I am starting to not dislike Microsoft Edge

Updated: May 3, 2021

For me, Firefox is the best browser there is. Since early days, I've been using it as my primary browser. Despite Mozilla's best efforts to mess up its awesomeness, Firefox remains the king of the Internet. Best looks, best privacy, most customization. But then, I've always kept a secondary browser, just in case, primarily for site testing and compatibility purposes. That second choice has varied over the years.

For a while, I used Opera, then switched to Chrome. And now, after totally ignoring Edge for a few years - it's completely blacklisted from running on most of my Windows boxes via IFEO - I am starting to ponder its value. This thought process is directly proportional to my dislike of various "technologies" that Chrome is using, and my overall disenchantment with anything "modern" Web. I've already tested the Chromium-based Edge several times, including the early preview builds on Linux and separately on Android. And now, I actually have it proper-installed, and I'm actually using it. Go figure.

Teaser

The courtship beginneth

I decided to deploy Edge on my Slimbook Pro2 - a machine dedicated to serious productivity with Linux, running Kubuntu 18.04. If I manage to find value in this browser on a Linux system, then I might expand its usage to various Windows machines, and replace Chrome with Edge as my secondary tool. Since I never take any software decision lightly or fast, the process will most likely take months - or longer. But it has already begun, and the preliminary findings aren't bad at all.

Edge for Linux is available from the Dev channel - the Tuxies make for juicy scapegoats. You can download the Deb or RPM, and the repo will be configured automatically, which is quite neat. Launch the browser, and you're asked to allow telemetry. This popup is misleading, because you do not need to check the box to agree and continue. And then, you're in a browser with a hyperactive New Tab page, replete with links to various "popular" sites. The funniest piece is the Cookies popup. Seriously?

Get started

Cookies popup

Embrace the change ... or something

Anyway, I spent about half an hour making changes. I customized the New Tab page to be as clean as possible, but you can't get rid of the Web search form. More on that later. Then, I went into the settings and trimmed down the default permissions. Compared to Chrome, the Settings are much easier to find and navigate. Everything is sorted into a single bucket. Just go through the list, and you're done. For that matter, this is also infinitely better than what the old Edge did.

Content, language settings

Why, if I changed language to US English do the weather "units" change, too? Why? Celsius, thank you! Also, why do I need a weather notification on this new tab page, especially since I block location, and the information is useless anyway? That's "marketing" for you, right there.

There are some nice choices - like adblocking. There are some dubious and outright low-IQ choices, like Shopping or the fact you cannot completely block media autoplay. You can only limit it - Firefox FTW. Then, there's the vast gray area of site permissions for MIDI, Serial, USB devices, AR/VR and then some, all of which makes me wonder why and how any of this makes sense in a browser, a tool that has a single purpose - loading Web pages. I also don't like background apps sync nonsense. Why would anything continue running after I've closed the browser?

Settings 1

Settings 2

Telemetry seems to be c'est la vie. You get mandatory/required telemetry - again, Firefox FTW. But then, there's no auto-sync, you're not being asked to sign in, and there's no automatic association between any signed-in Google accounts and the browser - something that I've encountered with Chrome in the past.

Another big issue - I wasn't able to sync Chrome bookmarks and data. The Edge sync page only offered Firefox (as a browser). And no, I do NOT want to sign in into any browser to "sync" my stuff.

Import browser data

Using and cruising

Overall, I found the experience quite decent. The browser is reasonably fast and responsive. It doesn't hide or obfuscate URLs - I didn't need to tweak anything, I always get a proper, full URL with all the bits and pieces, as it should be. Nice. Media playback works fine. I also tried some video conferencing, and Edge had no issues with the cam/mic combo. My impression is that it also uses less resources than Chrome, but this is just an offhand observation, not a proper scientific experiment, so take my words with a pinch of cardamom.

Camera & microphone management

The New Tab page kept annoying me - so I installed an extension to get a simple, clean about:blank page. Before I had it removed, the page would often turn the "content" icons back on. Feels like cheap advertising promo to me. In fact, what reinforces this feel is that when I installed the extension to blank the New Tab page, Edge automatically disabled it - twice. Reasoning? Because it does exactly what it says it does. And what happens, the search bar is gone and any potential nonsense low-IQ marketing that goes there, too, oh noes. Don't want.

New tab extension

Another annoyance - a one-time nudge to try these so-called collections - what's wrong with bookmarks and folders, not "modern" enough? Nope. Don't want, either.

Collections annoyance

Again, on the plus side, you can customize the look a fair deal - add the Home button, but more importantly get rid of unnecessary buttons for Favorites or Collections and whatnot. This means the browser can look rather reasonable. I also changed the desktop file to load Edge with 1.25 scaling, as I've already outlined in my Slimbook & HD scaling article. This worked without any problems. In le desktop file:

Exec=/usr/bin/microsoft-edge-dev --device-scale-factor=1.25 --force-device-scale-factor=1.25 %U

Last but not the least, you can also use vertical tabs. Seems like nerds will love this, so there. Speaking of tabs, more right-click context, and you get more useful and meaningful stuff, too. Site permissions are also easier to navigate, understand and tweak. Not bad.

Vertical tabs

Tab right click

Site permissions overview

Site permissions details

Conclusion

There you go, my first test drive with Edge proper on a desktop, with some real usage and not just for-review impressions. Well, it took Microsoft only about 15 years to remedy the Internet Explorer 6.0 fiasco. Not bad. I like the illusion of having choice, and Edge could be a reasonable secondary browser. At the moment, I am inclined to say that I find it more suitable to my needs than Chrome. It's got cleaner settings navigation, it feels a tad sprightlier, it hides fewer things, and it would seem it also chomps through fewer resources for common tasks. Privacy wise, I don't know just yet, but hey!

And so I intend to play with this browser for a while to see what gives. Perhaps in three or four months, it will be a permanent fixture on my panels and task bars and whatnot - wherever it is you pin your icon shortcuts and such. I might even allow this browser to run on my Windows machines. The old version was totally useless, but this one actually seems to have some decent merit. On that mildly optimistic note, we're done for today.

Cheers.

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