Why Microsoft's new Edge could eventually win the browser wars

It's very possible that Microsoft's ability to bundle a convenient, Chrome-compatible browser within Windows 10 will become a greater and greater advantage over time.

keyboard laptop microsoft edge logo web browser by urupong getty images 1200x800
Urupong Getty / Microsoft

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Recently, I realized I had broken a habit that had been in place for about a decade: When setting up a new PC, I didn’t use Microsoft’s Edge browser to download Google Chrome. I downloaded the new Edge instead.

I don't expect many other people will download the new Edge manually. But over time, as the browser becomes a preinstalled feature on new and existing Windows 10 PCs (a process that began in January), if they give the new Edge a try, it's possible they'll never go back to Chrome.

I know that’s a bold statement, especially given Edge's measly 5 percent market share. Still, after using it intensively, and as my earlier review of the new Edge suggested, there are two reasons why someone might purposely choose to use the new Edge instead: convenience, and compatibility. 

microsoft new edge pcworld homepage Mark Hachman / IDG

Microsoft seems to have trimmed a bit from the browser between the beta and the final release, including the elimination of the “feedback” button that used to live in the upper right.

Edge’s advantages: compatibility, convenience

Microsoft built the “new” Edge, differentiated by its swirling blue logo, on top of Chromium, not EdgeHTML. The new Edge retains all of the functionality Chromium brings with it, including compatibility with the Chrome Web Store as well as Microsoft’s own curated apps. Like any other browser, you’ll currently need to download it, install it, and ask it to slurp up your favorites, passwords, and other data from another browser—likely Chrome.

new microsoft edge logo Microsoft

The swirling logo of the new Microsoft Edge will eventually replace the stylized “e” of the older version.

Once that process completes, the new Edge feels very much like Chrome: clean and quick, though still a bit heavy on the CPU resources, as our review demonstrated.

This is where Edge stands on its own: quick and responsive, but compatible with the familiar Chrome experience. Extensions work as expected. Chromium features like casting to an external device are present.

There’s still some spackling to be done: There’s no apparent way to set media controls for a given site, for example, while that’s been one of the key features rival browsers have promoted. Chrome can still boast advantages, too, including its ability to serve as a password generator and vault.

But here’s the other feature that separates the new Edge from Chrome: Not only does it work, but when it's preinstalled in Windows 10, it will work immediately. 

With the new Edge, Microsoft syncs your information with your Microsoft account. Once you’ve logged into your PC, and assuming you’ve configured the new Edge previously, every new PC’s Edge browser will be set up and ready to go. 

If I download Opera or Firefox or even Chrome, I have to manually log in with my password, and enter a two-factor authentication. Only then will my favorites and passwords and extensions automatically sync. With the new Edge, that process will be completed before you have time to type “Google Chrome download” in the search bar.

firefox sync Mark Hachman / IDG

Mozilla Firefox knows if you’ve reinstalled the browser on a PC, and will sync whatever data it’s stored previously. But if you want to sync on another PC, you have to log in once again.

Both versions of Edge actually benefited from not needing to log in. But the old Edge took forever to get syncing right. The unfamiliarity of Edge probably didn't help either, but its poor syncing drove enthusiasts to browsers they could work on immediately. The Edge icon was simply ignored. 

Don’t be surprised to see Edge “ads”

The first moment when a user opens Microsoft’s new Edge will be absolutely critical. If Microsoft can convince them to sync their data with their existing browser, then every new PC they own for the rest of their life will contain that data. At that point, Microsoft can hope that the fresh, clean look of the new Edge sells itself. Besides, if Edge is built upon Chrome, and sets itself up without any interaction from the user, then why download Chrome?

Microsoft already has this annoying habit of “reminding” you of Bing when you search for Google in its browser. It’s popped up “ads” and reminders and tips across the various subsections of Windows. I’d expect something similar for the new Edge, especially during the first few moments when new users will open the new Edge to download Chrome out of habit. It’s going to be that split second where Microsoft has to convince you to give the new Edge a shot. Once they do, whether out of curiosity or sheer laziness, the tide begins to turn in Microsoft’s favor.

bing firefox ad Mark Hachman / IDG

Expect to see more of the same passive-aggressive promotional behavior as Microsoft rolls out the new Edge.

There are still no guarantees, of course. But maybe in a few years we’ll start thinking about Microsoft Edge in the same way that we’re beginning to think about Windows Defender: If it’s good enough, why bother downloading anything else? 

There's also still one big risk, and it's Microsoft's own doing: Your browser history, open tabs, Collections, and extensions don’t sync yet within the new Edge. If that persists, users will sigh, shrug, and download the browser they’ve always used.

Microsoft’s ability to bundle a quick, convenient, Chromium-compatible browser within Windows gives Microsoft the best chance to win the browser wars in years. I doubt other browser makers will go quietly into the night, and there’s no way that Edge will topple Chrome’s market share anytime soon. But the day Google sues Microsoft over browser “bundling,” you'll know Edge has arrived.

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