The Reg takes a trip over the New Edge. Mmmm... New Coke with extra fizz
The Vulture hooks a talon into Microsoft's Edge-y take on Chromium
Having gripped our claws on Microsoft's shiny new Edge browser we have... thoughts. And they aren't all good ones.
The reaction to Microsoft's surprising announcement last year that it was abandoning the EdgeHTML rendering engine of its browser in favour of Chromium was generally well received (unless you were Mozilla).
In the face of utterly dismal usage figures, the unthinkable was thought and here we are.
The speed at which New Edge has appeared is impressive and, although some impatient souls took advantage of Redmond's leaky propensities, the public preview code has arrived in weekly dev and daily canary channel builds.
We took the dev build for a spin last night and came away impressed. However, having spent some quality time with that canary build, the shine has come off a little.
Installing the thing is a simple process – Microsoft clearly wants as many users as possible to kick the tyres of its new baby, and getting hold of it is a simple matter of downloading the thing. However, the installer, which really, really wants the user to migrate from a competing browser, is a bit obscure on what it wants to slurp import.
"Start with your data" with a settings link lurking below doesn't really cut the mustard for a company whose CEO proclaims "Privacy is a Human Right". Unless a user peers into those settings before an overexcited click on "Confirm", data such as bookmarks, history and passwords will make the leap... which might perturb some.
Particularly if you're using a Microsoft account, because New Edge automatically signed this Vulture in and began synchronising.
This might also alarm some, particularly in light of Google's "moment" last year that saw Chrome sign itself in when visiting sites such as Gmail. New Edge doesn't do that: going to Outlook.com did not make Edge automatically log me in. However, starting it up in an instance of Windows 10 while signed in using a Microsoft account will see New Edge inherit that account unless you manually sign out of the thing.
And of course, there is that "syncing to Microsoft's servers" thing, which is set as a default (although only Favourites are supported at the moment.)
This sort of functionality really should be opt in rather than opt out. However, it is early days, and the Edge team is hungry for feedback.
Compatibility? We've heard of it
Compatibility is also pretty shonky as well. Running the HTML5test.com on the current Canary (version 188.8.131.52) gave a score of 481 out of a possible 555. Chrome (version 73.0.3683.103) rocks a respectable 532 in comparison. Even the existing Edge browser scores better than the new pretender, notching up 492.
Thankfully, New Edge handily beats the 312 of Internet Explorer 11. Imagine if it hadn't.
However, the low score isn't great and indicates that while Edge may be putting a Chrome-y face to the world, there is still quite a bit of work left to do behind the scenes.
This is, after all, still just a preview.
Inveterate spotter of leaks, The Walking Cat posted a presentation due to be given today by Christian Fortini, distinguished engineer on the Edge team, showing just how much Microsoft had stripped out or replaced, as well as what it still had left to do.
If a service has a Google or Chrome moniker, you can be pretty sure that Microsoft has stomped on it. Although some, like Chrome Extensions, can be easily added back in with a flick of a switch. Other choices, such as the dropping of ad-blocking, are a bit more surprising.
The Microsoft team has made approximately 300 commits in Chromium, as well as standing up Chromium's own Goma server on Azure to actually build the beast. Coming soon is ARM64 support (which will be a relief to those few Windows 10 Arm laptop users), the better PDF handling of the original version of Edge and improvements in resource and battery consumption.
Our very unscientific tests indicate that, for the latter at least, there is some way still to go until New Edge sips power at the reduced rate of Old Edge, and Fortini's charts agree.
And, of course, there is the whole scrolling thing. The Edge team reckons it can bring some the goodness of Old Edge to bear without impacting the overall performance of the browser.
Overall, Microsoft's grand experiment with dumping EdgeHTML is bearing fruit. Some of it is rotten (the settings area is particularly rough) while other bits, such as rendering performance, are fresh and tasty, if not quite as compatible with standards as they might be.
Privacy is a worry, and the decision between Chrome and Edge comes down to which of them you trust with your data. Google's knee-jerk tendencies are undoubtedly a little creepier. But then, if you are that worried about such things, you probably wouldn't go near either browser.
Otherwise, unless you have deeply bought into Google's services, New Edge, even at this early stage, is a worthy alternative to Chrome's dominance. There may even come a time when the majority of Edge users don't only fire up the thing to find another browser to download. ®
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