Microsoft has been quietly developing its new Edge browser this year, enlisting the help of Insiders to test this refreshed browser that come preinstalled with Windows 10 as the default choice.
There has been a steady trickle of details and preview versions of this new browser all year, amidst speculation in the community regarding when Microsoft will actually release Edge. We got our answer earlier this month, when the company officially announced a release date.
Along with a stylish new logo.
We already covered what this new Microsoft Edge built on the Chromium engine is all about. Now, in light of new information, it is time to dive back in and take a look at what the web browser will bring to the table, as it gets ready for primetime next year.
A Long road
You could be forgiven for thinking that the new Edge was the most important piece of software in development behind Redmond walls this year. While overall Windows 10 development has slowed down a little, as the software titan changes gears, work on this new browser has picked up pace.
It was back in December last year that Microsoft announced that it was rebuilding its in-house web browser using the open source Chromium project. Public testing began in April, where preview builds of the upcoming browser were made available for everyone to test.
Nearly a year since the original announcement, the company confirmed that its reformed browser will be generally available early next year.
Microsoft shared this news at its Ignite 2019 conference.
And soon after, we got a flurry of news detailing the launch, what features are set to be available, what option are coming soon, and which platforms we can expect this new Edge to land. The company also unveiled a shiny new logo for Edge, which will serve as its new icon going forward.
More on that later, but first let’s take a look at the browser itself, and see where it stands after a solid year of development.
Third time lucky?
If you are not familiar with this new Chromium powered Microsoft Edge, or have not been keeping tabs on what Microsoft has been doing with its browsers the past few years, then the briefest of primers is on order.
Basically, this is the company’s third bat.
With the good old Internet Explorer getting long in the tooth, Redmond decided to it was time for a modern browser for its modern operating system — Windows 8. While that modern IE shipped with that under fire OS, it failed to gain traction with the user base for a myriad different reason.
Microsoft went back to the drawing board with Edge, which was billed as replacement for Internet Explorer. This new browser still made use of a proprietary browser engine called EdgeHTML that was responsible for rendering everything you saw on the screen. It was a fork of the Trident engine that had been powering Internet Explorer for ages.
While all this was happening, Google Chrome had been powering on towards dominance on desktop. The browser that had remained in third place for the longest period of time, suddenly leapt up to lead position, pretty much cornering the market as people started making the switch.
Edge, while more successful than Internet Explorer, still was not where Microsoft hoped it would be. And one of the major factors for this was the lack of addons and extensions that had been a mainstay of other competing browsers on the market.
It was at this point in time that Microsoft made the decision to discard EdgeHTML in favor of Chromium, the same technology that powers Chrome and several other smaller browsers.
And here we are.
The new Edge is (almost) here
Catching up back to the announcements coming from the 2019 edition of Ignite, we have news that Microsoft will release this Chromium dipped Edge on January 15, 2020. This is when the browser will hit general availability, and be up for download on Windows and macOS.
Interestingly, this rebuilt Edge will be bundled with Windows 10 right after this date.
There was speculation going around that Microsoft will make the browser available on the OS with the 20H1 release of the operating system. But since this version is rumored to be finalized and RTM available in December, others suggested that the company may ship the browser with 20H2, the second major feature update for Windows 10 set for the second half of next year.
As it turns out, neither of these theories are accurate, as Edge will land on Windows 10 right after it becomes generally available in January.
That’s not to say that everyone will wake up one day and find the legacy version of Edge replaced by this new flavor. Instead, it will be a staged rollout, with the browser finding its way to compatible systems slowly and steadily. A small sample group will get it first. After testing, Microsoft will gradually expand that to the whole userbase.
Hardware vendors, however, will receive final bits as soon as they are available so that they can add the web browser to new devices that ship. Chances are that if you buy a new PC next year, it will be running Chromium Edge out the box.
Microsoft also officially confirmed during the State of the Browser session at Ignite 2019 that Edge will be coming to Linux. Although the development team teased this a few times prior to the announcement, this time things are official.
The browser is already available for macOS, older versions of the operating system like Windows 7, as well as server variants. An ARM version is also a reality, and will join the Linux version in the stable very soon.
Installing the new Edge
Since this new version of Edge does not require a feature update at all, the application can simply be bundled with the OS. Once installed, the browser will replace the legacy version of Edge, also known as Edge Spartan — Spartan being the codename of the earlier browser.
In fact, if you sign up for the Beta channel of the Microsoft Edge Insider Program, you can get the release candidate today. This is the beta version of the browser that the developers are considering for stable release right now, and it comes without the debugging elements that are part and parcel of preview versions.
What’s really great about uncoupling Edge with the OS is that you will no longer have to get updates for it with Windows 10. No longer will the Edge development team be forced to wait for biannually feature updates for the OS to release new versions, and no longer will you have to wait to get them. This may sound logical, but it took years for this to happen.
Edge will finally be on a quick update schedule, which is one factor that held the old Edge back.
All of what is covered above may sound like milk and honey. This is, after all, a new beginning for Edge, and the development team will finally be able to chart a new direction for the browser, free from the shackles of old.
But like all new beginnings, there will be some growing pains.
Unfortunately, this Chromium powered new variant of Edge will be missing a few key features right off the bat. ARM64 support will be missing at launch, even as Microsoft released its own ARM powered PC this month, in the form of the Surface Pro X. This new Edge is also not making an appearance on Xbox One or HoloLens. And goes without saying that Linux users will also miss out on launch festivities on January 15.
Likewise, some app features will also not be there.
Microsoft has not been able to pack in options like history syncing and extension syncing in time. A case can be made that these features were not deemed important enough to make the cut with this initial release. This may be a deal breaker for users that expect to see these features in Edge when they install. Other options like web notes, and the ability to set tabs aside are also missing right now. That is not to say that they will not arrive at a later date — these features will come when they are ready.
The delay of ARM64 support is a real bummer, however. It would have been really nice to see Microsoft make a statement showing that it intends to treat Windows on ARM as a first-class citizen of the world of Windows.
The new Edge logo
Before we wrap up, it would be imprudent not to spare a few words about the new Edge logo that Microsoft unveiled. After all, this is something that you will be seeing day in and day out when you use the new browser.
Details below, but first take a look at the new design:
Redmond actually revealed this new look after an elaborate Easter Egg hunt where Microsoft employees posted cryptic clues to a series of puzzle and images for Insiders to solve. The clues led to the discovery of a secret surfing game, which you can access by entering
edge://surf in the browser address bar.
Surf being the keyword here, as the new logo while still the character e is a lot more subtle. It resembles a wave, denoting how you would surf the web. It is also more circular like the Chromium logo. On the whole, this is clearly a big departure from the preview Edge logo that itself drew inspiration from the classic blue Internet Explorer logo.
At the very least, this design shows that Microsoft is ready to forge ahead a new identity for its new browser and leave the weight and legacy of the previous versions behind.
It has been quite a ride for Microsoft’s new browser. January 15, 2020 marks a new milestone for Edge, where its latest iteration will be made available for the world to use. Though there is still a lot of ground to cover after release, this new superpowered Edge has all it takes to go places once it sees daylight.