Microsoft Touts Edge Browser Improvements in Windows 10 Creators Update

The Microsoft Edge browser will get some improvements with the Windows 10 "creators update," which is expected to arrive sometime this spring.

There will be enhancements for end users, along with standards support for Web application developers. Many of the improvements are showing up now for "fast-ring" Windows Insider Program testers. Some Edge features will make the "Redstone 2" (creators update) release of Windows 10, which is thought to be arriving in April.

Microsoft Edge might not be seeing a lot of action among browsers, though. The U.S. government's Digital Analytics Program, which just tracks government Web site visits, mostly from within the United States, reported Microsoft Edge use at 3.6 percent over the last 90 days. Google's Chrome browser led the pack with 44.3 percent, followed by Safari (25.9 percent) and Internet Explorer (15.2 percent), according to those government stats.

The 3.6 percent use rate for Microsoft Edge, as reported by the Digital Analytics Program, is lower than Net Applications' 5.3 percent figure for December 2016. However, StatCounter's estimate is even lower, with Edge use pegged at 1.6 percent in December.

Planned for Creators Update
On the end user side, the Microsoft Edge browser will have the ability to preview multiple open tabs in a thumbnail view when the Windows 10 creators update arrives, Microsoft announced on Tuesday. Open tabs can be set aside as a group, to be revisited later, which Microsoft sees as a way of staying organized and not losing tabs. A screenshot in Microsoft's announcement showed that tab collections can be saved from different time periods, such as "yesterday," "3 hours ago" and "just now."

Users possibly will be able to block Flash use with the Windows 10 creators update. Microsoft had announced this capability back in December, but it wasn't mentioned in its announcements on Tuesday. The Microsoft Edge browser already has the capability to automatically pause Flash ad content that's not deemed essential.

Developers can expect to see Content Security Policy Level 2 (CSP2) support in Microsoft Edge when the Windows 10 creators update is released. CSP2 is a World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)-recommended approach that's designed to help ward off content injection attacks, as well as cross-site scripting exploits, because developers can "lock down the resources that can be used by their web application," Microsoft explained, in a Jan. 10 blog post. Essentially, developers tag the "allowed source URL values" in their code. Scripts that don't match the source criteria so specified will not get downloaded.

Developers also will see WebRTC 1.0 API support in the Edge browser coming with the Windows 10 creators update, Microsoft explained, in a second announcement on Tuesday. In essence, Microsoft will enable video and audio communications in peer-to-peer scenarios, such as Skype calls between devices, which will work "across browsers and platforms." The WebRTC 1.0 addition is considered by Microsoft to be "legacy" support, based on the 2015 W3C standard. Going forward, Microsoft wants developers to consider using the Object Real-Time Communications (ORTC) approach instead. Microsoft added ORTC support to the Edge browser back in 2015.

"Our intent is to support more recent versions of the WebRTC 1.0 API via the adapter.js library, which exposes the latest version of the WebRTC 1.0 API on top of ORTC," a Microsoft spokesperson explained, via e-mail. "Using this approach we will be able to provide complete support for recent versions of the WebRTC 1.0 API, enabling advanced audio/video functionality."

Microsoft Edge also will get support for the "H.264/AVC and VP8 video codecs" for real-time communications (RTC). The added support "means video communications are now interoperable between Microsoft Edge and other major WebRTC browsers and RTC services." There's one caveat from Microsoft on the support for VP8, an open source codec fostered by Google. Its use in Microsoft Edge may consume more power and CPU cycles because the VP8 codec is purely implemented in software.

"If your application uses VP8, we recommend testing on lower-end devices to ensure acceptable performance," Microsoft cautioned.

Microsoft also plans to bring Brotli compression to the Edge browser with the Windows 10 creators update release. It's a lossless data compression format spearheaded by the Internet Engineering Taskforce. Brotli compression is expected to improve browser load times because of "20% better compression ratios," Microsoft explained, in its Dec. 20 announcement.

Future Plans
Microsoft also mentioned some still-to-come Microsoft Edge improvements for end users that presently are at the "early stages." It seems that these improvements will not make the Windows 10 creators update release.

The Edge browser is being designed to support 3D "virtual and mixed reality." Microsoft is working to add WebVR support, which is described as an "experimental JavaScript API" for virtual reality devices.

Another capability under development is the ability to buy electronic books from the Windows Store using the Microsoft Edge browser. Microsoft is testing the ability to control "font sizes, layouts, themes, navigation control, Cortana integration and more."

Microsoft is also working on a payment checkout service using Microsoft Wallet on Windows 10 devices that will work with the Edge browser. It's a PayPal-like service that fills in payment and shipping information for online purchases.

Lastly, Microsoft touted its Microsoft Edge Extensions partner ecosystem. It's still a small ecosystem, though. At press time, the Microsoft Store listed 22 extensions in total.

Missing in action among Microsoft's various Edge announcements this week was any mention of Windows Defender Application Guard for Microsoft Edge. It's a virtual machine browser security feature planned for the Windows 10 Enterprise edition that got highlighted during Microsoft's Ignite event in September. Back then, it was mentioned that Windows Defender Application Guard would be broadly available sometime in 2017. Future details will be coming in the Microsoft Edge dev blog, the Microsoft spokesperson stated.

A more complete listing of features under development and under consideration for Microsoft Edge can be found at Microsoft's platform status page.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.


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