The “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.
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…
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.
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.
This 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.
Bill 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.
Computerised 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.
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 webpage 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.
Now, 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!
Edinburghers will know of the term, “Gardyloo” – perhaps a corruption of a French warning that “water” was about to need avoiding, like dodging the gutters in Blackadder. As well as regarding the loos, it’s in everyone’s interest to make sure your source of news is clean and fresh. Not fake.
A startup called NewsGuard hit the, er, news recently, after launching a service that uses real journalists to assesses sources of news, and scores them on various criteria on how they source, handle and attribute the stories they report.
The Mobile version of Edge browser was updated in January 2019, to include the NewsGuard plugin (though it wasn’t enabled by default), and at the time it was widely reported that their vetting had decided the UK’s Daily Mail, a popular newspaper and at one time the largest newspaper website in the world, was not to be trusted. (Screenshots above & right were taken on 24 Jan 2019).
More people probably read about the warning that was gleefully propagated by the Mail’s competitors, than there are actual users of the Edge mobile browser itself (if you use Edge on your PC, give it a try on your phone – it’s really rather good).
If you’d like to add the NewsGuard addin to the Edge browser on your PC, go to the Settings menu (…) on the top right of the Edge toolbar, and look under Extensions – then find NewsGuard in the Store to add it to the browser from there.
NewsGuard has since worked with the Daily Mail and decided that it’s not quite as bad as all that, so has backtracked and removed the klaxon warning.
It’s still not giving a completely clean bill of health – see the “nutrition label” – but the feedback NewsGuard has shared with some other news websites may well help to improve the quality of their output.
If you’re an Instagram fan, you’ll no doubt be quite used to posting, browsing, liking and hashtagging everything in sight, using your phone. If you like editing photos on your PC, however, there’s no simple way to upload pics to post as Instagram photos.
Instagram continually toys with their UI and the capabilities of the app – not always to great acclaim – and also offers a browser experience that lets you find and interact with content, but not upload it yourself. Various third parties offer other tools that integrate with Instagram – like the Top Nine meme that celebs were posting, showing their best pics of 2018.
The Instagram Windows 10 app does give the option to upload photos by clicking or tapping the + icon in the toolbar along the bottom, but it can occasionally be a bit slow, and it only lets you choose photos from your camera roll folder.
The Instagram app sometimes goes a little berserk, too.
There is a technique to use your PC to upload anything to Instagram, though, and it involves fooling the web site into thinking you’re on a mobile device rather than a PC. Start by signing into www.instagram.com using your existing Instagram or FB credentials. You’ll see a particular UI with no + button in sight.
Assuming you’re on Edge browser, press F12 to go into Developer Tools mode (or if you’re using a keyboard that’s a pain to get to function keys, click on the ellipsis on the top right to bring up the menu, choose More Tools, Developer Tools).
When you see the Dev Tools pane appear, go to Emulation.
Now choose a device or set a browser profile that will tell the Instagram site that you’re using a phone… even a defunct one (at least while Instagram supports that profile – someday, you may need to tweak the other settings).
And bingo; click on the ickle + icon on the bottom and you’ll get a regular Windows Explorer file dialog box that can be used to select and upload a photo from anywhere you like.
Chrome domes can do a similar thing, using Developer Tools (menu – More tools – Developer tools, or press CTRL+SHIFT+I) and then toggle a device toolbar that lets you test the page as if it was running on a different device.
Strangely, Windows Phone doesn’t appear as one of the default options, but you can, if you want, add a Nokia 520 back in.
Progressive Web Apps were covered some months ago in ToW 426, and are seen by many as the next generation of mobile apps. They provide a handy way of meeting the needs of a website suitable for mobile browsers as well as a way of delivering an app-like experience to multiple devices of varying sizes, without needing the developers to target specific platforms individually.
Microsoft published a bunch of 3rd party PWA apps directly into the Microsoft Store (eg start with SkyScanner then click on “Microsoft Store” when opened with the Store app itself rather than the web UI), though there haven’t been any new ones for a while.
Google is also throwing its weight behind PWAs – so much so, that version 70 of the Chrome browser has support for PWAs that can be installed to look like a desktop app on Windows, so when the PWA is running it hides the browser UI and is launched from either within Chrome directly, or from the traditional Windows app UI.
When installed, eg https://app.ft.com, via the Chrome browser, the PWA behaves a lot like a desktop app – it can be found by typing its name on the Start menu, and can be quickly pinned to the Start menu or taskbar.
That said, Edge browser users can treat pretty much any website in that way – if you browse to a PWA or simple page you like, as well as adding it to favourites/toolbars etc, you can pin it to your taskbar or start menu by going to the settings menu in the top right. Otherwise, when opening PWAs in Edge they look and behave the same as in other ways, though the Edge toolbar remains.
The intent was to release the latest update (“Redstone 4” or “RS4”) to Windows 10 during early April, though a late “blocking bug” delayed the release. The name of the update was late to be officially confirmed, too – it was rumoured to be “Spring Creators Update” (since the Fall Creators Update happened last year, though the “Creators Update” appeared around a year ago, in April 2017)… but was also thought to be simply, “Windows 10 April Update”. The Reg forecast a wait of weeks to be sure.
There are lots of small improvements in the update, as well as some biggies like Timeline (which is showing up in other apps, too – like Photos, as seen to the left), and the Edge browser is getting a slug of new functionality – take a sneak peek at some of the Edge goodness, here.
It seems that Edge, even though it’s the default browser in Windows 10, doesn’t appear to be everyone’s favourite, with many users installing Chrome as one of their first tasks on a new machine. Both browsers and the respective web services from their creators seem insistent on nagging their end users to switch…
Still, there are times when the two cooperate behind the scenes. The Edge for Android app, for example, uses the rendering engine from the Chromium project, so is effectively running the same browser capabilities in a different shell which takes care of synchronising your favourites, passwords etc, between the Edge browser on your PC(s) and the one on your phone. Edge for iOS uses the native WebKit engine to achieve the same thing.
Microsoft also recently launched a Defender Extension for Chrome, to provide similar protection to defectors that Edge users get natively from the SmartScreen filter technology (NSS Labs tested Edge, Chrome & Firefox, concluding that Edge blocks more bad stuff than either of the others). Even some surprised Chrome users recommend it.
We’re all used to file formats being associated with programs and the data they work with. Some, like .TXT, have been around for so long and are so cross-platform, they transcend association with any one application, whereas .PPT will always be PowerPoint – though that app has gained notoriety in such phrases as “Death by PowerPoint” (which we’ve all been subjected to, even if not completely fatal), or “PowerPoint Karaoke” (reading out the words on slides without adding anything).
One long-used file type goes back to 1987, the GIF – standing for Graphics Interchange Format, predating the eventually prevalent JPEG format by 5 years. GIFs were relatively poor quality – only 256 colours could be used; 30 years ago, that wasn’t an issue but in recent decades, it’s more limiting. Most people, however, will be familiar with GIFs due to a sub-variant – the Animated GIF. This is a series of frames which are played like a simple video – with low frame rates & no sound, yet they have occupied a niche in the way people use the web.
Applications tend not to render animated GIFs well – Outlook, for example, simply inserts a static image, but browsers do show them properly. If you have an email in Outlook that you know has animated GIFs, look for the Actions submenu on the Message tab and select View in Browser.
Adding animated GIFs to chat applications is a good way of making a point more vociferously than with smilies… though it can be even more distracting. Skype (the consumer version) added some featured videos (with sound), but both Yammer and Teams have added GIF buttons to make it easy to seach for amusement from online animation repository, GIPHY.
Try pepping up boring Yammer groups or Teams sites, by looking for the GIF logo on the message box, then searching for a 2-3 second loop that underlines your point. Just make sure the content is suitably Safe For Work or you may find the consequences of sending jokey GIFs to be less than ideal.
Finally, Outlook.com has unveiled a new beta mode that is available for some users (& rolling out to more – look for a “Try the beta” toggle switch on the top of your Hotmail/MSN/Outlook.com mailbox) – and one feature will be animations that can be easily embedded in mail.
Read what Thurrot has to say about the other bits of the beta.
If you use the Edge browser in Windows 10 as your default (presumably by ignoring prompts on any Google property, to install and default to Chrome) then you may be familiar with the default tab behaviour, which helpfully shows you most-visited sites and also displays some “news” content below.
This “My feed” section can be a neat way to get news items of interest without having to do anything but fire up a new browser tab when you were planning to do something else anyway. Maybe distracting, though, unless you’re careful, and as well as the news, there’s plenty of click-bait garbage in there that can do just that. Who couldn’t resist naming these forgotten 1990s movies, or those car badges you don’t see any more? Or wonder what it was that happened next that shocked everyone?
There isn’t a lot of fine-tuning that can be achieved with My feed, however; a fact that’s driving people nuts on feedback forums and on the sometimes preposterously-named “Answers” forum (“please clear your browser cache, reboot, stand on one leg and rub the top of your head – that should fix it”).
The main degree of customisation you can do is to tweak the settings for what you prefer – click on the gear icon in the top right (above the Top Sites section), and choose whether you want to switch off the feed and just show Top sites or nothing. Some lanugages (not US English, oddly) allow you to choose what your favourite topics are, though deselecting some (and making the surrounding border disappear from the topic) doesn’t actually remove it from your feed – it just makes it a little less prevalent, and not quite immediately.
The gripes being exposed online about the feed tend to be around the nature of the news itself or in the tone and volume of the adverts (like, in the UK, do I really want Microsoft to push dodgy-sounding $30 TV antennae?).
The most annoying ads appear to be served up by Taboola and there doesn’t appear to be a way of blocking them – unless you know differently; then please write up what you did and share the info with me, whereupon kudos will be bestowed in great quantity – so if you don’t want to put up with intrustive click-bait, then your only current option is to basically switch off the feed and go somewhere else for your news (research shows many are using social media as their preferred way of hearing news, though the tide may be turning).
Maybe use a proper news web aggregator site, e.g. Bing news or this little-used one, both of which would let you filter and customise your news sources, or rely on a news app to provide you with even more control or detail (such as MSN News or Feedlab if you’re after getting your news up the RSS).
Now that the Windows 10 Creators Update is generally available, it’s worth looking at some specific new features that may delight users who are upgrading. The Edge browser has been given a bit of an overhaul, so that’s a good place to start.
Battery improvements – as mentioned in ToW 335, Edge browser has been deliberately tuned to work better on battery-powered laptops or tablets, compared to other browsers. Well, following the Creators Update, a further test was run to stream videos until the identical laptops drained all their battery – with Edge outperforming Firefox & Chrome handsomely. YMMV but it’s worth looking at browsing with Edge if you want to get the best out of the time on your laptop.
Tab handling has had some further tweaks, from the ability to set tabs aside for later (and be able to bring them back individually, or all at once), to the enhanced view showing tab previews. Did you know, also, that if you click on a tab and drag it off the window your browser is in, it’ll create a new window with just that tab in it? Handy if you want to have the equivalent of a “boss view” with all your social guff in one window, and all your boring work stuff in another.
Security – there’s some underlying improvement to the way that Edge protects the user from nastiness (well, some of the nastiness) on the internet – see more about it, here.