I tried Microsoft's new browser on my MacBook and got a peculiar surprise

Could anyone possibly be excited by, or even interested in, a new browser. I tried the new Microsoft Edge on my MacBook Air and examined my feelings.
Written by Chris Matyszczyk, Contributing Writer

Please lie down on my newly-upholstered purple chaise-longue, clutch at this small glass of Moscatel and answer me this: How did you decide which browser to use?

I'm not sure too many people would have an instant response.

Nor to this one: Do you remember the moment when you switched from Safari to Firefox? Or Firefox to Chrome? Or from Internet Explorer to Dear-God-anything-else.

I can remember using Internet Explorer in long-gone times. Soon, it just felt dreary, which is quite an achievement for a browser.

I can then remember being long loyal to Firefox before its inability to handle video -- at the time -- thrust me into the slightly grubby clutches of Google's browser. It was evidently better and quicker. But I only used it to watch videos. I wasn't going to give Google my whole life. I preferred, of course, for Google to take it anyway with its myriad of intrusive tentacles.

Eventually, Firefox caught up, I went to confession and returned full-time to the browser with a sliver of a soul.  

Last week, however, Microsoft suddenly thrust a new Edge beneath my eyes. Despite it being based on Google's open-source Chromium, it turned my head. Why not, I thought, experiment a little? Why not see if it could play with my relatively new and already decrepit MacBook Air.

I stare at a browser for a considerable part of my day. I know it's supposed to be unobtrusive, yet I'm always hoping some peculiarly imaginative force will reinvent elements of technology that have become foundational. 

The first stroke of imagination was the last I'd expected. As I began the downloading process, I got this peculiar greeting: Pobierz nowa przegladarke Microsoft Edge.


Well, I never.

Screenshot by ZDNet

Yes, I have a funny name. This is somewhat related to the fact my parents were uncompromising Poles. However, I've never set any default for the Polish language. I speak Polish, but, despite several reader inquiries over the years, English is my most natural language. 

I smell the dastardly machination of artificial intelligence. Or lack of it. What peculiar robot programmed this thing?

Even more peculiar, however, was that the rest of the downloading instructions were in English.

Once past this absurdity, I encountered disappointment. The new Microsoft Edge looks like, oh, a browser. Any other browser. Every other browser. You'll tell me this is because it hews so closely to Chrome. And I'll still tell you I wish someone at Microsoft had injected a little more art to this thing.

Nevertheless, this was the first time I'd experimented with a browser for years, so I delved further into its bowels. 

The minute I started to waft along a few web pages, one thing seemed clear: this was perceptibly faster. Unlike, say, watching T-Mobile's 5G phones in action, I was genuinely moved by the swift access to web pages.

It seemed as if the amount of time new Edge was taking to find the pages was quicker and, when it did, it whipped them onto the screen with haste. Which made me wonder why Microsoft hadn't chosen a new name for this browser. Microsoft Scroogle, perhaps.

Digging deeper, I noticed that Microsoft has, at least, set some privacy boundaries. The default for the new Edge is the so-called Balanced setting. It blocks trackers from sites you've never been to, means ads may be less personalized -- many advertisers still think I'm a woman -- yet leaves sites to work as they should.

You can set things for stricter, or less strict. It's pleasing, though, that the default isn't: "Oh, just let us do whatever we want. You know you don't really care." Which is what I associate with Google. 

Google is claiming it's seeing the privacy light, but have you noticed that on Chrome you have to click on the Advanced tab before you get to any Privacy setting information? With the new Edge, Privacy and Services is near the top of Preferences.

I hear you wailing that I should be using Safari. For some quirk of my inner workings, I've always found Safari a touch ugly, at least on desktop. (And we're only talking about desktop here.) 

There was one more setting on the new Edge that offered a tiny element of inspiration and a large dollop of despair.

This was the New Tab page. There are four settings for the look of the page. Aside from the custom setting, new Edge offers Focused, Inspirational and Informational. 

Perhaps most troubling when I clicked on the Inspirational setting was that it offered not only Office but Facebook as seemingly default instant-access buttons. Office, I can understand. Facebook only inspires strange, sickly feelings in my innards. I try never to go there. Where had this come from? 

Ultimately, this was a relatively pleasing experience. Indeed, I've written this column in the new Edge and it's been heartily smooth. Quick, too.

Would it make me desert the noble idealists at Mozilla? Sadly, it's possible. 

Then again, I absent-mindedly performed a search on the new Edge by merely typing in the browser.

What emerged? Bing.

Ah. Oh. 

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