Give Microsoft Edge a chance

After almost two decades of avoiding Microsoft-based web products whenever possible, I’ve come full circle: the new Microsoft Edge is my browser of choice. It has excellent privacy options, a large extension community, and developer support that makes it a reliable option on macOS over Chrome, Firefox, and Safari.

Admittedly, when I first started using the new Chromium-based Edge a few months ago, I was skeptical about its potential. Microsoft’s Internet Explorer left a bad taste in my mouth, thanks to the struggles I had developing against IE6 and IE7 in the early 2000s. But the more time I spent with this fresh iteration of Edge, the more I was left impressed.

Transparent control over privacy settings

Given the predominance of shady trackers on the web, strong browser privacy settings mean a lot. That effectively eliminates Chrome for personal browsing; Google doesn’t have the right company level incentives, given their high dependence on ad targeting, to treat my privacy with the same respect its competitors would.

I had some initial trepidation that Microsoft, given its vast corporate size, would necessarily be much better in practice. But while it’s not quite as thorough in its privacy options as alternatives from Firefox and Brave’s likes, I was impressed with Edge’s clarity overall. It has sensible defaults, and its tracking prevention choices under browser settings are some of the best I’ve seen.

Huge extension community

I don’t rely on too many extensions, but the few that I do work heavily into my workflow. But extension support is generally poor outside of Chrome. Safari, my Chrome alternative to date, falls especially short in this area with an outdated iteration of the Pocket extension, along with a version of Dark Reader with a limited feature set.

Edge historically hasn’t been much better in this area, with the Microsoft extension store only having content from large, well known developers. But thanks to Edge moving to Chromium as its base, Edge can now run any Chrome extension, immediately vaulting the browser to top tier extension support.

Strong performance and memory usage

Across standard browser benchmarks like JetStream and Speedometer, Edge performs on par with other Chromium-based browsers. Anecdotally, I find Edge page performance fast in virtually any situation I throw at it, from more casual browsing to research periods with many tabs and other apps open simultaneously.

Admittedly, given its Chromium base, Edge’s performance isn’t a huge surprise. The more significant differentiator is the browser’s memory usage. While I find still no browser can touch Safari regarding RAM and battery life, Edge easily secures second place. Chrome has had its RAM footprint progressively grow heavier over the years, and Firefox has had a bloated approach to memory management for a long time.

Healthy, distinctive feature roadmap

Modern browsers have commoditized the basics. Today, a stable code base, bookmarks, history, autocomplete in the search bar, and decent developer tools are a given to the point that for day to day usage, there are few differentiating features across browsers. That said, more niche features can help, and a committed development team researching new opportunities in this space makes a difference in the long run. While I appreciate the ambition of smaller players like Opera and Brave, they don’t have the developer community or platform size to move as aggressively as the larger companies.

But even size isn’t as a guarantee of commitment. Apple has let Safari’s feature roadmap stagnate on macOS as the company devotes resources overwhelmingly to native over web-based experiences. Nor does it help that major Safari functionality feels gated to Apple’s yearly macOS releases.

In contrast, Microsoft appears committed to Edge. Edge aligns well with Microsoft’s cross-platform charter, not just as the default browser for Windows, but as a web presence across channels in macOS, iOS, and Android. And looking at what’s next for Edge, I appreciate how Microsoft is moving in their direction with several novel features. Collections and Immersive Reader are already well done (the latter is handy to read aloud an article in the background as I’m doing other work). Still, I’m excited about vertical tabs and running searches in a sidebar. Both features should release later this year.

Several rough spots

The switch to Chromium was effectively a reset for Edge’s codebase, and it manifests in a few shortcomings. Hardest for me is the lack of any synced browsing history between devices (promised for sometime this summer), table stakes for Chrome, Firefox, and Safari. Other oddities include the lack of theme support on the Chrome Web Store and no easy way to prevent auto-playing video and audio on new tabs.

Some downsides feel somewhat outside of Microsoft’s control, given my computing life falls almost entirely within iOS and macOS. As touched on earlier, Edge’s battery life and memory usage still can’t come close to Safari. However, that’s mostly a non-issue for me, given most of my daily computing is at a desk. I also occasionally miss the smooth handoff between iOS to macOS. Because Safari is the only realistic browser option for me on my iPhone, any open tabs or shared history are locked behind iCloud when I jump back to my Macs. But rumors suggest that iOS 14 may give users the ability to change default browsers; that might be enough for me to stick with Edge to span mobile and desktop browser usage.

A real competitor to Chrome

Even with some rough edges, I’m sticking with Edge today because it feels like it’s the one browser that long term could prove to be a vibrant, legitimate competitor to Chrome. Cynics might argue that as long as Edge is built on the same Chromium foundation as Google’s browser, differences can only go so far. But back in 2019, when Microsoft released under the hood details on the new Edge, it was striking to see how many of Google’s default services Microsoft swapped out. And as noted earlier, Edge is striking out on its feature roadmap to keep it distinct from its competitors.

The web is too important for any single company to control 70% of the marketplace as Chrome does today. I see clawing back with Edge a small part of this. It’s a rock solid browser with extensive privacy settings, robust extension support, and a distinctive roadmap for its future. If you haven’t had a chance to check it out, I would encourage you to give it a shot.