Windows 10

Review: Is Microsoft’s Edge browser ready for business?

A more modern, more secure and more compatible browser with today's websites, Edge will need more features to fully fit in at work -- but will be worth the wait.

Windows 10

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Development tools and Web platforms

One key element of Edge is a new iteration of Microsoft's in-browser development tools, which will help admins and developers understand why pages behave the way they do in the new browser. With ActiveX and other plug-in technologies no longer being supported, developers are going to need to use a lot more JavaScript in their sites and Web applications, so good debugging tools are going to be increasingly important.

As with Internet Explorer, Edge's developer tools are launched by hitting F12. Once opened, the browser presents you with a DOM Explorer in a separate window, which makes a lot more sense than IE's default lower pane. It's also clearer; and with Windows 10's window management features, it's easy to set up a side-by-side debugging session.

edge dom explorer

Edge presents you with the DOM Explorer  in a separate window, which makes a lot more sense than IE's default lower pane.

A console view gives a quick overview of error messages and problems with a site. We'd prefer that this was the start view, as it shows you the problems with a page at a glance, making it clear when Edge has hit a page it can't render and when the problem is a mistake in the page itself. For example, on one design-heavy site, the console showed that a typing error by a designer meant a Web font wasn't being downloaded, which made it look as if Edge wasn't rendering the site correctly.

Like Internet Explorer, Edge gives you the option of monitoring network operations, as well as using profiling tools to handle memory usage and Web application performance. If you're planning to use automated testing tools on your Web apps, there's also support for the emerging WebDriver standard, with code provided by Borland's Silk team.

If you open developer tools' new Experiments tab, you'll find a new option to edit JavaScript on the fly (alongside the standard CSS editing tools). This turns Edge's JavaScript debugger into an editor where you can try out fixes and new code, and lets you work with a live site without affecting the code your users are using.

Edge isn't just the new browser application. It's also the engine that powers Windows apps that were built using either Apache Cordova or with a WebView control. Edge also handles hosted Web apps that make JavaScript apps look much more like native apps on Windows 10.

Alongside Cordova's hybrid app model, which lets HTML 5 apps look like native apps and gives them access to device hardware like cameras and microphones, Windows will also be using Edge in Project Westminster. This is one of the planned application bridges that were announced at Build 2015, and which will allow any website to be wrapped as an app and delivered through the Store. So if you're building Web apps for your business, you have several approaches for using Edge.

What Edge is missing

At this point, there are a number of key browser features that Microsoft is working on, but that aren't yet in Edge.

The most obvious is extensions. While Flash is built into Edge, toolbars and other plugins that were designed for IE don't work. Edge will support add-ons powered by HTML 5 and JavaScript (very like those in Chrome and Firefox) but they aren't supported yet. That means there are no ad blockers, no password managers and none of the other add-ons that Chrome and Firefox users are used to. If those are important, you'll want to wait before adopting Edge as your default browser.

There are other rough edges that need to be smoothed before Edge can be considered a finished browser. You can drag tabs out of the Edge window to open a second window and then drag other tabs into that window, but you have to drop them in precisely the right spot on the tab bar. And you can't drag items into a Web page -- for example, you can't drag a file into the browser to upload it to a cloud service like OneDrive. Saving a page to the Reading List doesn't save it to read offline, or sync it to your other devices. And you can't yet sync bookmarks, history or open tabs to other devices as you can when using Internet Explorer in Windows 8.1.

These are all on the roadmap and Microsoft is promising frequent updates; many of the gaps may be addressed in an update this fall. But some options will not return. Microsoft doesn't plan to build its own Tracking Protection List feature into Edge, for example, and will instead rely on third-party ad-blocking extensions. It's not yet clear if you will be able to pin Web sites to the taskbar so you can open them quickly.

In addition, if you have users who need to use screen readers and other accessibility solutions, they'll need to stick with Internet Explorer for now. Edge is moving from older Microsoft accessibility technology to the newer UI automation; that work isn't finished yet and accessibility tools will also need updates. As with the rest of Edge, if Microsoft follows through on its plans the result should be a distinct improvement on IE.

Bottom line

Splitting its browsing technology in two lets Microsoft give businesses the backward-compatible Internet Explorer they need for existing sites, without holding back access to the new Edge browser features and functions.

Edge isn't quite as far along as it needs to be at launch, and the missing pieces and rough edges may trip up some early adopters, especially those in a corporate setting. But building a new browser is a major undertaking. For general browsing, Edge is both fast and capable, and it's set to improve quickly.

Even if Edge may not be ready to be the default browser for all users at this point, Microsoft has made a strong start at competing with Chrome and Firefox. If it keeps up the pace, Edge can become an excellent browser that's not held back by the past.

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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