Enlarge /. Edge's "inspiring" page layout – which basically just means "hitting a pretty background image on it" – isn't our favorite for everyday use. However, this gives a nice screenshot.
It's no secret that we've been excited about Microsoft's new Chromium-based Edge browser for some time now. However, this enthusiasm was largely limited to "a standard Windows browser that is not annoying", rather than the particularly convincing functions that the new Edge offers for the browser ecosystem.
In a popular announcement this week, Microsoft politely stated its determination to raise our expectations from "doesn't suck" to somewhere on the "oh, wow" level. Microsoft Corporate Vice President Liat Ben-Zur has spent a lot of time getting excited about the way the new features appear to be changing their lives.
Unfortunately, despite their use of the present day, most of them are not yet available – even on the Canary Islands' Edge Insider channel.
Marginal collections are a convenient way to group a number of websites and richly formatted notes. They can be saved, exported and released directly.
When you create collections, they are added to a top-level list, making it easier for you to pick up your space later on with a specific project or task.
In addition to clicking "Add Current Page" to add new websites to a collection, right-clicking links displays a context menu option.
This animated GIF from Monday's announcement shows the basics of creating and adding to an Edge collection.
If you ever work with a number of loosely related websites for a specific task or project, collections can help you keep everything together. We took a quick turn and the utility was obvious: you can easily create and manage lists of websites with thumbnails and easy-to-read titles.
The Collections button is located on the browser toolbar and looks like a pair of folders with a plus sign. When you click on it, a right sidebar opens with a list of all collections that have already been created. When you click on a collection, it is focused and a list of websites with unique titles and thumbnails is displayed. The site order in the collection can be managed by simply dragging and dropping. You can also insert notepads in rich text format using the Add Note button above.
Although collections are not yet widely available in the normal version of Edge, you can find them on both the Edge Insider Dev and Canary channels.
Edge immersive readers
Immersive Reader mode removes most of the distracting elements from a page, giving you consistently formatted text and some images.
Immersive Reader mode is activated by clicking an icon in the address bar itself that looks like a speaker in front of an open book.
The Immersive Reader button is not displayed on all pages. For example, it is missing from the list of articles on my own author page.
The reading function is very well implemented – and frankly a lot of fun playing.
We didn't really like the line focus function, which allows you to dim the entire page except for a few lines. The highlight area remains physically in place as you scroll text through it with the mouse wheel.
Edge's ability to precisely break words down into syllables and highlight different types of words on the fly is impressive.
The immersive reading mode, accessed with an open book icon and speaker in the address bar, is not available on all websites. For example, there was no immersive reader button on the Ars homepage or on my own author page. However, it was available for all individual articles, and that's where I did most of my experiments.
At first glance, Immersive Reader is reminiscent of Google's amp project, in which websites are reduced to the essentials – consistently formatted text and important images. Like Amp, the feature isn't 100 percent perfect – even though it shows the lede image of a Focal Fossa in one of my last Ubuntu articles, for example, the screenshot galleries scattered through the article are completely hidden.
However, Immersive Reader offers much more than a simple, reduced view. You can quickly change the text size and spacing and choose from a fairly wide range of color schemes. Under "Reading Settings" Immersive Reader also offers a line focus function, with which all but a few lines in the middle of the page are drastically blocked, as well as a so-called "picture dictionary". I found the line focus feature to be quite uncomfortable and the picture dictionary appeared to be broken – so it didn't seem to change anything on the page.
The grammar tools in the next part of Immersive Reader's main menu were much more interesting. In this way, you can split all words on the page into individual syllables and / or highlight all words of a certain part of the word – nouns, verbs, adjectives or adverbs. If you speak the language in which a page is written fluently for adults, this is little more than a curiosity. However, when you try to learn a new language or when young children learn to read, the benefits are obvious.
Finally, the Immersive Reader mode offers a "Read aloud" button. I was very impressed with how well this function was performed. The standard voice – "Microsoft Jessa Online (Natural)" – is clear, clear and pleasant, with just enough artificiality to avoid the vocal version of the eerie valley effect.
The reader highlights each word as it is spoken – which makes it as convincing for new and learning readers as it is for the disabled – and I have not misunderstood to say anything in my own very technical articles. It naturally fell back on reading individual letters on unusual technical terms (such as zsys) and reading them at the natural, somewhat accelerated human pace that would normally be an initialization.
If you're not a fan of Microsoft Jessa, you have 24 other options, some of which sound more natural than others. I found Microsoft XiaoXiao – a female voice from mainland China – quite charming. For the most part, XiaoXiao only read my articles in perfect English with a mild Chinese accent – but she read all the numbers in the text in rapid-fire mandarin.
Finally, you can adjust the speed of the reader – which is not only useful, it's just fun to play with for a while. Set on the far right, Jessa spat out paragraphs of technical data, like Mac Lethal, who patted pancakes. Set to the far left, it sounded unexpectedly drunk. If you've never had a happily drunk robot reading your own words, I recommend the experience.
Immersive Reader, like Collections, is not yet included in the generally available version of Edge – but it is available in Edge Insider's Canary and Dev channels and is worth a look.
From Ubuntu's point of view, vertical tabs were an obvious feature that you could punch yourself in the head once I saw them.
Vertical tabs are one of those features that you use to warp and wonder why you never thought of it. Simply put, the tab bar is on the left instead of the top of the browser. The fixed width per tab offers enough space to distinguish which side is which.
If you open more tabs than you have for screen areas, you can scroll up and down through the list. Tabs can be clicked, dragged up and down in the list and even selected multiple times to drag entire groups up and down in the list. There's nothing more than that – it's an obvious feature that uses the available screen space in modern landscape displays in the most sensible way.
Linux users who see this feature become an even more visceral "Why didn't I think of it ?!" More responsive than most, as side-mounted desktop launchers in Unity and Gnome have been retrofitters for many years and for the same reasons.
Unfortunately, vertical tabs are not yet available to the general public – not even in Canary or Dev builds.
Smart Copy is simple in concept, if not in code – it keeps HTML formatting cleaner than you are used to.
There's not much to say about Smart Copy – simply put, it's a box-bound, non-text-based copy operation where the original HTML formatting seems to stay much cleaner than we're used to.
Smart Copy is not yet available, so let's take Ben-Zur's word for now. She tells us that Smart Copy should appear on insider channels sometime next month.
Enhancements to password monitoring, tracking protection, and InPrivate
Password Monitor is an opt-in service that automatically hashes passwords and compares the hashes with known dumps.
Password Monitor is another feature that is not yet available. It is an opt-in service that automatically hashes every entry in a password field and compares the hash to a cloud service that indexes known password dumps. If the hash of your password matches the hash of a known leaked password, Password Monitor opens a warning dialog and you can view more information and choose a more secure password.
The new tracking protection is immediately familiar to Firefox users and follows a similar template. Blocking trackers can be put in a simple, balanced, or strict mode. Users can set exceptions, change blocking behavior in InPrivate mode, and view a list of blocked trackers. Even the default setting of the block – the most forgiving – blocks "known malicious" trackers, although there is no immediately obvious definition of what makes Edge think a tracker is "harmful" or harmless.
The promised improvements to InPrivate mode were not at all clear in Monday's blog post – vague promises that InPrivate sessions and web searches will be deleted when closed and "not tied to me or my account" do not appear to be different from the existing private ones to distinguish / InPrivate / Incognito modes that we have been used to in browsers for many years.
High Definition Netflix
If you see a lot of Netflix on your Windows 10 PC and have a 4K monitor and popping surround system, you've just found your favorite web browser – Microsoft has partnered with Netflix and the streaming giant offers Microsoft Edge – and Microsoft Edge only – on Windows 10 now 4K resolution, Dolby Audio and Dolby Vision.
If you're wondering why 4K videos, other than currency exchange, are available in one browser but not another, your guess is as good as mine. If 4K Netflix on PC is the killer feature you've longed for, you now have at least one option.
Ben-Zur says this feature is now available.