Has Microsoft Lost Its Edge?

Has Microsoft Lost Its Edge?

Edge is Microsoft’s latest attempt to recapture its dwindling market share of web browser users. It began as a project to improve the rendering engine inside Internet Explorer (IE), as its rendering engine is nearly 20 years old, but issues snowballed with a large number of browser bugs and outdated code. Realising this, Microsoft repurposed their efforts and took Edge back to the drawing board as a completely new and separate browser.

In reality, the initial entry to market was disappointing, Edge was in a state that was more befitting an Alpha test than a competitor amongst the top browsers. Now an automatic install on Windows 10, the number of users is growing and its services are being refined.

The Sharp Edge

Edge has been well received in a number of ways by users. Sites load quickly, it has a nice notation feature, has a changeable dark/light theme and a reading mode which filters out the noise on a page. Most importantly is that it interacts with Cortana, showing that Microsoft is cross pollinating its services rather well.

In terms of mobile, Edge does deal with the main issue. Websites no longer try to render the desktop version of Microsoft’s flagship browser on mobile. How has Microsoft fixed this? iOS and Android browsers use WebKit, an open source rendering system. Edge works off this too, though lies about its credentials. In order to break the association with IE, Edge pretends to be a non-Microsoft browser in order to render the correct version.

WebKit’s tool is incredibly effective, so Microsoft decided that Edge will work identically to WebKit, so much so that any disparity between how they render pages is considered a bug that needs resolving by Microsoft. Another benefit of their completely new development is that it permits markup for Chrome and Firefox to be used without requiring the “fixes”, as developers tended to loathe IE.

Whilst not working to a fixed timescale, Microsoft seems to have identified the issue of not regularly updating their software. In a new release Microsoft stated that

“In Windows 10, we are delivering Windows as a service, updated on a cadence driven by quality and the availability of new features. We won’t have a fixed schedule for browser feature updates. We’re committed to providing regular updates to our evergreen platform for web developers and customers alike”.

The upshot of this is that any problems that users encounter with the software should be resolved in a relatively short space of time.

The Blunt Edge

Despite all the positivity that Edge brings with it, there are still a number of issues with it, most notably missing extensions that its contemporaries have.

From a development perspective, Edge is still lacking in its HTML5 compatibility. A considerable improvement in contrast to IE11, although it still leaves plenty to be desired. The developer tools are a refreshing introduction for Microsoft, albeit something long considered the norm for the rest of the browser community.

There are a number of unfair criticisms of the new browser. Such as “some developers thinking that Microsoft Edge does not/cannot use this line:

<!DOCTYPE html>

The reality is that Edge and IE11 are modern browsers and are perfectly capable of using this. Compatibility shouldn’t be an issue as long as you are using industry standard HTML5. Sitepoint list several of these as:

  • Ensure HTML5 Rendering Mode on first line.
  • Avoid Browser Sniffing and Detection for conditioning request based on browsers’ User Agent string.
  • Avoid vendor specific CSS Prefixes. You cannot have the same browser features in all browsers. Therefore use the standards HTML5 one that has been rectified and supported in all modern browsers.
  • Update your JavaScript Libraries

Injustices aside, Edge’s support of CSS is simply subpar against Chrome and Firefox. As is the lack of support for the HTML5 Picture element which will hinder their mobile browser users.

Html5test.com currently lists Edge as supporting 402 of the 555 items in the test. IE 11 scores just 336, Chrome 530 and Firefox 467. Put simply the numbers don’t lie, there is a significant gap for Microsoft to close but Edge has gone a considerable way towards this by halving the disparity in one swoop.

My belief is that Microsoft has taken a huge step forward in terms of attracting a new generation of web users, but as it stands, it has some ground to make up to compete with Chrome, Safari and Firefox. In all fairness, it hasn’t had very long to be established and is missing a few key functions which Microsoft has announced will be coming at some point. Will Microsoft Edge be a success? The new browser is a significant enough improvement that I wouldn’t race to install Chrome on a new PC, though it still wouldn’t be my browser of choice.

Are you an Edge user? If so we’d love to hear your thoughts. Please let me know on stephencollins@purrdigital.com

This article’s image is originally from Mashable.

Stephen Collins