Edge is Better Than Chrome, Don’t @ Me

After years of stumbles, Microsoft finally gets browsing right

My home office is quiet. I can hear the birds chirping outside, my wife working in the other room, and my thoughts. I don’t hear my computer fan. This is an accomplishment.

Web Browsing Choices
 Lifewire / Michela Buttignol

PC and CPU companies rarely show off web browser performance when touting new systems. Usually, they dazzle us with graphics, some big video game render or custom-made 3D world, or they give us the raw numbers and talk glowingly about die size, nanometers, L2 cache, and pipelines.

All important, but for millions of us, the true test of any system is how it handles two dozen open browser windows.

Keeping tabs

Web browsers are supposed to be little more than containers for your internet fun. Traversing multiple web sites is like watching a quick-change artist and if you open multiple Web pages, the browser becomes the guy madly spinning 16 plates, running back and forth, giving each a cyclonic jiggle in a desperate attempt to ensure none of them crash.

My history with Web browsers goes back at least 25 years to browsers with names like Spyglass and Netscape Navigator (ask your parents). These early tools had it easy. They juggled simple HTML code that anyone with a basic education could figure out and recreate, some slightly more complex JavaScript, and low-resolution graphics and GIFs. There were some 640x480 resolution videos, too, but no streaming.

This is what Web Browsers looked like in the 1990s.  Lifewire / Lance Ulanoff

Modern browsers are asked to grapple with what are essentially apps and usually at least a few at once. Sure, your computer is asked to do no less, but unlike your Web browser, your computer runs apps in discrete sandboxed environments. Web pages all live in the same container. Basically, your browser does operating system work inside your operating system.

This is why today’s Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Opera, Apple’s Safari, and Microsoft Edge bear little resemblance to 20th Century browsers or even those from a decade ago. They are doing a lot of heavy lifting.

And it shows.

Most of us are not running CAD or 3D rendering applications, yet we still hear the frantic hum of our system fans as they desperately attempt to help our systems keep their cool. The culprit is often your browser, which is probably running between 12 and 24 tabs (or more), all of which are collectively consuming 90% of your memory and CPU bandwidth. In this daily techno death-match it’s always exciting to see which will collapse from the strain first, your browser or the entire PC.

Microsoft Edge
Microsoft gave Edge a new logo and a different engine. Microsoft

And because we do so much of our work inside web browsers, those crashes can be catastrophic. It’s happened to me many times before, so I try to be conscientious about closing tabs. I do not close the entire browser app because Chrome will automatically relaunch all those tabs when I relaunch, unless I closed each tab, one-at-a-time.

Getting the Edge

Five years ago, Microsoft tried to kill its venerable Internet Explorer browser with a new product and name: Microsoft Edge. It was cleaner, leaner, and faster. Microsoft didn’t scrap its Trident Rendering Engine but whittled it down to its essence and rebuilt something better. In some ways, Edge was a major leap forward from IE, but Edge (2015) lagged behind Chrome in critical ways. It took months for Microsoft to, for instance, finally introduce extension support (this is how tools like the password manager LastPass run in your browser bar).

It also turned out to be not much more, if at all, efficient than Chrome. I used it for a bit and then quickly scampered back to Chrome (I could tell you about my love affair with Firefox and dalliance with Opera, but those are tales for another time).

Microsoft Edge
Microsoft Edge let me import my Chrome settings and auto-added my extensions. Smooth. Microsoft

To this day, Microsoft hasn’t been able to purge Internet Explorer from Windows 10 because some old-school businesses and online tools still rely on it, but it has now moved on from the original Edge and even the Trident engine.

The new Microsoft Edge, which I am now running, is built, like Chrome, on the Chromium engine. This means that it’s as compatible for every web page as Chrome is and just as fast.

Unlike the original Edge, which felt like a series of missed opportunities, the new Microsoft Edge is proactive. It started by importing my browser data from Chrome and setting up all my browser extensions. This immediately helped make Edge feel more familiar.

Not All the Same

I am in the habit of typing whatever I want to find directly into the address bar. In Chrome, that space doubles as a search engine. In Edge, it does, too but, by default, with Microsoft’s Bing search engine. Bing is not as bad as you think, but without Google’s knowledge graph behind it, it is not Google. Fortunately, Edge lets you drill down and replace Bing with the search engine of your choice. Now when I type something in the Edge browser, I get a Google result.

Edge even lets me manage both a Microsoft account and multiple Google accounts (home and work) in the same browser. Granted, it will always be easier to manage multiple Google accounts in a Google product like Chrome, but at least Edge doesn’t make a mess of it.

If you open multiple Web pages, the browser becomes the guy madly spinning 16 plates, running back and forth, giving each a cyclonic jiggle in a desperate attempt to ensure none of them crash.

Microsoft Edge does small smart things like giving you direct access to site mute (to shut off volume on a video) through a speaker icon on the tab (on Chrome, you have to right click on the tab to “Mute site”). It's also a step ahead of Google, launching Collections in Edge, which lets you group, name, and reopen groups of Web page tabs. Google recently announced that it’s planning a similar tab grouping feature.

There’s even a Browser Task Manager that lets you see exactly how Edge is or isn’t taxing your system and lets you kill processes. It goes into some pretty extreme detail, though, and I am concerned about someone ending the wrong process and crashing the entire browser.

Better Performance

If you open all the same web pages in both Chrome and Edge, you’ll find, as I did, that Microsoft Edge is just as capable of eating massive amounts of system memory. But it appears to manage CPU cycles a little better. Maybe that’s why I didn’t hear the fan as often when running Edge.

Whenever I run Google Chrome, I notice that, even when I shut down tabs, Chrome is hesitant, if not unable, to release system memory unless I kill Chrome entirely. When I killed tabs in Microsoft Edge, I saw that it immediately started releasing system resources.

Microsoft Edge
Bing is a good search engine. Google is better. Glad I could switch in Edge.  Microsoft

Microsoft Edge is not perfect. Because I can see that Edge is no longer stressing my system out, I’m completely unprepared for the cataclysmic crash, the one that takes down all my browser windows, including the one with my latest news story draft. Plus, I can open enough Edge browser tabs, roughly 25-to-30, to finally get the fan humming.

I’ve also has some oddball display issues on sites like Twitter and Google Calendar, which refuses to open up in my preferred week view.

Still, overall, this is the first web browser in years that is in many ways more pleasurable to use than Chrome.

So What

If you have a new Windows PC, the new Edge may be pre-installed. I suggest you try it out. If you have an older system and are tired of Chrome running the system fan like hyperkinetic spin class leader, you might want to switch to Edge. Just remember to turn off Bing and to be prepared for the occasional surprise crash. I’m certain Microsoft will keep updating Edge to make it more stable. Just as I’m certain Google is now working twice as hard to ensure that Chrome doesn’t lose its own edge in the browser wars.