Microsoft Edge vs Internet Explorer 11

With all the fuss surrounding Windows 10’s new look, the reintroduction of the taskbar, and the integration of Cortana and Universal apps, you might have missed one of the OS’s biggest new additions – Windows 10 has an all-new web browser, Microsoft Edge.

Make no mistake, the advent of Edge and the retirement of Internet Explorer as the default browser represents a major milestone for Windows as a whole – a sign that Microsoft is willing to cut ties with a major portion of its history and forge on into a brave new world.

What are the differences between Internet Explorer and Edge? And should you bother with the new browser or stick with what you know? We’ve put together a point-by-point comparison to help you decide.

Edge vs Internet Explorer: User interface

In keeping with the ethos inspired by its original codename – Project Spartan – Microsoft Edge is a much simpler piece of software than IE, both in terms of the way it looks and how easy it is to use.

Your loaded web page occupies most of the screen, as it should, but there’s now much less wastage at the top of the application window, with tabs jutting up into the title bar, and fewer icons in the address bar below.

Edge is a Universal app, so the look is more minimalist than desktop IE, and less fussy. The whole thing has been pared back, with boxes and buttons kept to a minimum, and controls taking the form of glyphs and text on a plain grey background.

This may or may not be your sort of thing, but I found the icons less cryptic than on either the Windows 8’s “immersive browser” mode or the desktop browser. The way the settings menus have been redesigned is also a huge improvement. Gone is the old tabbed dialog box, to be replaced with a simpler, airier menu that docks into the right-hand side of the window.

microsoft_edge_vs_internet_explorer_11_settings

And because Edge is a Universal app, it looks the same whatever device you’re using. Switch from laptop to phone to tablet, and you’ll see the same toolbars, menus and features. It scales up more gracefully on high-DPI screens, too.

Edge vs Internet Explorer: Features

Despite the stripped-down UI, Microsoft’s new browser has an impressive list of new capabilities compared with IE. Microsoft claims there’s a total of 49 new features in the new browser; most of these are minor additions, but there are five big changes you should know about.

Reading view strips out page furniture and presents an attractive, distraction-free layout that lets you concentrate on the text. This is a feature that’s been present in Firefox and Safari for some time (and missing from IE). It’s a godsend for reading long-form articles, or pieces posted on websites cluttered with menus, adverts and extraneous link boxes.

The Reading List isn’t an entirely new feature, but the way it’s implemented is. In Windows 8 it was a separate “Modern” app (and, confusingly, it remains a part of Windows 10 too). You were able to save web pages to read offline later to the Reading List app, via the immersive browser’s Share link. Now, it’s an integral part of the Edge browser.

As with the Windows 8 app, Edge’s Reading List function works offline. However, rather than saving articles in a separate app, they now appear alongside your bookmarks, browsing history and downloads in the Hub menu. Importantly, articles on your Reading List are also synced across any other devices you have running Windows 10 and Edge.

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Web Notes is a completely new feature, primarily aimed at users of hybrids and tablets with stylus support. It allows users to highlight and annotate web pages with freehand scribbles, save them as notes, and share them among friends, family or colleagues. Those without access to a stylus can still scrawl notes using a touchpad or touchscreen, or add numbered text notes with a keyboard.

And then there’s Cortana integration, which ties in Windows 10’s new voice-driven personal digital assistant. The Cortana integration here is a two-way affair: voice and text searches you make via the Windows 10 taskbar will launch a Bing search on Edge; meanwhile, Cortana will collect information as you browse in order to help you find what you’re looking for in future.

Cortana will proactively pop up on certain websites to give you information it thinks might be useful, or help you out with certain tasks. You can also highlight a word or passage on a website, right-click it and select Ask Cortana to get more information – or you can simply ask a question directly in the address bar.

One feature missing from Edge is support for any kind of plugin or extension framework; Microsoft has pulled support for IE plugins. Although it has promised a replacement in due course (see below), that won’t be available at launch.

Edge vs Internet Explorer: Standards and compatibility

Microsoft Edge represents a big departure for Internet Explorer in more ways than one, but it’s not a complete rebuilding of the old browser. In fact, Edge keeps a lot of code from IE11’s “Trident” rendering engine and “Chakra” JavaScript engine.

But Microsoft’s developers have removed a huge amount of the old browser’s baggage. Huge swathes of legacy code retained in previous versions to ensure backwards-compatibility has been unceremoniously kicked into the long grass in a drive towards a more streamlined, standards-based approach.

Among the old technologies that have been axed are ActiveX (first introduced way back in the 1990s); Silverlight (Microsoft’s long-suffering rival to Flash); VBScript; Vector Markup Language (an IE5 technology); and Browser Helper Objects. The latter has typically been used to develop add-ins such as search toolbars – the sort of thing nobody wants or needs.

microsoft_edge_vs_internet_explorer_11_microsoft_stats

Indeed, Microsoft says that, in order to produce Edge, it has removed no fewer than 220,000 unique lines of code from the IE codebase, six “document modes” (emulations used for the purposes of backwards-compatibility) and more than 300 APIs.

Instead, Microsoft has placed a renewed emphasis on standards, better interoperability with other browsers, and increased performance. Thus, while hundreds of APIs and features have been removed from Microsoft’s browser code, other standards-based features have been introduced. For example, Edge has built-in support for Adobe Flash, rather than having to rely on an externally installed add-in, and it can render PDF files natively, too.

The full impact of this decision will only become apparent in time, but Edge already feels pretty nippy and displays many websites without problems. Results in various benchmarks has so far proved inconclusive, however.

Edge

Internet Explorer 11

% improvement

SunSpider

72ms

93ms

+23%

Octane 2

37,984

37,805

+0.5%

Peacekeeper

2,979

3,037

-2%

Browsermark

4,263

4,255

+0.02%

Edge vs Internet Explorer: Security

Perhaps a more significant point of difference between the two browsers is security, an area where Edge ups the ante significantly over IE.

Edge’s password-management system is fully integrated with Windows 10’s Passport security system. The move to a standards-based extension system will also improve security, limiting the sorts of resources that extensions have access to.

The removal of all that old code will also prove beneficial as well, reducing the browser’s surface area for potential hackers to exploit.

Possibly the biggest plus point, however, is related to Microsoft Edge’s status as a Universal app. All Universal apps run within a sandbox framework, which effectively insulates it from sensitive system resources; should there be an exploit of a vulnerability within the browser, its extensions or code within a web page, the attacker will have less access to the system’s resources than the user. In Microsoft’s words: “Every internet page that Microsoft Edge visits will be rendered inside an app container, the latest and most secure client-side app sandbox in Windows.”

Sandbox-based browsing is not a new thing. A “protected mode” first appeared in IE7 with Windows Vista, and an “enhanced protected mode” was introduced in IE10/11, but it wasn’t turned on by default because some plugins weren’t compatible with it. Microsoft Edge, by contrast, is able to work within a sandbox at all time.

Edge vs Internet Explorer: Verdict

It’s a shame Microsoft wasn’t able to deliver a complete browser in time for the launch of Windows 10. I’d like to have seen a few examples of extensions built with the proposed new HTML and JavaScript-based system; at this stage Microsoft Edge feels unfinished. I doubt I’ll be using the browser full-time in place of Chrome or Firefox for that very reason.

However, its minimalist interface, redesigned menu system and improved security – not to mention its broad selection of new features – means that the future’s looking bright for Microsoft’s flagship browser for the first time in an age.

There’ll be teething troubles, no doubt – websites that break or simply look ugly on Edge, but I’ve so far been reasonably impressed, particularly with the Reading List and Web Notes features. It’s certainly a step forward from IE.

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