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Microsoft Previews Extensions for Its Edge Browser

Microsoft unveiled a new extensions capability for its Edge Web browser this week, but it's just available for limited testing.

The extensions capability, which permits applications built by software vendors to integrate with Microsoft's browser, has been a lagging feature ever since Edge had its debut last year. Most browsers, including Microsoft's Internet Explorer-branded browsers, have long had support for extensions, which are popularly used to do things like block Internet advertisements.

The new extensions capability in Edge is only available right now for fast-ring Windows Insider program participants using Windows 10 "build 14291," which Microsoft released yesterday for both PCs and mobile devices. However, Edge extensions just work on Windows 10 PCs right now, according to Gabe Aul, corporate vice president for the engineering systems team at Microsoft.

The "fast-ring" term refers to early program testers. Most Windows Insider testers are part of the default "slow ring" release cycle (see Microsoft's illustration of the concept here). Windows Insider testers can switch rings, if wanted.

The new extensions capability is limited right now to the use of just three add-ons. Available extensions include the Microsoft Translator, Microsoft Mouse Gestures and the Reddit Enhancement Suite. Those extensions have to be "sideloaded" from Microsoft's developer resource page here in order to make them accessible within the Edge browser.

Sideloading extensions is a two-step process. It requires downloading the extension. Next, the "hamburger" menu in the Edge browser is used to open the downloaded extension, which typically sits in Windows 10's download folder.

This somewhat user unfriendly sideloading process likely will change. Microsoft is planning to house Edge extensions in its Windows Store sometime this year.

"When we ship extensions to the public later this year, extensions will be available through the Windows Store, providing users a simple and secure discovery and installation experience," the Microsoft Edge team explained, in a blog post this week.

Microsoft's Edge team had explained last year that it was creating an extensions model for Edge that would be based on HTML and JavaScript. Currently, Microsoft is working with the Worldwide Web Consortium's Browser Extension Community Group to "define standardized extension APIs based on familiar web technologies," according to the Edge team.

The aim of this effort, in part, is to enforce better security for add-ons. Drew DeBruyne, general manager of Microsoft Edge, explained in a blog post this week that "our experience over the past 20 years has taught us that poorly written or even malicious add-ons were a huge source of security, reliability and performance issues for browsers."

Developers have to meet certain criteria for their apps to be housed in the Windows Store. It will serve as a security screen of sorts, although Microsoft also takes a percentage from developer profits.

More Windows Store details will be coming soon. The Edge team indicated that Microsoft plans to "share more details on our extension APIs and the path to the Store at Build 2016 and Microsoft Edge Web Summit." Those two events will kick off at the end of this month and on April 4, respectively.

Other extensions are in the works. DeBruyne said that "later this year customers will find popular extensions from partners like AdBlock, Adblock Plus, Amazon, LastPass, Evernote and more."

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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