Microsoft rejoins the browser wars with fledgling Edge extensions

Microsoft rejoins the browser wars with fledgling Edge extensions
Credit: Wikimedia

New Windows 10 Insider beta, build 14291, shows small improvements with Edge's newfound ability to run Chrome-like extensions

The latest beta of Windows 10, build 14291, brings two worthwhile new Edge features -- extensions and pinnable tabs -- as well as a greatly improved Map app, a Japanese one-handed kana touch keyboard, and minor changes to the UI for Alarms & Clock.

Windows spokesperson Gabe Aul published his usual list of features on the Windows Experience blog.

If you use the Map app, the latest changes will compensate for the disappearance of Here. But for most people, the key change with build 14921 is Edge's newfound ability to run Chrome-like extensions. Users have been expecting that capability since last November (some of us were hoping to get it last July), and now it's here. But the implementation is underwhelming at best.

Users who were expecting a Chrome- or Firefox-like experience will be disappointed. Some day you'll be able to pick up Edge extensions in the Windows Store, but for the time being you will have to download them from a developer website and sideload them. The instructions are confusing because the screenshots don't match the product, and it isn't clear when to switch from dealing with the download to wrestling with Edge's Ellipsis icon. (Tip: The Run command is at the bottom, with the downloader; the More command is in the upper-right corner of Edge.)

The new Edge ships with three extensions: a page translator, a mouse gesture overlay, and a port of the Reddit Enhancement Suite (RES makes it easier to absorb even more of Reddit at a glance). Each extension works in unique ways.

Microsoft's Mouse Gesture extension adds right-click navigation to Edge: right-click and swipe down to move the page down, right-click and swipe left to go to the previous page, and many more. You can put a Mouse Gesture icon on your address bar: After sideloading the extension, click on the Ellipsis icon, then Extensions, pick Mouse Gestures, then slide "Show button next to the address bar" to On. Once the button is on the address bar, you can click it and customize the actions taken with any specific gesture.

Once the Microsoft Translator extension is installed, the icon appears next to the address bar whenever you venture to a non-English site. Click on the Translator icon and the whole page is translated. In my experiments with the Thai language, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the Microsoft Translator translation is considerably better than the Bing translator in side-by-side comparisons. 

The RES extension automatically kicks in RES whenever you go to the Reddit website. I can't find a way to change that behavior, short of uninstalling the extension. I didn't see any difference between the new RES in Edge and the old RES in Chrome, although Microsoft lists four known bugs in the downloaded readme file. This is the only extension of the three that was developed by a team outside Microsoft.

We're promised that "later this year customers will find popular extensions from partners like AdBlock, Adblock Plus, Amazon, LastPass, Evernote and more." You have to wonder why the developers in question are having such a hard time getting their extensions to work -- and how much "later" the new extensions will be.

I'm starting to think Windows 10 Redstone 1 may miss its (reported) June deadline specifically because Edge extensions won't be ready. What we're seeing now is a fledgling attempt, at best.

The other Edge improvements -- pinning tabs and Paste and Go -- work exactly the same way as they do in Chrome. (For example, copy a URL to the clipboard, right-click inside the address bar, choose Paste and Go, and Edge goes to the website. I've always used Ctrl-V, but it's nice to include the right-clickers.)

This is definitely a step in the right direction. Some day Edge may actually be useful.

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