Hey, remember Microsoft Edge? If you’ve bought a new PC in the last four years or so, you probably used it once to download Chrome or Firefox. You might have accidentally used it because it launches when you do web searches from the Start menu. But, all that aside, Edge has spent its life as an unloved part of your PC.
That’s about to change because there’s an all-new version of Edge and you can get it right now. But before I give you the link, let’s talk about how we got here and whether or not you should really care.
The early web
If you used the internet in the 1990s, you might have used Mosaic. It was one of the first publicly available web browsers. If you weren’t on AOL (which had its own, far worse browser) you probably used this. In a bid to create a super-powered version of Mosaic, (comically named “Mozilla”), Netscape Navigator was born. Netscape ruled the web for a fairly short time. The Mozilla project went on to create Firefox, by the way.
And then came Microsoft.
Microsoft was on top of the world in the 1990s, and they wanted to own the internet experience. They created Internet Explorer and gave it away for free, crushing Netscape’s paid model. They were so successful that the government actually considered breaking Microsoft up after seeing how easily they squashed their competition.
But things didn’t get better.
Internet Explorer took over the world, adding functions like add-ins, favorites bars, and integrated search. It also became a big, slow, kludgy mess that practically dared its user to fill the screen with unwanted toolbars and bloatware. For a decade, IT directors gritted their teeth because there wasn’t a better option. As soon as there was, people started using it.
This image from Statcounter (full size here) shows Internet Explorer dropping from nearly 70% market share to virtually meaningless in 2019. Internet Explorer was fat, insecure, slow, and more importantly, Google had a better option to give away for free: Chrome. Chances are you’re using it right now.
Microsoft Edge was the company’s attempt at a clean slate. By creating a whole new code base, Edge wouldn’t have all the plugin features of other browsers, but that was supposed to make it fast and secure. People didn’t care. Just like you, people opened Edge mostly so they could download a different browser. Once the shining beacon in the Microsoft landscape, the browser had become a long-running joke.
If you can’t beat them, join them
Edge has been rewritten from the ground up. Instead of a homegrown code base, it’s now based on Chromium, the open-source version of Chrome that’s also used for Chromebooks. So the new Edge isn’t exactly identical to Chrome, but it’s so close that most people won’t notice the difference. This means it can use a lot of the same security and rendering tools as Chrome. People familiar with Chrome will be pretty familiar with Edge, too.
After a public beta, the live production version of Edge was released to the public on January 15, 2020. You’ve waited long enough. If you really want it, download it here. It will replace the currently unused version of Edge you have now.
But should you care?
I did the hard work for you. I installed the new Edge. (Really, it was like five clicks.) The new Edge looks a little like the old Edge, but if you dig into the menus, it looks an awful lot like Chrome. In a raw speed test, it performed exactly the same as Chrome, too. It scores the same (535/555) at html5test.com, indicating very high compatibility with HTML 5. Bottom line here it’s the same as Chrome in every way that matters, but it looks a little different.
If you’re happy with Chrome then I don’t see the need to run out and switch. On the other hand if you’re setting up a new PC you might be tempted to skip Chrome because Edge is pretty good now. I think that’s what Microsoft is hoping for.
If you do use Edge, though, that doesn’t mean you want to use Bing. Bing may be “just ok” but it’s not as good as Google. You can use Google as the default search engine within Edge by going here and finding “Address Bar” at the bottom.
You can change the default search engine to Google pretty easily. Edge doesn’t make this setting easy to find, though. Microsoft hopes you’ll never find it so that you can use Bing and you see their ads. But hey Microsoft, I don’t care. I still like Google Search. I bet half of Microsoft’s staff does too.
Edge is certainly better than ever. Of course it is, since it’s essentially Chrome in disguise. That doesn’t make it a “must have” but it does mean you don’t have to avoid it like you used to. Baby steps, I guess.