Microsoft Edge shipped in very incomplete form in the initial shipping version of Windows 10, but the web browser has improved steadily ever since. Today, Windows Insiders can test some basic Edge extensions, including, finally, those that provide ad blocking functionality. Will this trigger a surge in Edge usage?
It’s a timely question. This week, Microsoft announced that there are now over 300 million active Windows 10 devices, and among the commonalities found in all of them is the inclusion of the Edge browser. There’s a chicken/egg theory out there that Windows 10’s success will float all boats. So, for example, as Windows 10 is used ever more broadly, key Windows 10 technologies, like Windows-based phones, Universal Windows Platform (UWP) apps and, yes, Edge will be used more as well.
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But there’s precious little evidence of any of that happening so far. For Edge specifically, all we need to do is look at NetMarketShare’s latest web browser usage statistics to discover that Edge usage is so small it doesn’t even rate an entry. And the “other” category, of which Edge is a part, rate just 0.42 percent of all usage. (Separately, Microsoft noted as part of its 300 million announcement that Edge usage was up 50 percent since the last quarter.)
So shipping in the box with Windows 10 hasn’t really helped Edge all that much so far. But Microsoft is hoping that steady improvements to the browser will turn the tide. Key among them, of course, is support for extensions, which will ship in the Windows 10 Anniversary Update this summer. Windows Insiders can test this functionality now, though the list of compatible extensions is pretty small right now.
Extensions are important, but they can only solve some of Edge’s shortcomings. When I think about how I use Google Chrome today and what it would take for me to switch to Edge, two major issues arise:
Cross-platform favorites. If you’re in the minority of people who use Windows 10 Mobile, good news: Edge will sync favorites between your PCs and your smart phone. For the other 90+ percent of us, however, there’s no Edge on Android or iOS, and no other way to seamlessly ensure that our Edge-based favorites sync with any mobile browser (Safari, Chrome, whatever) on those platforms. One of the things I really like about Chrome on mobile is that I can access my PC-based bookmarks. And I’m not super-interested in taking the time to recreate them in Edge and then always ensure they’re up-to-date on both sides.
Web app pinning. Internet Explorer and Chrome can both pin web apps to the Windows 10 taskbar, where they are basically treated like apps. The Chrome version of functionality, which is use, is superior, as the web apps run in plain app windows that do not include web browser UI. But Edge cannot pin web apps to the taskbar (or elsewhere), meaning I can’t run my (web-based) email, calendar, photos, music and other apps in separate app windows.
So for me, extension support—along with the ad blocking, password management, and other functionality it brings—is very useful, and necessary. But it’s not all that’s needed. It’s not the magic bullet that puts Edge over the top.
That said, I am still very interested in Edge extensions and in ad blocking in particular. So when Brad wrote about how you can get the AdBlock and AdBlock Plus extensions for Microsoft Edge—in recent Windows Insider builds that support this functionality—yesterday, I had to see how well it worked.
And it works, of course. It just doesn’t do everything I need.
Installation is simple enough, though I had to restart the browser before I could configure the extension.
AdBlock Plus Options are accessed by a new entry in the Edge menu, and they occur over four tabs in a curiously ugly UI (that is virtually identical to the one used by AdBlock on other browsers). This UI lets you configure which AdBlock filter lists you’ll use, add your own custom filters, and whitelist sites (so that ads do appear). (The “General” tab currently doesn’t do anything, but on Chrome you use this to configure a ‘Block Element’ right-click menu item.)
AdBlock/AdBlock Plus is a known quantity, in that it’s what I use in Chrome. I like how it blocks ads automatically and makes it easy to temporarily or permanently whitelist sites on the fly. But what’s missing is a way to toggle ad-blocking on the fly. AdBlock/AdBlock Plus provides two ways of doing this on other browsers.
First, there is a toolbar button that triggers a configuration pop-up. Here’s how this looks in Chrome:
With this useful UI, you can quickly toggle ad blocking off if required, or toggle is off for the current site permanently.
Second, you can right-click on individual items on a page and toggle blocking from there. Here it is, again in Chrome:
Unless I’m missing something, you can’t do either in Edge. Meaning, you can’t toggle ad blocking easily on the fly (you have to jump into AdBlock Options), and you can’t toggle blocking of individual elements … at all.
Granted, this functionality is in a pre-release state and could/should improve over time. But for now, the lack of full-featured functionality combined with Edge’s other issues, means I won’t be switching anytime soon.
And that’s too bad: The one thing Edge excels at—its stellar display of text and graphics—is the most core web browser feature of all. Edge is a superior way to read online content, and its ability to scale perfectly with high DPI displays makes it a joy to use. So I want to use Edge, but I can’t. And I bet that will be the case for many of you as well.