Microsoft’s Edge—The Brink of a New Age for Your Website?

Along with its reputation for being two or three steps behind other browsers, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer (IE) has long infuriated web developers around the world for its quirky and inconsistent rendering of modern web sites. Sites that looked perfectly good in IE version 9 could look terrible in IE 10, and by the time web developers figured out how to make their sites look good in IE 10, along came IE 11, and the whole cycle started again. There was little that web developers could do besides deploy multiple versions of the same code for different browsers and for different versions of IE, so their sites would look good everywhere.

So if your friendly neighborhood web developer seems a little distracted these days, it’s probably from losing sleep over Microsoft’s latest browser, Edge, released with Windows 10. Reportedly designed and built from the ground up, Edge (according to Microsoft’s claims) is not only much faster than IE, it’s faster than the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, and Safari—and packs some nifty features to enhance the browsing experience.

This is all well and good for the end user, but what about the poor beleaguered web developer? Does Edge finally make life easier for developers, or is it yet another cycle of browser-specific development and tweaking?

Incremental Change

Opinions vary, of course, but most in the web development community seem to think that from a development standpoint, Edge represents an incremental improvement at best. Much of the rendering code from IE was brought forward to Edge, and reports indicate that only slightly more of the current Cascading Style Sheets, HTML5, and JavaScript standards are supported compared to IE 11. The emphasis seems to have been on increasing speed rather than increasing compatibility.

New-Ish Developer Tools

Edge introduces a number of “new” tools for developers, such as the Document Object Model (DOM) Explorer, the Console, and a mobile emulation tool. “New” is in quotation marks here because although they are new to the Microsoft web browser ecosystem, they have been available for some time in Chrome and Firefox. So although these tools aren’t really new, having them does make development for Edge a bit easier than for IE.

No Extensions

Microsoft did some housecleaning in the extensions department with Edge, getting rid of support for a large number of legacy extensions, many of which were for third-party objects that are no longer available. The remaining extensions are…none. (At least for now.) Of particular note is the end of support for ActiveX controls—once widely used, but long since rendered obsolete. Some legacy websites that use still use ActiveX controls may finally have to bite the bullet and go through a redesign, but given the security vulnerabilities of ActiveX, this is probably a good thing.

Trust, but Verify

Given the—let’s call it continued, if not earth shattering—progress toward support for modern web standards, it seems the vast majority of website owners and their developers have little to fear from Edge—most sites will render just fine in the new browser and should load much faster than in IE.

However, as always when new browsers pop up, it never hurts to test your site to make sure there are no surprises. As a website owner or developer, you should always try to find problems before the site visitors do. Ignoring Edge won’t make it go away—millions of users have already upgraded to Windows 10, and most new PCs and laptops will now come with the new OS and its browser pre-installed.

Although we have not yet reached the point of universal, complete support for current web standards by all browsers, where web developers don’t have to worry about cross-browser quirks, we seem to be slowly getting there. Your web developer should sleep better at night.