An early build of the Chromium-based version of Microsoft Edge has leaked, giving us our first opportunity to see what Microsoft has been up to. It’s incomplete, and is missing many classic Edge features. But it’s also familiar for the majority of people who currently use Google Chrome. And that alone will make the transition a seamless one.
In fact, when you think about it: Getting Chrome users to move to the new Edge is more important than attractive classic Edge users. After all, Chrome is dominant online, while Edge usage hovers in the 3-4 percent range.
Getting past that, there is the problem of naming. Many are using silly names like “Chredge” or “Edgium” to refer to the new browser. And the term “Chromium-based version of Microsoft Edge” is obviously pretty ponderous. So I went looking for any hint that Microsoft might brand this thing differently just to make it obvious which was which.
I didn’t really find anything obvious; even the icons are identical. But where the classic version of Edge that will ship in Windows 10 version 19H1 (1903) is currently identified as Microsoft Edge 44.18362.1.0, the leaked build of the Chromium-based version of Microsoft Edge identifies itself as version 18.104.22.168. So I will refer to this new product as Edge 75 here.
As noted, Edge 75 is very obvious a version of Chrome/Chromium. It looks like Chrome, behaves like Chrome, and appears to perform like Chrome. The similarity is immediately obvious, visually—Edge 75 utilizes the same Material Design-inspired rounded corners on tabs and the address box—but it of course also extends down t the product’s very technical foundation. (Even its casting ability will be Chrome-based and not use Miracast as with classic Edge.) So I’ll leave the surface-level stuff to others, and focus on a few more important points.
First up is the browser’s support of Progressive Web Apps (PWAs). I assume this was a driving force behind the move to Chromium, and Google has done a great job of making PWAs feel like native experiences, and not just on its own platforms but on Windows and macOS.
Twitter is the obvious way to test this functionality. On Chrome, when you visit the PWA version of Twitter, you’re provided with an Install link in the menu. I fully expected to find this option in Edge 75, but it’s not there. Instead, Edge 75 treats the Twitter PWA like any other web page. So you can pin it to the desktop and access it like an app. But it doesn’t identify the PWA correctly. In this case, it’s not too harmful, as you’d want/have to be online to use Twitter anyway. But that could be a problem with other PWAs.
The good news? If you know where to look (try navigating to edge://apps), you can configure a pinned web page to open as a window, so that it doesn’t open in a normal browser tab, just like in Chrome.
This makes for a much more seamless experience, because any web page pin can be made to look like a real app. It works just like it does in Chrome. (And will presumably sync your pinned pages and PWAs across devices using your Microsoft account.)
Which brings me to item two: Your Microsoft account (MSA). As I discussed in Is Microsoft Edge on Chromium a No Brainer? (Premium), one of the issues for Chrome users moving to Edge 75 is that the integrated online account in the browser will be your MSA, not your Google account as in Chrome. So those who have been saving and syncing passwords, bookmarks, form data (including payment information), and other things via Chrome will need to import that all to Edge 75 and then use that browser going forward.
Looking at this first Edge 75 build, you can see that your MSA is tied to the browser, and it provides a simple interface for managing the browser profile that is tied to your MSA. This includes the expected interfaces for passwords, payment info, addresses, and more.
Given this, I’ll need to experiment with how—or whether—that data can be integrated into Android. One of the nice things about using Chrome today is that password information synced through the browser to your Google account is then made available for signing into native apps in Android. It is possible for third parties to replace Google’s handling of this sync. But I don’t believe Edge mobile can do this yet. I will keep researching this.
For those hardy classic Edge users, the first thing you’ll likely notice—beyond Edge 75’s depressing similarity to Chrome—is that many core Edge features are missing in Edge 75. This includes tab management features like “Set these tabs aside,” the ability to add handwritten notes to webpages, Reading view and its integrated Learning tools, e-books, and much more. I expect at least some of those to make the transition. But it’s likely that the first release of Edge 75 will be a subset of the functionality of classic Edge.
That said, it will also bring the best of Chrome to Edge. This includes a wide range of functionality, but the neatest thing I’ve found so far is that you can enable third-party extension stores, browse to the Chrome Web Store, and then install any Chrome extension you want. For me, this is a crucial step towards changing browsers. And I’ve already installed Momentum, my preferred new tab experience.
Given all the silence around this release over the past few months, I had worried that things hadn’t progressed very well and that the first public release would be a mess. But now that I’m using Edge 75, I feel good about the future again. This is almost good enough as it is, to be honest. And anyone comfortable with Windows Insider builds should have no trouble using this alongside other browsers even in its current state.
I’ll keep using it.