Living on the (Microsoft) Edge

Living on the (Microsoft) Edge

For the past few weeks, I’ve been using Microsoft Edge instead of Chrome where possible. This is a lot easier with the Windows 10 Anniversary update, which includes numerous Edge improvements. But as expected there are a few things I still miss from Google’s browser.

Microsoft Edge has a lot going for it: The way it renders text and graphics, especially, is impressive, and it handles high DPI displays much better than other browsers. In the Anniversary update, Microsoft has made some important changes to Edge, most notably with the addition of extensions. But there are dozens, maybe even hundreds, of smaller changes that add up to a far more cohesive and complete experience than what Microsoft offered when Windows 10 initially shipped a year ago.

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Still, the transition hasn’t been easy. And if I’m being honest with myself, I can’t honestly say I’m ready to abandon Chrome completely, no matter the benefits—and very real battery life advantages–of Edge.

I feel like I’ve been dealing with this kind of trade-off a lot lately, as I examine and re-examine various products and services. That is, the transition to Microsoft Edge is like many other personal technology transitions: You have to be prepared to give up your traditions and do some things differently. Not everyone will be comfortable with that, and it’s something I struggle with myself. It all comes down to what you need, what you can live with, and your ability to change. And … I’m trying.

The first step was to configure Edge to work more to my liking, at least as much as possible.

Enabling an ad blocker is crucial: One of the things I noticed very quickly using Edge is that web site annoyances I was previously unaware of, like auto-playing video, a curiously common occurrence, were regularly interrupting my work. So I installed the Adblock Plus extension to solve that problem. And while I was there, I threw in some other useful extensions I’d actually use: LastPass, Save to Pocket and Microsoft Translate.

Password management is crucial on the web, but the next step was getting my bookmarks imported. Microsoft provides very simple interface for this, and I was able to select Chrome as the source. But the resulting mass of favorites that populated the browser confused me, and I’m reasonably sure that many of them came from IE, which I haven’t used in years. So I spent a lot of time—a lot of time—deleting old favorites and arranging things the way I prefer. The good news? This stuff syncs through your Microsoft account, so you only need to do it once.

Speaking of Favorites, I prefer to keep my favorites in the Favorites Bar, which I display below the main browser toolbar. This was easy to set up, and works OK, but Edge offers less in the way of customization here, which I’ll describe below.

After that, I looked to the search engine: You can say what you want about Bing, but when I actually use this search service to find my own articles, the results are lackluster. So I quickly gave up on that and moved back to the full-featured goodness of Google.

Which I was able to do because I know the trick, which Microsoft neither documents nor makes easy: Google Search will not come up in the well-buried Favorites settings option by default. Here’s what to do: Navigate to and then visit Favorites settings (it’s hiding in Advanced Settings). That’s the only way Edge can “discover” Google. Ironic.

There are other Edge customizations that you may wish to take advantage of, though I did not. You can pin any number of sites to the browser permanently so that they appear in every new window. You can choose a Dark theme, which is inexplicably set separately from the OS theme. (Which is itself inexplicably called “the app mode,” and not the theme, at the OS level; classic Microsoft.) And you can configure start page(s) and whether to display a Home button. I don’t care about any of that.

After getting Edge set up—which for me required revisiting various settings as I went and noticed things I didn’t like—I started running up against incurable problems. Things that are just … broken, perhaps, or at least not to my liking.

The biggest I’ve already documented: You cannot pin Edge-based web apps to the Windows 10 taskbar, severely limiting the ability of this otherwise modern OS to treat web apps as first-class citizens alongside Windows desktop and UWP apps. This is a huge problem for me, as I pin several web apps to the taskbar with Chrome. And will continue to do so.

Equally weird, there is no way to create a shortcut on the desktop to an Edge-based web site. But—and, really, this is a bit incredible—if you do so with Chrome, and have Edge set as your default web browser, those shortcuts will use an Edge icon and will of course open in Edge. Microsoft simply forgot to add this feature to the browser directly. It’s so basic.

I mentioned the Favorites bar, which has been improved a bit since the initial Windows 10 release to support two view styles: Show names and icons and Icons only. But in Chrome, I can individually determine how any bookmark works. So some are only icons and some have descriptive texts. So Microsoft has taken one step forward, but has still not caught up to Chrome.

Performance is mixed, and the occasional performance hiccups can be maddening. Many times now, I’ve selected text in a web page and then right-clicked so I can copy it to the clipboard and paste it into a document. But when I right-click … nothing happens. Seconds tick by. And if I don’t give up—I’m contemplating heaving the PC out the window as this happens—the pop-up menu finally appears, giving me that choice. Yikes is that slow.

And then there are those extensions, which are to Edge as mobile apps are to Windows phone: The basics are there, but some small but important extensions are currently unavailable, and while none seems like the type of thing to leave a browser over, they are collectively important. Flashcontrol, which I use to disable all Flash content by default. Google Translate, which is superior to Microsoft’s offering. Honey, which helps me save money when I buy things online. And so on.

Edge does, of course, offer some unique features, and any decision about using this browser should account for these features.

For example, Edge’s Reading view feature is wonderful, and works well. In Chrome, you need to find an extension for this type of thing. (I chose Readability, but it’s slow.) Edge lets you draw on web pages, which I’ll never use, but its Cortana integration is mostly interesting and useful, when its available: It still works best for (some) restaurants, but is less useful for other locations.

So … what now?

I’ll keep the Edge experiment going for now, mostly because I really do like the way it makes the web look. But long term, I don’t see any way I can stop using Chrome because I use some of its features—most important, the taskbar pinning of web sites—so regularly. It’s just a part of my daily workflow.

And that is, I think, the challenge that Microsoft faces with Edge. (And with Cortana, and Groove, and whatever other consumer-facing services its offering in the face of entrenched competitors.) Getting people to switch is difficult, but you have to offer something that is better across the board before they will even consider doing so. And Edge, sadly, comes close but doesn’t yet meet that bar.


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