Microsoft Edge Browser on Linux: Surprisingly good

Microsoft just released its new Chromium-based browser on Linux. Believe it or not, it's quite good.

No one asked Microsoft to port its Edge browser to Linux. Indeed, very few people asked for Edge on Windows. But, here it is. So, how good -- or not -- is it?

First, you should know that the experts always knew Edge would run on Linux. Today's Microsoft Edge isn't the one that first shipped. This model, which went into beta on Windows last year, is built on the open-source Chromium codebase. Besides being the foundation for Google Chrome, Chromium is the bedrock that almost all web browsers, with the exception of Firefox, are built on these days.  So, bringing Edge over to Linux isn't anything as difficult as, say, bringing on-premise Microsoft Office to Linux.

Now, the first beta of Edge on Linux is here. The new release comes ready to run on Ubuntu, Debian, Fedora, and openSUSE Linux distributions. It should run on any Linux using DEB or RPM packaging. Microsoft is planning to release weekly builds, just as it does with the Dev Channel builds for other platforms.

To get started, users can download and install a .deb or .rpm package directly from the Edge Insider site. This also configures a system to get future automatic updates. If you don't trust Microsoft that much, you can also install Edge via Microsoft's Linux Software Repository for Microsoft Products. More detailed instructions are available on Microsoft's Edge-on-Linux blog post

This initial release is meant for developers who want to build and test their sites and apps on Linux. It's not meant for ordinary users. This preview does come with the key web platform and developer tools features. These include core rendering behaviors, extensions, browser DevTools, and test automation features. These should work just as they do with Edge on macOS and Windows.

Some end-user features and services aren't fully enabled. In particular, the initial release only supports local accounts. It doesn't support signing in to Microsoft Edge via a Microsoft Account or Azure Active Directory (AAD) account. Therefore, you also can use features such as syncing your settings and bookmarks, which require you to sign in to a Microsoft service. These features will appear in a future beta.

Since I've been benchmarking web browsers since Mosaic rolled off the bit assembly line, I benchmarked the first Edge browser and Chrome 86 and Firefox 81 on my main Linux production PC. This is a Dell Precision Tower 3431. It's powered by an 8-Core 3GHz Intel Core i7-9700. For graphics, it uses a built-in Intel UHD Graphics 630 chipset. On this, I run my favorite Linux desktop distribution, Linux Mint 20. For networking, the system uses a 100Mbps internet connection via a Gigabit Ethernet switch. 

JETSTREAM 2

First up: JetStream 2.0, which is made up of 64 smaller tests. This JavaScript and WebAssembly benchmark suite focuses on advanced web applications. It rewards browsers that start up quickly, execute code quickly, and run smoothly. Higher scores are better on this benchmark.

JetStream's top-scorer -- drumroll please -- was Edge with 136.971. But, right behind it within the margin of error, was Chrome with a score of 132.413. This isn't too surprising. They are, after all, built on the same platform. Back in the back was Firefox with 102.131.

KRAKEN 1.1

Next up: Kraken 1.1. This benchmark, which is based on the long-obsolete SunSpider, measures JavaScript performance. To this basic JavaScript testing, it added typical use-case scenarios. Mozilla, Firefox's parent organization, created Kraken. With this benchmark, the lower the score, the better the result.

To no great surprise, Firefox took first place here with 810.1 milliseconds (ms). Following it was Chrome with 904.5ms and then Edge with 958.8ms.

OCTANE 2.0

Octane 2.0, Google's JavaScript benchmark, is no longer supported, but it's still a useful benchmark thanks to its scenario testing for interactive web applications. Octane is not Chrome-specific. For example, it tests how fast Microsoft's TypeScript compiles itself. In this benchmark, the higher the score, the better.

On this Google benchmark, Edge took the blue ribbon with a score of 52,149. Right behind it in second place was Chrome with 51,389. Then, way back in last place, you'll find Firefox at 37,405.

WEBXPRT 3.0

The latest version of WebXPRT is today's best browser benchmark. It's produced by the benchmark professionals at Principled Technology This company's executives were the founders of the Ziff Davis Benchmark Operation, the gold-standard of PC benchmarking.

WebXPRT uses scenarios created to mirror everyday tasks. These include Photo Enhancement, Organize Album, Stock Option Pricing, Local Notes, Sales Graphs, and DNA Sequencing. Here, the higher the score, the better the browser.

On this benchmark, Firefox shines. It was an easy winner with a score of 272. Chrome edges out Edge 233 to 230. 

HTML 5 WEB STANDARD

You'd think by 2020, every browser would comply with the HTML 5 web standard, which became a standard in 2014. Nope. You'd be wrong. This "test" isn't a benchmark. It just shows how close each browser comes to being in sync with the HTML 5 standard. A perfect score, which none got, would have been 550.

Here, Chrome and Edge tied for first with 528. Firefox scored 511.

FINAL RESULTS

Oddly, Edge, which turned in a poor performance when I recently benchmarked it on Windows, did well on Linux. Who'd have guessed?

That said, I can't see myself moving to it. No, it's not because I'm still mad at what Microsoft did to Linux as revealed in the Halloween documents of 1998. It's that Chrome is more than fast enough for my purposes and I don't want my information tied into the Microsoft ecosystem. For better or worse, mine's already locked into the Googleverse and I can live with that. 

Honestly, I don't see any compelling performance reasons to switch from Chrome or Firefox to Edge on Linux. I've been happily using Chrome for years now across platforms, and I won't be changing. If you're happy using Firefox or one of the others, go ahead and stick with it. There's no compelling reason to switch to Edge. 

That said, Edge is a good, fast browser on Linux. If you're a Windows user coming over to Linux or you're doing development work aimed at Edge, then by all means try Edge on Linux. It works and it works well. 

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