The new Microsoft Edge: 10 rules to take control of your browser

The default settings for Microsoft's new browser could stand a little tweaking. Here's how to get rid of annoying notification prompts, block trackers, customize the new tab page, and more.

How to take control of the new Microsoft Edge browser Microsoft just released its new Chromium-based browser to the general public. ZDNet’s Ed Bott offers some essential tweaks. Read more: https://zd.net/2Oh30Ib

It's official: Microsoft has released its new Edge browser, built using the Chromium open source code base to the stable channel. The new Edge is available for all supported Windows versions (Windows 7 and later) as well as on MacOS.

On any platform, you can download the new Edge from www.microsoftedge.com. It's a relatively small download and a quick install.

On Windows 10, your legacy Edge browser will be automatically upgraded to the new Edge if you're running a retail version of Windows, but that automatic upgrade won't happen on commercial editions (Enterprise and Server) or on systems where the user has signed in using Active Directory or Azure Active Directory.

You can just dive in and start using the new Edge, but I recommend making a few tweaks first. Most of the steps I outline below apply to all versions, but I've specifically focused on Windows 10 in this post.

Note that you can configure most of the Edge options I describe here by clicking the three dots in the top right corner of the browser window (or pressing Alt+F)and then choosing Settings from the Edge menu. In the following sections, I've used the edge://settings shortcuts that allow you to jump straight to a specific section.

Fine-tune your default browser settings

When you install the new Edge, you're prompted to make it your default browser. You can accept or reject that option, and you can change your mind at any time afterward.

To change your default browser setting in Windows 10, go to Settings > Apps > Default Apps. Click the name under the Web Browser heading to change the current default.

Next, at the bottom of the Default Apps page, click Set Defaults By App, then click the name of your default browser. That option gives you more granular control over browser settings, such as the ability to specify that you want a different app to open PDF files, for example.

So why, even after you've configured your preferred app to open PDFfiles, do they still open in Edge? There's another setting you need to tweak. Go to Edge Settings > Site Permissions > PDF Documents (edge://settings/content/pdfDocuments) and turn on Always Open PDF Files Externally.

Sync browser data between devices

When you use Edge on multiple devices, you have the option to sync browsing data across those devices. The sync feature requires that you sign in with either a Microsoft account or an Azure Active Directory account, which unlocks the Sync settings.

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If you sign in with an online account, you can choose what you want to sync.

In the initial Stable channel release (January 2020), you can customize sync to include Favorites, browser settings, form-filling data (such as addresses and contact information), and passwords. Future releases will add options to sync collections (already available in the Dev channel), browser history, open tabs, and extensions.

To customize sync settings, click your profile picture in the upper right corner of the browser window, click Manage Profile Settings, and then click Sync, or go straight to edge://settings/profiles/sync. Pro tip: If you use a third-party password manager, turn the Passwords Sync setting off.

Add user profiles

If you'd prefer to keep some of your browsing activities separate from others, set up multiple user profiles. You can add as many profiles as you like, and you can choose to connect each profile to an online account or use the profile without signing in.

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Click the three dots to edit the profile name and picture or remove it completely.

To add a new profile, click the profile picture in the upper right corner of the browser window (or open the Profiles page directly using edge://settings/profiles/), and then click Add Profile. If you sign in using a Microsoft account or Azure AD credentials, you can turn on sync for the new profile.

Edge assigns a default profile name based on how you sign in, picking up the picture associated with the account you use to sign in. To change the profile settings, open the Profiles page and then click the three dots to the left of the Sign In/Sign Out button, as shown here.

You can customize the profile name and add a custom icon for profiles that aren't associated with an online account. To change your picture on profiles associated with online accounts, you have to use the profile tools for that account.

Block trackers and third-party ads

Probably the single most important feature in the new Edge is its support for the Tracking Prevention feature (not to be confused with the old, ineffectual Do Not Track setting).

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Turn this switch to Off to disable Tracking Prevention for a site. 

In the default Balanced mode, Tracking Prevention blocks most third-party trackers from sites you haven't visited, as well as "known harmful trackers." Go to Settings > Privacy and Services and change this setting to Strict if you want to block third-party trackers, even from sites you've visited. Note that this option effectively works as an ad blocker.

Occasionally, you might find a site that breaks when the Strict setting is on. The quickest way to troubleshoot that sort of problem is to click the padlock icon in the address bar and then, under the Tracking Protection heading, turn the switch to Off.

That automatically adds an entry for that site under the Tracking Prevention Exceptions heading. Turn the switch back to On to remove the exception from the list.

Install extensions from the Chrome Web Store

Because the new Edge is based on the Chromium open source project, it supports extensions written for other Chromium-based browsers. That includes the Chrome Web Store, which means if you have a favorite Chrome extension, you can install it in the new Edge.

Before you can install extensions from other sources, you have to configure Edge to allow this option. You can do this by going to edge://extensions and flipping the Allow Extensions From Other Stores switch in the lower left corner; if you forget to do this before you visit a third-party extension store, you'll see a banner that lets you turn it on.

After that's done, you can download, install, and use extensions from that store.

Customize the New Tab page

When you open a new tab (by pressing Ctrl+T or by clicking the plus sign to the right of the current group of tabs), Edge displays a default page that aggressively links to Microsoft services. You can customize that page by clicking the gear icon at the top of the New Tab page.

You have three default options:

  • Focused includes a search box and a group of customizable Quick Link boxes that you can associate with shortcuts to web pages. When you scroll the page, you see content from Microsoft News.
  • Inspirational adds the daily Bing background image to that layout.
  • Informational moves the Microsoft News content to the main page.

A fourth option, Custom, allows you to hide everything but the search box, which uses Microsoft's Bing and can't be assigned to a different search engine. (See the next section for more on how to get around that setting.)

When you sign in to Edge using an Azure AD account associated with an Office 365 Business or Enterprise subscription, you can replace the Microsoft News content with shortcuts to Office 365 documents and services, but the Custom option isn't available.

If none of those options appeals to you, your best recourse is to find an extension that takes over the New Tab function. This set of extensions from the Chrome Web Store is a good starting point.

Set your search engine

It should not be surprising that Microsoft's new browser sets Microsoft's Bing as the default service to handle search requests and suggestions when you enter a search term in the address bar.

If you prefer to use a different search engine for those requests, open Edge Settings > Privacy and Services. Scroll to the very bottom of the tab and click the arrow to the right of the Address Bar heading. You can use any of the predefined search engines, including Google, Yahoo, and DuckDuckGo, or click Manage Search Engines to add a custom search option.

Note that the service you select here does not apply to the search box on New Tab pages you configure using Microsoft's default options. You'll need to use a third-party extension (such as Infinity New Tab or Infinite Dashboard) to replace those options.

Block notifications

Modern web designers have fallen in love with the option to push notifications through the browser, and the new Edge prompts you to allow or block those notifications the first time you visit one of those sites (and yes, ZDNet is one of those sites).

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Turn this switch off to prevent sites from annoying you with "Allow notifications?" prompts.

Once you make a choice, Edge adds that site to the Blocked or Allowed list. But if you'd prefer not to see any notifications, you can do that. Open the Site Permissions page in Edge Settings (edge://settings/content) and click Notifications.

Slide the Ask Before Sending switch to the Off position and you will no longer be prompted by any site. Any sites that you have already allowed or blocked will remain on the respective lists.

Pro tip: If you want to receive notifications from a site, you don't have to add it manually; instead, turn the Ask Before Sending switch back on temporarily, visit the site and click Allow when you see the notifications prompt, and then turn Ask Before Sending off again.

Manage saved passwords

Like all modern browsers, the new Edge includes a capable and secure password manager. If you're signed in using an online account, you can sync those passwords between devices (including mobile devices).

To configure this built-in password manager, go to edge://settings/passwords. There, you can turn the password manager on or off by using the Offer To Save Passwords switch; a second switch allows you to configure whether Edge signs you in automatically using saved passwords.

All of your currently saved sign-in credentials are listed under the Saved Passwords heading. Click the eyeball icon to view the password for a specific site (you'll need to enter your Windows password or use Windows Hello to confirm your identity). Click the three dots to the right of an entry to view details, reveal a password and copy it to the Clipboard, or delete that entry.

Note that turning Offer To Save Passwords off allows you to continue to use existing saved passwords. If you want to get rid of all the saved passwords for your current profile, use the Clear Browsing Data option on the Privacy and Services page in Edge Settings. Click Choose What To Clear, select All Time from the Time Range box, and select the Passwords box (be sure to clear any other boxes first). Click Clear Now to complete the removal.

After clearing the saved passwords, be sure to confirm that the option to sync passwords to your user profile is also turned off.

Pro tip: If you use a third-party password manager, check whether it has an option to take over the role of password manager. 1Password, for example, has a setting to make it the default password manager, but you have to enable this option manually after installing the 1Password extension.

Set up download locations

By default, any files you download using the new Edge go into the Downloads folder in your user profile. To choose a different default folder, go to edge://settings/downloads, click Change, and choose the folder you prefer instead.

If you'd rather be prompted for the folder in which to save every download, slide the Ask Where To Save Each File Before Downloading switch to the On position.