The Browser Race
Last month marked the third-year anniversary for Edge, the highly touted browser that was introduced with the release of Windows 10 to the public. Like a yearling, it didn’t exactly hit the ground running. As a two-year-old, it did more stumbling than running, but started gaining ground, so why, as a three-year-old, it is refusing to take the turn for home. It’s bad enough that the leader Chrome, holding steady at just under 64%, is so far in front that to most people in the stands, it appears the race is over, and I can see why.
Edge should be in a two-horse race for browser dominance, but instead, it currently sits in fourth place behind Firefox and Internet Explorer. Internet Explorer, the once unbeatable, often hated and mocked, appears to have forgotten that it was put out to pasture over 18 months ago.
The obvious questions to this race are why Chrome has the lead? Why can’t Edge gain traction? Why would a retired browser even be in the top three? Finally, and perhaps the biggest question is, why is this race not over?
How Did Chrome Take The Lead?
If you look back a few years, Internet Explorer was unbeatable for more than a decade. Aside from Firefox, it really had no other challengers on Windows based systems. Chrome was then facing the same problem Edge is facing now. That is, how do you convince millions of users to abandon their current browser and accept yours? Apparently pretty easily for Chrome!
Integration was another advantage, having the ability to search straight from the address bar while offering instant suggestions was a big success with users.
Combine the above with their safe browsing technology, automatic updates (that were outside of a system update), their willingness to work hand in hand with web developers, and an ever-increasing dislike for all things Microsoft made this a “perfect storm” that blew other browsers aside.
Why Can’t Edge Gain Traction?
Edge is actually a pretty good browser since its April release. It is now faster, safer and contains more features than earlier versions of itself and in benchmark tests, beats both Chrome and Firefox. It continually adds extensions. So why is it failing to keep up in the browser race. Perception, in the opinion of many. Microsoft released Edge much too soon. In an effort to have it ship with the release of Windows 10 it was shipped without many of the necessary functions that a world-class browser should have. In truth, the first iteration of Edge was slow, clumsy, and well, different. Those who tried it are reluctant to try it again. The fact that they continued to include Internet Explorer in Windows 10 should have been a clue that they were not convinced that Edge was ready for the big time.
Why Is Internet Explorer Still Around?
Similar to the rule in physics, that a body in motion tends to stay in motion, there appears to be a rule that once you start using a browser you will continue to use that browser. Perhaps it is human nature to resist change. So much so, that there are millions of users still using Internet Explorer and it was originally released 23 years ago. There have been many upgrades to it along the way until Microsoft officially discontinued support for Internet Explorer in January of 2016. Or did they? If indeed it was discontinued, why is a copy of version 11 still released with every Windows 10 upgrade?
Is Microsoft still supporting it? Yes, they are! The truth is, Internet Explorer is the only thing keeping Microsoft in the race. With both browser versions, Microsoft is actually sitting third, still a long way from the leader, but with the money involved, any advantage is worth taking. That is why Windows 10 continues to release IE11 and continues to supply security updates through Windows 7, 8.1 and 10.
Unfortunately, the truth is there are still millions of users using older versions of Internet Explorer, some as old as IE7. That is a frightening prospect because that leaves a large part of the population without the necessary upgrades that help prevent hackers from crashing the party.
The obvious reason is money! There is so much to be gained by having your browser in the top percentile that it is just too hard to walk away or give up. Not without trying every approach you can. That and the fact that Microsoft does not believe the race is over yet.
Microsoft’s New Strategy
Oddly enough, Microsoft’s newest strategy is to repeat Chrome’s strategy almost step by step with one exception. There is no doubt that with each release, Edge manages to improve. In its newest release, Edge now claims to be the fastest browser. Is it? Indeed when measured against the opening of modern web browsers it is much quicker than the other top browser, but when measured using other benchmarks, it still has a way to go to be the fastest overall. It should come as no surprise that Microsoft cherry-picked the best benchmark to make its claim, it’s a common practice with all browser claims. What it does show however, is that Microsoft knows the features that it must improve to be taken seriously.
Continuing with its strategy, Edge claims to be the safest browser. In an NSS Labs Report, “Edge shows that it blocked 99.0% of SEM (socially engineered malware) samples.” In addition, “Edge showed a 98.7% zero-hour protection rate for malware, 5.9% more than Chrome and 20.4% more than Firefox”. The impressive part of this figure is that the average time it took to block SEM samples was just 0.16 hours for Edge, while Chrome (w/download protection) took 2.66 hours and Firefox took 3.76 hours.
With the inclusion of “SmartScreen”, Edge has further upped the ante making it by far the safest browser available. The NSS Labs Report was conducted using Edge version 38.14393.0.0. Currently, I am using version 42.17134.1.0 which Microsoft claims to be even safer. If you are interested in the safety of your browsing experience, I would suggest viewing the entire report by NSS Labs.
Still continuing in the Chrome-like strategy, integration was another major focus by Microsoft and their approach might have just taken the lead. By not merely adding another browser to your phone, but supplying you with a Microsoft Launcher they, introduced two Apps designed to make it easy to move anything you are working on between your phone or tablet to your PC and back. Right now, it appears to be working, I don’t have the number for Apple, but Android has had over 10 million downloads already. Creating Microsoft Launcher for Android and ISO provides users with the ability to browse the web, roam passwords between devices and synchronize their favorites.
The App has a “continue on PC” feature that allows users, who might be tired of reading a large article on a small screen, the ability to send it to Windows 10. Note: You must have the “Fall Creators Update” or later version installed on your PC. There are several additional useful features with this App, but the one Microsoft is hoping you like the best is Edge. Exposing Edge to millions of new users is making them familiar with the App thereby allowing Edge to gain ground on the field. Sound Familiar?
Microsoft is finally focusing on smartphone and tablet browsers for the same reasons that Google did. Integration is not just something nice to have, it is absolutely demanded by users today.
I mentioned that there was one exception to the Microsoft strategy and that is, listening to the input of Microsoft Insiders.
This is still a new strategy taken by Microsoft when they started building Windows 10. Microsoft invited just about everyone to become a Windows Insider. Supposedly, your (group mind) thinking and suggestions would motivate the continuing builds of Windows and all its features. The normal way of business from most companies is to build it and sell it. But building it through the input of future users appears to be a working and successful experiment for Microsoft. It also addresses why so many features start out one way only to be changed in a later release. This is why Edge is still in the race. Insiders were saying, “put it on my phone, give it more extensions”, “give it more features”, “let Cortana help me when I’m browsing”, “let it remember my passwords across devices”, and surprisingly, that is what Microsoft is doing.
Proof is in the April release. Microsoft is at least trying to gain on Chrome’s lead. Listening to its “Insiders”, Microsoft has added several new features in its April’s release of Edge and it is evident that it is attempting to distance itself from the pack with the use of Cortana as an integrated tool with Edge. Cortana is similar to Apple’s Siri in that it is a talking personal assistant, but slightly different because it can send text notices while you are in Edge. It not only provides voice-based searches that most smartphone users are already familiar with and understand, it also sits in the background ready to offer advice or tips when needed, but in a very unobtrusive way. It does this by showing you a blue text message in the Edge address bar.
Say you are playing a music video in YouTube, Cortana might pop up a suggestion, “Want the lyrics?”
If you do, clicking on the text message opens a side window with all the lyrics while the song continues to play. Or, if you’re reading a news article, it might state, “I’ve collected similar articles on this topic”. Clicking on it will show a side menu with just that, a collection of similar articles. Also, while shopping online, Cortana might mention to, “View Coupons for this site”, etc. You can simply ignore any and all of these messages, but they are helpful and still offer only a glimpse of the kind of integration you can expect in future upgrades. It is a little like having a constant companion while surfing.
Again, with the help of insiders, Microsoft has taken a browser with zero extensions to almost a hundred and that means the Apps that are wanted most are the first to be included. Yes, still a long way from the leader, but closing.
Besides the Cortana feature, the “Set this tab aside”, and the “Tabs” you set aside” features allow you to quickly save an open tab and hold them in a hidden folder that does not clutter your browsing experience.
At any time during your browsing session you can view all the saved tabs and restore one or more with the click of your mouse. Once you close Edge, the tabs will disappear. Another feature is the ability to click on the down-arrow at the top of the screen to view all open tabs at once.
One click form fills, a new addition, allows you to enter your personal and credit card information into the browser and Edge will fill this information on websites across all your Windows 10 devices, but only on your demand.
Users now have the ability to view and mark-up PDF and eBook files. You can drop any website you are viewing to your Taskbar for future access and even mute audio for individual tabs. You can also check on and manage the permissions you may have given any website. And one additional feature is the ability to quickly share any web page by clicking the Share button and selecting any of the several options available.
I, like many other people, used Chrome as my default browser. That is until the recent improvements and the ability to have LastPass and other extensions operate exactly the way I want. I was reluctant to abandon the comfort of a browser I have been using for several years, but my view is I would never be using Chrome if I had never checked out other browsers. In truth, I use six browsers on a fairly constant basis: Edge, Chrome, Chrome Canary, Firefox, Opera and Tor. One reason is to stay knowledgeable about them and two because I design web pages for them. That is why I know the improvements being made are real and significant. Also, just as I would never try and tell an Apple User that they should be using Microsoft or Unix, I am not trying to tell you to use Edge. The only goal here is to make you aware of recent significant changes, give them a try and make your own decision. Even if it is not yet your cup of tea, I believe, over time, the insiders will get it right and make Edge a competitive browser and the day they drop Internet Explorer 11 from Windows 10 they might believe it too. Stay tuned for the next article because it would be silly to think that any of them are doing this for fun. Browsers are big business and percent of the market could mean millions of dollars.