Software

Windows 10 Anniversary Update: Microsoft has fixed Edge browser's biggest problem, but it's still not good enough

Microsoft has addressed my biggest bugbear with Edge, but for me the browser still has some catching up to do.

Windows 10's Edge browser new extensions.

Image: Nick Heath / TechRepublic

When Microsoft launched the Edge web browser alongside Windows 10, it promised a browser whose performance and features would win over users.

But while Windows 10 is running on some 350 million devices, only a small proportion of those running Windows 10 are using Edge to browse the web.

Microsoft continues to improve the Edge browser, however, and with the release of the Windows 10 Anniversary Update, says it has fixed an issue with Edge which, for me, made the browser unusable.

Earlier versions of the web browser would freeze while loading pages, which on complex sites meant the browser would effectively lock-up while the many different elements of the site were rendered.

Following the update, Microsoft has changed how Edge works. Now "even when complex pages are busy loading and painting, the user can still begin to scroll through the document", according to Kyle Pflug program manager for Microsoft Edge.

But how does the change work in practice? Has Microsoft fixed this major problem by moving all scrolling "completely off of the UI thread", as Pflug puts it?

Obviously this is subjective, but to my eye the updated Edge browser does seem improved, not locking up for as long when accessing heavy web pages.

The scrolling in Edge can still be jerky and does occasionally hitch when loading heavily-laden pages, but the same is true for Google Chrome.

SEE: Windows 10: The smart person's guide

Edge's performance is definitely better than at Windows 10's launch, when I found it would frequently lock-up as it was loading pages, leaving you unable scroll until every element on the page was loaded.

In my view, however, Chrome still feels slightly smoother. Microsoft has improved Edge but not to the point where it trumps the competition.

The same sense that Microsoft is playing catch-up with Google is also true of the addition of extensions to Edge following the Anniversary Update. Extensions are small programs that can be downloaded to add new functionality to a web browser.

While a welcome addition to Edge, extensions have been available for Chrome, Firefox and other browsers for a long time, and that head start has allowed these browsers to amass a huge library of extensions, compared to the handful available for Edge today.

Microsoft also claims Edge is also less power-hungry, draining batteries less rapidly than Chrome and other competitors, however, these findings have been challenged.

The feeling that Edge is still struggling to pull ahead of Chrome extends to other areas. Microsoft has also improved Edge's performance when running JavaScript, the defacto scripting language of the web.

In its own tests, Microsoft claimed that Edge outperformed Google Chrome for JavaScript performance, as seen below. When I ran some of the same tests, I found Edge's lead to be less decisive.

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Microsoft's JavaScript performance tests

Image: Microsoft

Microsoft's tests were conducted using 64-bit browsers running 64-bit Windows 10 Insider Preview system Info: Dell Optiplex 7010 Intel(R) Core(TM) i5-3475S CPU @ 2.90GHz (4 cores) 4GB ram. Browser versions: EdgeHTML 14.14327, Chrome Canary 52.0.2712.0.

image-22.png

TechRepublic's performance test

Image: Nick Heath / TechRepublic
image-21.png

TechRepublic performance test

Image: Nick Heath / TechRepublic

My tests were run on a Toshiba Portege laptop on a 64-bit Windows 10 Insider Preview system. The machine has an 2.1GHz Intel Core i7 4600U processor, with 8GB of memory and a 256GB SSD. It compared the performance of EdgeHTML 14.14372 and Chrome 52.0.2743.116.

Similarly, Microsoft has improved Edge's compatibility with the latest web technologies, but its flagship browser still lags behind Chrome.

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Microsoft's tests showing browser support for the latest web technologies.

Image: Microsoft

None of this is to say Chrome is the best browser and doesn't have downsides of its own, just that given people's resistance to change, Edge needs to be demonstrably better than Chrome to get people to switch. I don't think it's there yet.

More on Windows 10...

The Windows 10 Anniversary Update is upon us... ready or not

Windows 10 Anniversary Update: Watch out for these nasty surprises

Windows 10 one year on: Has it been a success for Microsoft?

Windows 10, Android, iOS, and the billion user question (ZDNet)

Those free Windows 10 upgrades are over. Now what? (ZDNet)

Microsoft is updating Windows 10 again, in its latest bid to win you back (CNET)

About Nick Heath

Nick Heath is chief reporter for TechRepublic. He writes about the technology that IT decision makers need to know about, and the latest happenings in the European tech scene.

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