Thanks to Internet Explorer, Microsoft doesn't exactly have a great reputation when it comes to web browsers. With the arrival of Edge, the company had a chance to put things right, but while it was something of an improvement, it was still lacking in many, many areas.
So now there is a completely new version of Edge. This isn't a minor change with a handful of updates, but a browser with a completely different engine. Specifically, it has Chromium at its core – the same as Google Chrome – and this means several things.
Firstly, Chromium-based Edge is a very long way from Internet Explorer. Secondly, it is – in many ways – basically Chrome in a different skin, and this means it supports a decent proportion of the wide range of extensions available for Google's browser.
In terms of looks, the new Edge is familiar enough to be easy to jump right into, but distinctive and stylish enough to feel unique. Importantly, it is possible to tweak the look of the browser in various ways to make it a truly personal experience. There are themes available for the New Tab page, giving you the chance to not only see a different background image each day, but also to gain easy access to your most frequently visited sites, as well as useful information such as a personalised news feed.
In reality, however, it is still very early days for the new Edge. It goes a very long way to trying to wipe out Microsoft's trouble history with web browsers, but ultimately it is just a very good browser – there are no stand-out features that will make you want to choose it over another Chromium-based web browser, except perhaps the slight performance boost.
These days, no browser could reasonably be described as being difficult to use, and the Chromium-based version of Microsoft Edge is no different. Everything has a very familiar feel to it, and the learning curve – even for novices – is very gentle. If you're switching from another browser, you'll be given the opportunity to import data from your previous one to make it feel like home right from the start.
Perhaps one of the first things you'll observe about the new Edge is its speed. It's noticeably faster than the old, non-Chromium-based version, and it also feels snappier than Chrome – even though both browsers are based on the same engine.
Strangely, despite Edge having the same engine as Chrome, not all Chrome extensions are supported by default. A carefully curated selection of extensions does work, and it is possible to override settings so you can install anything from the Chrome Store – but success is not guaranteed, and cross-device synchronisation is not yet available.
There are some very nice touches, such as the ability to install certain website (such as Twitter) as apps that can be pinned to the taskbar for easy access, and Microsoft has taken steps to put users on charge of their privacy. As well as offering the familiar InPrivate browsing mode, there are also numerous ways to block tracking by websites, and an easy way to delete data that is collected about your web usage.
But possibly most exciting about the Chromium-based version of Edge is that this is just the beginning. Microsoft has big plans for the browser, and you can expect to see lots of additions and improvements over the coming months. For instance, it should not be long before Edge will synchronize extensions between devices, just as Chrome already does. Other plans include releasing a Linux version of the browser, synchronizing browsing history between devices, allowing inking on web pages, and adding sharing options.
It has been a while since the big browser wars of the past, but with the reimagining of Edge, Microsoft is ramping up the pressure and things could get very interesting.
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