Microsoft Edge Updates

When Windows 10 launched, there was the quiet expectation that, finally, Microsoft would have a browser they could update on the fly, thanks to the capabilities of the OS and its integration with the Store as an app repository. When Windows 10 launched, it would be completely fair to say that the built-in web browser was in an unfinished state. With the ability to update it on the fly though, perhaps they would be able to make a dent in the juggernaut that is Google Chrome.

But, as history has proven, the company has taken the stance that Edge will pretty much only be updated with major version updates of Windows, to the detriment of their users. Some of the update issues would certainly be tied to underlying API changes to the OS, but at the same time, the delay in releasing much-needed features such as extension support just moved more people to other browsers, and many of them will likely never come back.

So that puts Edge in a tough spot. Likely nothing in Windows 10 has improved more since launch than Edge, but it still feels like it’s missing parts and pieces in various places. The good news is that with every update, it gets better.

With the April Update, we have likely the most important update for Edge since Extensions shipped about a year ago with the Creators Update. Edge is now based on EdgeHTML 17, which has a lot of changes under the hood to improve performance, and the browser itself has quite a few new features.

Let’s get the big one out of the way first. With the April Update, Edge now supports Service Workers, and that’s a big deal because Service Workers are one of the key components for Progressive Web Applications (PWAs).

Progressive Web Apps

PWAs are a new class of applications based on web technology. You may have heard of this before, because this isn’t the first time its been tried. But with Service Workers, and several recent APIs such as the Push API, Notification API, and the Cache API, we’re at a point where it’s possible to create truly portable applications based on web technology. They can support offline mode, and interact with the Operating System, with a look and feel that seems like an app running on native code.

One of the keys for PWAs is the ability to cache some or all of the data required for execution so that the PWA can be run in an offline mode, or for use in scenarios where network connectivity is not always guaranteed. Grabbing data from the cache can also help with responsiveness.

The importance of PWAs can’t be understated. Anyone who has used Windows 10 will likely know there’s been a real shortage of quality applications in the store. The strength of Windows 10 is based on its legacy of Win32 apps, but the new Universal Windows Platform was never able to draw the kind of developer interest that it needed to take off. We’ve seen the company help the situation with tools like desktop app bridge, which has allowed developers to bring their Win32 apps to the store. PWAs are not going to fix the Store overnight, but thanks to the support of PWAs across several platforms, developers can bring their PWAs to the store much more easily.

Microsoft has also added the ability for PWAs to be treated like their other supported Store apps, with live tile support, deep linking, and more. You can pin the Twitter PWA to your task bar, and then pin individual people you follow to your Start Menu. That kind of deeper integration is going to take more work by the developers, but the capabilities are there.

And likely the best part of PWAs is that apps it should solve the issue of orphaned apps, which still exist but are never updated any longer. A PWA can be updated just by updating the backend service.

Other Edge Features

Every Windows update, there’s always a bunch of smaller updates to Edge as well. With the April Update, you can now mute tabs by clicking the speaker in the tab bar, which is a welcome addition. It would still be nice to have a more obvious way to see which tabs have audio though, since the iconography used is a bit subtle.

Edge has also picked up a more robust form fill feature, which lets you save your name, address, email, and credit card information when signed in with your Microsoft Account. This is a feature that’s very handy in password managers, so it’s nice to see here as well.

There’s new grammar tools for the Reading view, which is also used for ebooks and PDF viewing. These aren’t for checking grammar though. The tools can highlight nouns, verbs, and adjectives, and break words into syllables to help with comprehension. Reading view can also be used full screen.

Edge also supports “Clutter-free printing” which removes all of the extraneous information from the page when you’re going to print it. That’s a great feature, and should save plenty of trees, or bytes if you print to PDF.

Performance

The elusive factor every browser wants to harness is performance, and the Edge team has made improvements here again. It’s not just about going faster though. Better performance means you can get the work done quicker, which can save energy, which is increasingly important with more and more mobile devices being used. Edge has always touted its efficiency as one of is strengths, and it’s gotten better again.

One of the ways they’ve done that is with improvements to GIF rendering, and GIFs are on around 20% of pages loaded on Edge, so these improvements can become big rewards.

Page loading speeds should also be improved with page layout being rendered with content without waiting for images to download.

Edge has also improved thread management with this update, which will create a more responsive input when the system is busy. On constrained systems, Edge input would be delayed, sometimes substantially, so these scenarios should be much more responsive. That’s also the case with busy pages, where Edge will now more aggressively interrupt tasks that are blocking user input.

With the abundance of tabs that everyone always has open, the work taken up by tabs that aren’t in the foreground can be a draw on CPU usage as well, which ultimately means battery life. Edge will now intelligently suspend background tabs after they’ve not been accessed for a while, so in theory, Twitter shouldn’t slowly start to kill your computer when left open for a week. The tabs are then resumed when accessed, with the team saying most suspended tabs are resumed in less than 500 ms.

In addition, Edge will now lower the page frame rate if a page is in the foreground but not being accessed to save power. This doesn’t impact 3D content or video, but if the page is interacted with again, it’ll go back to the normal framerate.

Where Edge Sits Now

Several years into Windows 10, Microsoft Edge has easily been the most improved part of the platform, with significant performance and usability improvements with every update. It’s always offered arguably the best high DPI rendering for text of any browser for Windows, and it has been coupled with good efficiency as well. The early days were pretty rough, with no extension support, and a host of missing features, but many of those have now been addressed.

  

Browsers are very personal, and people get attached to the look and feel of what they use, so expecting people to flock back to Edge at this point is likely an unrealistic goal, but regardless, it is a key component of the platform, especially now with PWA support. The browser offers some features others don’t, and performance and usability has made some big improvements, and would likely work well for many users if they ever switch to it, but the real issue for Edge is that the competition never stands still, and they don’t have a must-have feature that will draw a lot of users back.

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  • B3an - Saturday, May 26, 2018 - link

    I wish someone would benchmark Win 10 April Update compared to the original Win 10 release. Would be interesting to see if anything has improved at all. And i mean from gaming to app loading times, start up times, battery life and network performance. Reply
  • ಬುಲ್ವಿಂಕಲ್ ಜೆ ಮೂಸ್ - Saturday, May 26, 2018 - link

    I wish the staff would openly discuss the problem with Microsofts DRM instead of deleting my posts without comment

    YES, it may be against the "LAW" to discuss getting around DRM but those Laws only help Criminals who wrote the Law

    A permanent backdoor into everyones computer IS a matter of National and Personal Security

    Bill Gates once asked for an open discussion on security

    When are you willing to actually have it ?

    I believe James Comey even asked for an open discussion on the problems affecting National Security such as Encryption Backdoors

    I am ready for an honest open discussion

    AnandTech is definitely NOT Ready!

    Be a part of the solution, instead of the problem
    Reply
  • ChristopherFortineux - Friday, June 8, 2018 - link

    Being from India yourself. You know better than breaking the law discussing breaching the DRM. Why you keep mentioning it on random comments is redundant. Also, "Bullwinkle J. Moose" LOL Reply
  • npz - Saturday, May 26, 2018 - link

    > but with the April Update Windows 10 will now prompt you to automatically try and fix an app if it think it’s opened with blurry text. You’ll get a notification asking if you’d like to try and fix it, and you can say yes. Then close the app, and hopefully it’s fixed.

    What exactly does it do? I've seen the blurry fonts issue before and that's when my laptop was set to scaling > 100% by default by Windows. But that's because the app uses bitmap fonts. Does the fix switch to 200% scaling? Or does it substitute the bitmap with vector fonts?

    However, no matter the OS, scaling only works with vector fonts/graphics and so bitmap fonts/graphics still face the same issue within the app contents or when you need bitmap fonts like in text terminals.

    Personally I hate the principle of scaling for this reason and so always set my displays to 100% to avoid it.
    Reply
  • npz - Saturday, May 26, 2018 - link

    Or for apps that use a fixed dpi and despite vector fonts, does Windows pre-render at that app's fixed dpi, then scale that image to the user's setting (as another cause for the blurriness)? Reply
  • Azurael - Saturday, May 26, 2018 - link

    I think this one went better than FCU. No complete reinstalls required yet, but one of the machines I manage still won't install it. Still, I'm not going to hold it against Microsoft because I insist on running all of my EFI-capable machines _in_ EFI boot mode and some of the early UEFI implementations (2007-2010ish) are flakey as hell. On this particular (personal) machine, I don't think the fact that the ESP is shared with a Linux install is helping, Microsoft seem to like a lot of free space on it to successfully install, even though their default partition map creates an ESP about half the size of the 'standard' 256MB...

    Sill, about 20 machines and no other issues, as I said, much better than FCU! I had to reinstall 3 at work last time today round... One thing I've learned is that it really isn't worth trying to diagnose issues with the updater. If you have to try and run it more than twice, a clean install is invariably quicker...
    Reply
  • landerf - Saturday, May 26, 2018 - link

    The amount of hoops I've had to jump through to replace homegroup functionality is mind boggling and I'm still not sure it will keep working the next time I reboot and all the solutions are far less secure than homegroup. Reply
  • coburn_c - Sunday, May 27, 2018 - link

    They turned last access time stamp back on. I can't understand why, considering the i/o performance hit of the latest security patches and the fact that it has been off for the last decade. Reply
  • exactopposite - Sunday, May 27, 2018 - link

    i have tried the update on 4 machines
    Ryzen x370 syste updated with no problem
    Kaby lake desktop updated ok but network settings changed which prevented network shares form working. It was a simple fix but annoying
    Kaby lake HTPC and Broadwell laptop both refuse to install it. The install almost completes but then uninstalls and rolls back
    Reply
  • lfred - Monday, May 28, 2018 - link

    What fix did you use? shares keeps disconnecting from time to time here? Reply

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