Microsoft is still working on its new version of the Edge browser, but the beta version is freely available for download at the Microsoft Edge Insider website. I decided to take it for a test drive and used it as my primary browser for a week. Here’s what I discovered.
What’s so special about the new Edge browser?
The most important thing to note is that Microsoft is replacing its proprietary EdgeHTML rendering engine with the open-source Chromium engine, that Google Chrome and other browsers are based on. The main reason for this is the Microsoft has struggled to keep up with ever-evolving changes to web standards, resulting in issues with compatibility and its customers switching to alternate browsers in droves.
By switching to a Chromium base, Microsoft can ensure compatibility, make a positive contribution to future web standards through the open-source community and offer a browser that run across multiple operating systems.
What I like about Chromium Edge
I know these are features already available in other browsers and Microsoft is playing catch-up. Nevertheless, I find them useful.
The main reason I decided to try the Chromium Edge beta is that I am constantly switching between Office 365 tenants for different customers. If you’ve ever had to do this you’ll know how badly this works as the browser struggles to keep track of which tenant you’re actually logged into. My workaround has always been to open an InPrivate browsing window if I needed to log into another tenant. And if I needed to access a third and fourth tenant at the same time I would have to use Chrome and Firefox and potentially their private browsing modes.
Chromium Edge does away with all of that. You can now create multiple browser profiles, each with their own set of cookies, remembered passwords and login to Office 365 or Microsoft Online services.
Synchronising your settings
If you sign in with a Microsoft account you can even synchronise your settings, such as Favorites, between browsers, which is helpful if you are working across multiple devices.
The Settings Page
The fresh-looking, easy to navigate Settings page is big improvement over the clunky settings menu in the current Edge browser.
Most of the settings can be found where you would expect to find them and if you still can’t find what you’re after you can easily find it using the search bar.
Viewing SSL certificates
This one’s probably not important to most users, but I regularly secure customer websites with SSL/TLS certificates and use the browser to confirm a certificate is updated or applied correctly. Currently, Edge provides a useless Certificate Information panel when you click the padlock icon. You either needed to export the certificate or use another browser to see the relevant certificate information. Chromium Edge restores the functionality as it was in Internet Explorer and how it works in just about every other browser, by simply opening it with the operating systems certificate viewer. Finally!
Speed and Stability
One pleasant surprise was how quickly the Chromium Edge browser works. Pages load quickly and switching between tabs is instantaneous. After a full week of heavy use I didn’t experience a single issue with the browser crashing. It’s certainly stable enough now to use every day.
My main concern prior to installation was how installing the Edge beta version would affect the standard Edge installation in Windows 10. As it turns out, this is not a problem at all since the inbuilt Edge browser runs on the Universal Windows Platform (UWP) like apps you purchase from the Microsoft Store. Chromium Edge installs as a standard Win32 desktop application and can install alongside existing browsers without impacting them at all. In fact, you can use both Edges at the same time.
What needs more work
While it has mostly been smooth sailing, there are a few things that got under my skin while using Chromium Edge. Hopefully Microsoft will address these before their final release.
I don’t like Bing. There, I said it!
First thing I did when I installed Chromium Edge was to change the default search engine in the address bar to Google and changed the home page to www.google.com. This is how i like to work, but for some reason Chromium Edge forces a Bing page on you with every new tab. It’s beautifully designed and customisable, but it’s got a Bing search bar on it, so I don’t like it. I’ve read some posts online that say Microsoft will be addressing this in future. Fingers crossed.
This really is a minor issue, but when you create a profile you can choose from one of 20 icons for your profile. If you sign in to Office 365 or a Microsoft account, your profile icon is downloaded from your account and replaces one you chose. Currently, there’s no easy way to choose a custom icon.
When Chromium Edge auto-fills forms the text appears on a pale blue background. I’ve seen a few issues where that background extends beyond the confines of the text field and covers other buttons or text and prevents you from using the page properly, though I suspect this may be an issue with the page rather than the browser.
Like most browsers, Chromium Edge will let you save passwords to websites. This is great if you use a password manager to generate random passwords for different websites you log into (and you should) so you don’t have to remember them. Unfortunately, Chromium Edge doesn’t give you the option of not remembering a password. So you will forever be prompted to save your password for sites that you don’t want to save it for.
Chromium Edge looks like it’s just about ready for prime-time and if Microsoft can fix a few annoying issues before its final release I can see that new version will quickly make it one of the most dominant browsers out there. The pressure will then be on software/web developers, including Microsoft, to ensure their EdgeHTML-compatible software is rewritten to support the Chromium rendering engine.
If you’re interested, I recommend you give it a try. It doesn’t impact other software and can easily be uninstalled if you don’t want it anymore.