519 – Browser battles revisited

clip_image002The “Browser Wars” happened in the late 1990s, and marked a time of intense, er, “competition” between different web browsers. Since then, Google’s Chrome has rather cleaned up and established a seemingly unassailable lead in browser market share.

Still, Edge’s recent release using the Chromium rendering engine – designed to make it comparable with Chrome from a compatibility point of view, yet allowing Microsoft developers to remove Google-services-specific stuff (and replace them, sometimes, with Microsoft-services-specific stuff, many of which will be checked in to the Chromium open-source project.

The Edge browser built on Chromium was released in January, and updates are flowing through to add more functionality – which, exactly, depending on whether you’re running the normal release or you’re on one of several preview or developer (“canary”) versions. Some features are things that were ideally intended to make it to the public release – like synchronizing extensions installed across multiple PCs.

The Edge update won’t be forced out to existing non-Chromium-Edge users (hello, out there!) – or at least there will be a way of stopping it from being pushed out, if you’re an enterprise IT controller who’d rather not have to manage change and things like that.

One of the benefits of Edge being on Chromium is that the extensions which third parties build for the browser should be compatible – and since Google has 2/3rd of the total market, there are more of them than for other browsers.

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There’s an Edge “addons” page which shows a curated list of extensions known to work well with the new Edge, but if you want, you can install anything that’s listed on the Google site.

If you enable the ability to install Chrome extensions into Edge, then refresh/browse to the Chrome store again, you’ll be met with scary warnings, however…

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Google has started alerting of a security issue – namely, if the extension is somehow added to the Chrome store and subsequently found to be of dubious intent and posing a security risk, then Google can remotely knobble it on installed machines. They are now warning that if you happen to use a Chromium but-not-Chrome browser – like Edge – then they won’t do this. It seems the extension security scare banner isn’t the only one to try to make Edge users install and switch to Chrome.

Tsk, Tsk.

Also, the Edge browsers published for Android and iOS are receiving updates to make them work more seamlessly with desktop Edge. (See more for Android & iOS)

# 513 – Ship ahoy!

clip_image002tl;dr – there’s a new browser out. Go and install it.

Back in the day, Microsoft nerds (yes, there were some, both in and outside of the company) used to take pride in continually referring to products by their code names long after they’d been released, and by using the most Microspeak.

There used to be a browsable Microspeak Glossary on the Microsoft intranet, and various versions of it online, but they now seem to have withered.

The odd phrase still crops up in contemporary usage, and one which shows its age is RTM.

Historically, at a point in a software product’s lifecycle, the team just needs to ship the thing – some would think it’s the completion of the development, but most developers know nothing is ever finished and therefore nothing would ever ship. Instead, it’s some date that’s been decided, and they work backwards from that date to ship whatever they have at that point. In traditional boxed-software sales, that would mean sending the final code off to be turned into floppy discs, CDs, whatever – in other words, release it to manufacturing. RTM in the CD-era often referred to the “gold code”, as it was burned to a (gold-coloured) recordable CD before being sent to the manufacturing process. So RTM also means the final build of code as well as the process to release it.

Since nobody really buys software on physical media anymore, RTM is something of an anachronism. “RTW” was used for a while, meaning “Release to Web” but it’s a clunky phrase, and has disappeared from use – much like Cisco’s attempt to for a while to talk not about “IoT,” but “Internet of Everything” or “IoE”.

Nowadays, products at the end of their development cycle “go GA” – Generally Available. Much easier.

clip_image004This week sees the GA/RTW/etc of the new Edge browser, built on the Chromium rendering engine for maximum compatibility and performance, but extended in a host of ways to arguably make it a better browser than the others out there. It’s available for Windows 7 – even though that’s just gone out of support – and it’s also on Win8x and Mac too. Though technically a different code base, the Edge mobile versions have recently been rebranded and the UI tweaked.

If you currently use Edge – or shudder, still use Internet Explorer – then installing the new Edge will migrate your settings, history, passwords etc, but not any extensions you might have. Fear not, though, for the Chromium engine means you can install extensions from both the Microsoft Store and also the Chrome Store too.

For more on the new Edge, see the tips that are shown as part of the install process, read some opinion pieces on whether world+dog seems to think this is a good thing; here, here, here … and here… and, oh, you get the idea.

509 – Edge Beta profiles & sync

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If you haven’t tried out the new Edge Browser beta yet (go to microsoftedgeinsider.com to have a look), here’s another reason to give it a go – the ability to have multiple Profiles set up, and to sync various contents across several machines / phones.

At a simple level, Profiles lets you specify your work account and personal account(s) separately, and you can switch between them quickly. Look under Settings or go straight to edge://settings/profiles in the browser if you already have it.

For anyone who’s ever had to sign into a work-related website but using their Microsoft Account (eg Outlook.com / Hotmail / MSN / Zune etc credentials), this can be handy as you do it without resorting to an InPrivate tab.

clip_image004Once you’ve set up profiles, you can individually enable Sync, Password retention etc, for each, though you will see that only some of the options are lit up in the current version of the Beta. More to come soon – ahead of the expected January 15th release. Probably.

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To change profiles, just click on the associated picture on the browser toolbar and if you like, you can even pin the clip_image008individual profiles to your taskbar so you can quickly jump into each one, rather than having to clip_image010launch the browser and do the switcheroo.

You may want to import and export favourites between profiles – like Chrome, Edge no longer stores these as shortcut files that can be simply moved around, instead holding the favourites to a “bookmarks” file.

If you want to see where Edge Beta is saving your profile info, go to edge://version in the browser and check out the Profile Path. Mind how you go if you decide to start editing stuff directly.

To read more about profiles and the new Edge, see here.

505 – Edge closer to release

clip_image002At the Ignite conference, the roadmap for Microsoft Edge was confirmed – the beta effectively moved to Release Candidate level, and a new logo was unveiled.

clip_image004Not without comment, the new logo maybe stylises the old “e” logo while evoking surfing a wave, perhaps, and putting clear blue water between the Internet Explorer and previous Edge logos.

clip_image006If you’re using a preview of the new Edge, you may spot an update icon in the top right – click to get the latest.

The Beta has been bumped to version 79 of the Chromium engine, and is expected to release in mid-January. The Dev channel will soon jump to the version 80, being more experimental and potentially less stable.

clip_image008There are plenty features in Edge which are in development and may or may not make it into the first released version – they can typically be played with by typing edge://flags/ into the address bar.

One experimental feature is Collections. Currently only in the Dev channel but sure to arrive in Beta at some point, it’s a way of grouping sites and content together, like a smart Favourites; it’s been in test for a while, with the dev team trying out a number of approaches and responding to user feedback. To enable it, go to edge://flags/#edge-collections.

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If you’re already on the Dev channel, try enabling Collections, create a new one called Microsoft Edge and then add 4 shortcuts to it, renaming each one S U R and F (it doesn’t matter what the underlying site is).

Now if you drag one of the shortcuts to reorder them – eg move R after F, and then put it back, you’ll get a link to a hidden “Easter Egg” game that brings back memories of the early 1990s.

If you know any company who still has intranet sites also rooted in the 1990s, they might like the Internet Explorer mode, which will effectively allow IE to be a tab in Edge, so the users can enjoy a single browser while retaining compatibility.

Tip o’ the Week 494 – Edge Beta breaks cover

clip_image002Much has been written about Microsoft’s effort to replace the underlying web page rendering engine in the Edge browser with a version based on the open-source Chromium project.

The plan is to produce a cross-platform browser, available on older versions of Windows too, which implements a lot of the innovative features that first appeared with the Edge browser in Windows 10, but by using the Chromium engine, improve compatibility with web sites that perhaps didn’t work as well on Edge as they did on other browsers; notably Google’s Chrome, which shares a lot of the same underlying technology as Chromium.

Microsoft has put over 1,300 contributions back into the Chromium open source project over the last 5 years, with 1,100 in the last year, so the effort isn’t just to take Chromium and use it, but to help improve it for everyone.

Early adopters have had the ability to run a fairly stable Dev Channel build for a while, but now the Beta Channel is available, it’s open for anyone to have a look. Read more, and download the Beta version from here.

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It’s possible to run all 3 versions of the browser side-by-side if you really want, and they co-exist with the regular Edge browser and Google Chrome as well, so it’s worth giving it a try. You’ll quickly find that the new Edge is notably quicker and is already slicker than old Edge, and some people consider it superior to Chrome.

Find out what’s new and what’s coming next.

Tip o’ the Week 492 – TAB and Search

clip_image002The Tab key on your computer has its roots in the Tabulate typewriter function, which let you align type to defined (even modifiable) stops, so you could easily type tables of text and numbers, like invoices and so on.

In short, Tab could be used to left-align text, and is still used in modern typing, especially in word processing and in writing code. People who type space-space-space-space rather than a single TAB press still exist, though.

As well as the many features invoked by the Tab key in modern Windows, though – like WindowsKey-Tab to look at the timeline or the more common ALT-Tab to switch between programs – there’s a new capability for Edge browser users that might be worth looking out for.

If you’re using the Edge Preview – the Chromium-based version that has recently been pitched as Enterprise-Ready (for testing at least) – there’s a feature that has been enabled, which lets you search within a website rather than going straight to your clip_image004favourite search engine and without needing to go to the site’s homepage and perform a search within.

clip_image006Start by typing the site’s URL in the browser address bar, and you may well see a prompt to press Tab to search within that site.

clip_image008This is a feature that has existed in Chrome for a while, but now appears more prevalent in the new Edge. The prompt showing up depends on the website implementing an OpenSearch capability, which is used to plug some query into the search engine behind the site, and how well it performs depends on whether that site search is any good.

Try Microsoft.com TAB search term ENTER and you might just see how many apps that match your word in the Microsoft Store there aren’t, but try Amazon.co.uk TAB Surface ENTER and you’ll have the opportunity to buy Surfaces and many things associated with them. Try maps.google.co.uk | RG6 1WG (what? No Street View?)

Perhaps most useful is when you want to try something in a search engine other than your default; so if you normally use Bing, you’ll know that typing a phrase in the address bar on its own will cause the browser to search if it can’t resolve your term to being a URL. Well, if you type google.com TAB term ENTER then it’ll try that same search over there, rather than you needing to go to the search engine homepage first.

Tip o’ the Week 481 – Lost in Translation

clip_image002Bill Gates had a vision of the future, set out in his 1995 tome, “The Road Ahead(and later in “Business @ The Speed of Thought”) which included computers performing seamless speech and handwriting recognition, and language understanding (even to the extent of lip reading). Many of his predictions have come true yet it’s easy to forget what the world was like before the advent of technology we now take for granted.

In the not-too distant future, we may have the ability, babel fish-like, to automatically hear in our own language, regardless of what is spoken. Institutions like the EU have thousands of translators and interpreters, who provide written, spoken and signed interpretation between different languages. There are rigorous checks in place when trying to get work in these areas (though not everywhere), as we all know what can happen when wrong grammar is used, the words are unsuitable, or punctuation is in the incorrect place.

clip_image004Computerised language translation has come a long way, and though it may still a way off replacing real translators, it’s good enough for most people to get the gist of a foreign document or website – so while you might not rely on it to turn a contract from French to English, it’s fine to figure out what’s on a menu or read some instructions.

There are plenty of mobile apps and websites like Bing Translator, and the cloud-powered translation service is built-into Word (just right-click and Translate on any text).

Microsoft Research Asia recently won a competition for the best machine translation between a host of languages, and the growing fidelity of AI models is helping to improve the quality – a year previously, the Chinese-English translation was adjudged to be at human conversation level already, so it might not be too long before machine translation gets good enough that it’s hard to tell the difference between that and humans.

A practical tip for users of the new Chromium-based “Edge Dev” browser; you can enable on-the-fly clip_image006webpage translation by going to edge://flags/, search for trans to find the translation flag, then switch it on and restart the browser. It is an experimental feature, technically, so YMMV for now.

clip_image008Now, when you browse to a foreign-language site, you’ll be prompted if you’d like to translate (or you can invoke the function using the Bing Translator icon to the right of the address in the toolbar).

Legacy Edge users can install the Translator extension.

As they say in translation circles, Yandelvayasna grldenwi stravenka!

Tip o’ the Week 480 – Installing Apps in New Edge

Whatever you call it – New Edge, Edge Dev, Edgemium, Chromdge etclip_image002[4]c – the new Windows browser called Edge but with its rendering gubbins based on Chromium is making progress with regular updates and has quite a following already.

ToW 476 covered some of the articles that were written when it first came out, but buried within was a slew of interesting features that merit their own mention.

clip_image004[4]Such a capability is being able to install a web page as an App, making it look a lot like a normal Windows app to some degree. In older Edge browser, this was known as pinning a site.

In New Edge, just go to the … menu (top right) on any web page, and under Apps, you can Manage apps and install pages.

clip_image006[4]If the current site is a regular web page, you’ll see “Install this site…” but if the page is itself a Progressive Web App (PWA), like the Starbucks example above, then it will likely declare its name. There are lots of PWAs out there already – see here as an example – some are managed through the Windows Store, but since Google allowed Chrome / Chromium to install PWAs, many are published online and available directly.

Users don’t even need to know what a PWA is, for the most part – if a site looks and feels like an app, then that’s what it is. Some publishers report dramatic improvements in using PWA when compared to more traditional iOS/Android or UWP apps – Tinder, for example, found the PWA was 90% smaller than the regular app.

It seems that when Tindering, size really does matter.

Tip o’ the Week 477 – Grabbing pictures from websites – again

clip_image002Here’s a quick tip for getting the URL of a picture on a website you’re browsing – it’s a topic that’s been covered previously in ToW 458, but with a refinement for a more recent browser platform.

clip_image004Some pages will let you simply get the image URL from right-clicking on it, but lots of sites will prefer to hide direct access to their images.

Never fear, though, as described in #458, you can always use the Inspect feature (in both Chrome and Chromium Edge) or Inspect Element in classic Edge, though it might involve fishing about in the source HTML of the page to find the actual URL of the photo.

clip_image006In Chrom*, just go to the Sources tab in Inspect and you’ll be able to see many elements of the page, including the image files that form part of it, and helpfully, they are previewed if you select them. On busy pages, there could be hundreds of nodes, but you’ll soon figure out where to look and at least it’s likely to be consistent within that page in future. From there, you can open in another tab or just grab the URL.

Handy for pasting into online forums, Yammer, Facebook etc. In most cases, you’re just referencing – embedding, even –  a file that’s out there on some website or CDN, so you’re not even breaking copyright law. Probably.

Tip o’ the Week 476 – New Edge clickstorm

clip_image002After the first week or so with the New Edge browser, it feels grrrrrrrrrrreeeeat!

Paul Thurrott – a well known Microsoft commentator who’s branched out in recent years to cover lots of other tech too but is basically still a Microsoftie at heart, has published lots and lots of advice on www.Thurrott.com

If you haven’t tried the new Edge out yet, then give it a whirl – it’s not finished and it’s not perfect, but so far it feels fast and it’s (mostly) compatible…

These are the Features Microsoft Turned Off or Replaced in Chromium-Based Edge – lots of Google services built into Chrome have been switched off. Or replaced by Microsoft services doing much the same thing, only more trustworthily and less advertisingy…

Living on the (New) Edge: Getting Started

Living on the (New) Edge: What Syncs, What Doesn’t – though see we’ve already announced plans to update Android version of Edge to sync back with the new desktop Edge.

Living on the (New) Edge: Extensions – since there are some popular classic Edge extensions that aren’t yet showing up in the new Edge extension lists, you too can put Chrome ones in there. Like OneNote Web Clipper.

Living on the (New) Edge: Favorites – familiar if you already use Chrome

Living on the (New) Edge: On Startup and New Tab – one of the nicest features… you get the beautiful Bing image with your most-used tiles, and all the clickbait-infested Microsoft News content is a scroll away.

Living on the clip_image004(New) Edge: Web Apps – a nice feature that makes it easy to “install” web pages and/or PWAs just like proper apps.  You can pin apps to the start menu or task bar, you can jump straight to the others clip_image006you have by going to edge://apps.

And there are many more… but we’ll finish up with:

Everyone Needs the New Microsoft Edge (Premium)

Thurrot has a premium subscription service to get certain content, though you can read a couple of articles for free. In this one, he summarises why he thinks the new Edge will be good for all –

What if there were a version of Chrome that was literally stripped of all the Google tracking services, a browser that looked, worked, and performed exactly look Chrome, but didn’t follow you around the Internet like some lonely dog that’s been trapped in a house alone for the day?  What if there was a version of Chrome that provided the same benefits of Chrome—its stellar compatibility with web standards, its market-leading performance, its support for PWAs and other web apps, and its cross-platform sync of bookmarks, passwords, and other data—while actually respected your privacy? I mean. Can you even imagine such a thing?

The new Microsoft Edge is that browser.