On Edge: Meet Windows 10's Replacement for Internet Explorer

Cortana, reading lists, hubs: the list of features is long.

Microsoft Edge
The Microsoft Edge browser, showing my favorite page.

 Internet Explorer is the Rolling Stones of Web browsers -- it's a legend that's been around forever, and has had its peaks and valleys. Another similarity is that it's been showing its age for some time now -- years, in fact.

But unlike Mick & Co., I.E. is headed for retirement. For the venerable browser, its presence on Windows 8 is akin to its farewell tour -- it will be officially replaced in Windows 10, Microsoft's next-generation operating system (OS), by Microsoft Edge, its next-generation browser.

 

This Is (No Longer) Sparta!

Edge has only recently become Edge. For months it was known only by its code-name of "Project Spartan." That name change became official on April 29. Edge will be the default browser for all editions of Windows 10, whether it's on a laptop, desktop, tablet or phone device.

The change was necessary, as the technology underlying I.E. was aging, and not gracefully. I.E. also doesn't have a great reputation for security, and many people have moved off it to more modern browsers like Google Chrome, Firefox and Apple's Safari. I.E. doesn't play well with some modern Web-specific technology either, lacking support for important Web standards.

That's all going to change with Edge. The new browser is available in a preview edition for those using a preview copy of Windows 10. It's still in an early stage, and things will change between now and Windows 10's official release (likely in late summer), but here are the things that make Edge such a departure from I.E.

In terms of appearance, Edge has a clean interface, with minimal clutter. There's not a lot of stuff at the top and bottom to muck up the screen. That's a good thing.

Web Note: Draw Directly on a Web Page

The feature Microsoft's been touting most strongly with Edge is the ability to write directly on a Web page (for those using touch-screen devices, of course; don't try this on a desktop monitor!) Microsoft calls this Web Note, and shows an example of a Webpage recipe.

The page is marked up, as if you had  various pens and highlighters. Important instructions are highlighted in yellow, ingredients are checked off as they're added, and notes are inserted.

What to do then? Well, you could email the page to a friend, who could see the changes you've made.

I think this is very cool technology; how ultimately useful it will be is another matter. One interesting use could be for school research: you could highlight or mark important information you wanted to use in a paper, and save the page to your computer for reference when you're writing.

Reading Is Fundamental

Edge also includes several reading-related features. One is a Reading list, which allows you to save articles you want to read later in a group. That could come in handy when a story catches your eye, but you just don't have time to spare at that moment. Just save it to the Reading list, and peruse it at your leisure.

Another reading feature is "reading view". This presents an article in a special window stripped off all distractions like ads and videos. It works similar to Instapaper, if you've ever used that. In fact, a number of these features, including the ability to aggregate articles for later reading, appeared earlier on that app (that doesn't mean, however, that they're not welcome on Edge.

And Edge improves on some of these -- Instapaper, for example, only lets you highlight articles, not mark them up in other ways).

Built-In Cortana

Cortana will also make its browser debut in Edge. Cortana is Microsoft's voice assistant, similar to Siri on the iPhone and iPad. Currently, Cortana can't do much more than find word definitions, according to The Verge, but its capabilities in the browser will greatly expand over time. It works by highlighting a word in a Web browser, then pressing and holding, or right-clicking it; Cortana then offers up information on the word. I'm not sure how this will be much better than just Googling something, so Microsoft will need to find ways to make it more useful than Google.

Edge also introduces the browser concept of Hubs. These are collections of bookmarks, reading lists, your browsing history, and current downloads. The Hub icon is currently at the top right of the browser, and looks like a folder with a star in it.

In all, the Edge browser looks to me to be more of a solid upgrade than revolutionary new product. It does have some shiny new features, and looks better than I.E. It will also work better across the Web, due to its new adherence to Web standards. I'm looking forward to seeing if it can knock Chrome out of its exalted place as my default browser.