At this week’s Microsoft Inspire conference in Las Vegas, the company announced some impressive improvements to my new favorite browser, the Chromium version of Edge. I’ve become a huge fan of the new Chromium version of the Microsoft Edge browser, which is still in beta test. The reason is that I really missed the one browser-does-it-all aspect of old Internet Explorer; before this new browser, I was actively switching between IE, Edge, Google’s Chrome browser and Firefox, depending on what I wanted to do.
Now I’m pretty much back to one browser, and while there have been a few minor issues, generally this thing has massively exceeded my expectations for a finished blend of Microsoft and Google technology--let alone a beta product.
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But, to reach its potential, this browser must not only address our personal needs but the needs of the companies we work for. At the Inspire event, that second shoe dropped.
Fast, Seamless Updates
Now this is counterintuitive, given that IT doesn’t want daily updates. In general, IT would prefer products that remained static for years. Sadly, we just don’t live in a world where it is safe to leave any product--let alone one that is externally focused like a browser--untouched for extended periods. So, since the goal of leaving it alone is unsustainable, Microsoft has instead made patching far less painful and done that across all the platforms it supports. Those platforms include Apple Mac and iOS and Google’s Android. Apparently, Microsoft had to rebuild its engineering, deployment and update systems to make this happen. And, while I could argue this should have been done some time ago, it is good that this process finally received the focus it needed.
Now the flow of updates can be controlled, but remember, updates often are aimed at addressing new security concerns, and delaying them could open the company up to attack. Thus I’d advise using this tool sparingly and instead adjusting to a faster update cycle. It isn’t Microsoft we need to thwart; it is the growing list of ever-more-powerful attackers.
Still it is important to test, particularly in the case of a major change, and provisions have been added to use tools such as System Center Configuration Manager and Intune work so they work more seamlessly and provide IT with the control they need.
One of the reasons a lot of us had to keep both IE and Google Chrome as peer browsers was because enterprises--who don’t like change--locked down on IE around two decades ago and then refused to move. This meant that browsers like Google Chrome that worked fine on the outside sucked on the inside of companies, and that meant we needed at least two browsers.
Now old Edge had IE mode, but given there wasn’t a lot of native Edge support, IE often tended to just work better. Old Edge had compatibility issues both inside and outside an enterprise. So, this new Chromium-based Edge has a better IE mode, and I haven’t had to load IE since I started using the new Edge beta.
The Edge browser always has had a security focus, given that it was targeted at business (kind of ironic, really, given the lack of adoption). The new Chromium-based Edge browser will gain these features with updates; they include the Microsoft Defender SmartScreen (protects against phishing, malware, and scams), Application Guard (isolates general browsing into a container protecting corporate assets), Azure AD Conditional Access (balances productivity with policy based access control) and Microsoft Information Protection (provides policy-based limits on what users can do with the information they access).
It is interesting to note that security was a late addition to browser features, but it is arguably the most important, yet still seemingly undervalued, component by users now. This is something we should likely be focused more on fixing than we are (by this I mean the users’ security priorities).
Concepts such as single sign-on are flowing through this browser and, as you would expect, it supports Azure Active Directory for work and school accounts. This provides for syncing user favorites among all the devices using this same browser (once again this is across Apple, Google and Microsoft ecosystems). Enterprise-focused NTP (New Tab Page) is an interesting feature that provides fast access to the information users need. People immediately see the tabs they use most--be they corporate, personal or random web sites.
This feature even included Office 365-recommended content. In addition, Microsoft Search is more tightly connected to the browser, and its reach (if fully integrated) can include both internal and external sources, which are increasingly curated by the Microsoft AI. On this last Administrators can even customize the results for specific use cases (of course finding an administrator that can, and wants, to do this may be problematic).
This was mostly driven by the consumer side of this effort, but it flows across the enterprise solution. Users get better control of their data and more transparency into the sites they are visiting. A lot of the focus, however, is on tracking prevention to make sure a site doesn’t gain access to your digital history and/or your future browsing activity when you visit it. This is an interesting balance, because some of this tracking improves the user experience by allowing sites to highlight things they know that interests you. As a result, this is a work in progress, because maintaining this balance between a result you like and one you don’t is exceedingly difficult.
Wrapping Up: Into the Future
The new Microsoft Edge browser based on Chromium is an impressive product that has clearly won me over. This latest set of improvements is focused on the enterprise user and seems to cover the gamut ranging from security and privacy, to ease of use, productivity, and control. But there is more coming. Future enhancements Microsoft showcased at Inspire include enhanced information protection (Microsoft Information Protection), expansion to 110 different languages, deeper integration with Microsoft’s deployment tools, and stronger PDF support for Digital Signatures.
I should point out this is a lot for a product that hasn’t even been released yet. If you haven’t tried it, check it out, I think you’ll be impressed.
Rob Enderle is a principal at Enderle Group. He is an award-winning analyst and a longtime contributor to QuinStreet publications and Pund-IT.