as before.
So, which one really is the fastest browser? To find out, I ran the Principled Technologies WebXPRT 3 benchmark. This evaluates the browser’s all-round performance by simulating six different tasks:
- Photo Enhancement
- Organising an Album Using AI
- Stock Option Pricing
- Encrypting Notes and OCR Scanning
- Sales Graphs
- Online Homework
I ran each of the five most popular browsers through this test on my Mac Pro with no other programmes running, so these results may not be completely accurate of all devices. However, they do give a general understanding of the performance of each browser when run on a controlled device.
It is important to note that Chrome and Opera are both running on stable releases of Chromium, and so their results are within the expected margin of error for such closely related browsers.
Mozilla’s Firefox browser, which is also open-source, performed the best by a considerable margin, with Edge trailing behind in last place. This doesn’t automatically mean we can say that Edge is a slow browser, it is still in development, though it does show that there is still improvement needed before it is able to compete with the big players.
So, enough of the technical stuff. What about my experience of it as a browser over all?
In all honesty, I didn’t find the browser as bad as I had expected. There is definitely a Windows-y feel to the programme, with rectangular blocks making up the elements of the tabs and address bar. This would be good for someone using a Mac who is more accustomed to a Windows device, as this provides a certain level of familiarity.
I’m a big fan of the Mac OS dark mode, so when I first opened Edge and it didn’t automatically switch to the dark colour scheme I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to last a week. But lo and behold – there was a way to save my sanity, buried deep within the browser settings. I hope that Microsoft make the colour mode automatically aligned to the OS settings when the full version of Edge is released.
Another feature that many people may be opposed to is the search bar. The default search engine is Microsoft’s Bing, rather than Google which is preferred by other browsers. However, as in all browsers this can be changed through the settings. There is currently the option to set Bing, Google, Yahoo or DuckDuckGo as the preferred search engine.
The start-up screen is very different to that of other browsers. Chrome has focus on simplicity, and as such their default new tab screen features a google search bar and a list of often-used sites. Edge equally features a search bar and most-visited sites, but you can also scroll down to see a personalised news feed. The layout of this page can be set to Focussed, Inspirational or Informational, depending on your preference. The screenshot below is in the ‘Inspirational’ mode.
In all, I found this an interesting experience. I could go as far as describing it as liberating. A week with Microsoft Edge on Mac was unusual, yes, but it seems like the development team behind this really are conscious about the needs of their users. Throughout my thorough testing – web browsing, watching videos, uploading and downloading files – I did not come across any issues or bugs.
Keep an eye out for announcement of the full release of Edge on Chromium, on whichever device you prefer. And if you’re up for something ‘exciting and dangerous’, then why not try the Canary or Dev builds for Mac, or get the Windows 10 Insider Channels here.