Microsoft Unveils Edge for Business plus Copilot AI Integration
Microsoft this week described a bunch of Microsoft Edge browser enhancements as part of its Build developer event announcements.
Microsoft is previewing a new "Microsoft Edge for Business" for organizations, as well as Microsoft Edge Workspaces for user collaborations. It also promised future integration of the AI-based Microsoft 365 Copilot in the Edge browser.
Some tooling perks for Web developers also are on the horizon.
Copilot AI Coming the Edge Browser
Microsoft 365 Copilot is Microsoft's "natural language" AI-based chatbot that's coming to Microsoft 365 apps such as Excel, PowerPoint, Teams and Word. It's been at the private preview stage since its introduction in March.
Microsoft this week indicated that Microsoft 365 Copilot also will be "natively integrated into Microsoft Edge" at some point, although the timing wasn't indicated. The idea behind such integration is that the Edge browser will offer better answers based on "the context of what you're looking at in the browser," Microsoft explained.
Microsoft also promised that this AI browser integration will improve Microsoft Search "soon." It will add the ability to "surface contextually relevant files and SharePoint sites in the address bar" of the browser. A new Smart Find capability, which is "rolling out worldwide now" will help search users by correcting their "syntactic and semantic errors" made in search queries, Microsoft promised. There's also a new "text prediction" capability for faster typing of queries, which is "currently rolling out in the US, India, and Australia in English and will be available soon in Chinese and Japanese."
Sidebar in Edge, Progressive Web Apps and Bing Search
The Sidebar in the Edge browser is Microsoft's new interface for accessing other applications, plus AI-enabled Bing search (the "new Bing").
Developers can integrate progressive Web apps in the Edge browser's Sidebar with "a couple of lines of code," Microsoft indicated. Microsoft also announced that Edge's "sidebar is home to the new Bing, which is drawing new users in every day, with its AI-powered search, chat, and creation." Microsoft had announced the launch of AI-enabled Bing using OpenAI's ChatGPT-4 model in Microsoft Edge back in February, when it was at the limited preview stage.
Chat using OpenAI's ChatGPT model is going to be "the default search experience" for Bing search, according to a Microsoft Bing blog announcement. Users also will get citations and Web data in response to their search prompts, allowing them to "learn more. Microsoft has already enabled this new Bing experience for ChatGPT Plus subscribers. It'll "soon" offer it more broadly to other users via a plugin, which will be available for free.
In "coming weeks," Bing also will have support for AI plugins built by Microsoft and other software vendors for desktop and mobile devices. These plugins will work with ChatGPT, plus Microsoft's various Copilot AI solutions, across business and consumer apps. It'll enable things like travel planning using Expedia, Kayak or TripAdvisor plugins, for instance.
Microsoft Edge for Business Preview
A new "Microsoft Edge for Business" early preview for managed devices is now available.
Edge for Business has capabilities that support so-called "hybrid work," where users may be working remotely at home, instead of full time in an office. It will allow company branding for the browser. It facilitates work by automatically opening "work-related sites" for Microsoft 365 apps and services, as well as for those sites that require a "work login." Users initially will access the browser via Azure Active Directory logins.
Edge for Business offers privacy controls for remote workers by not syncing their non-work browsing history and passwords to organizations. The work and personal browsing info is kept separate, Microsoft explained:
Microsoft Edge for Business honors the needs of both end users and IT Pros as the browser that automatically separates work and personal browsing into dedicated browser windows with their own separate caches and storage locations, so information stays separate.
This separation is also touted by Microsoft as a security benefit that "can reduce the surface area for cyberattacks."
IT pros will have access to compliance controls with Edge for Business, which can be applied to work or personal browser sessions. They can enable information rights management and "feature availability." They also can enable data loss prevention, although it will require organizations to have E5 licensing.
Microsoft also promised that Edge for Business will offer a "secure, managed experience on mobile iOS and Android devices," with "seamless and secure access to corporate resources" when used with virtual private networks (VPNs). For organizations without VPNs, Microsoft has Azure Active Directory Application Proxy, which is designed to let remote users securely access on-premises Web applications, per this document.
Edge for Business also has support for a "Shared Device Mode" for mobile devices that lets shift workers share a single device. There is integrated support in Microsoft Intune for Edge for Business for mobile devices. Also, "other major endpoint management solutions" are said to provide support.
Microsoft is planning to release a Microsoft Edge for Business for unmanaged devices, too. It's expected to reach the preview stage "in the coming months."
Microsoft Edge Workspaces Preview
Microsoft Edge Workspaces lets users collaborate on files and sites in "real time" within a browser space. Users can access such collaborative projects using "tabs" in the Edge browser. It works for users that are within the same Azure Active Directory tenancy, but it does not facilitate external collaborations.
Microsoft had released Microsoft Edge Workspaces as a "limited public preview" last month and expects it'll reach "general availability" status in "the next few months." It's now accessible as a "public preview" that is backed by Microsoft Support, as described in this document.
The requirements to use Microsoft Edge Workspaces include having an Azure Active Directory tenancy and version 106 or higher of Microsoft Edge. A OneDrive for Business license is also required for creating workspaces. Microsoft expects to have "native" Microsoft Intune management support for Microsoft Edge Workspaces with the release of Microsoft Edge version 107.
Microsoft Edge Management Service
Microsoft described a new Edge Management Service for IT pros that will be coming to the Microsoft 365 Admin Center portal as a preview "over the next few months."
The Edge Management Service will also let IT pros see browser add-on ratings in an extensions tab. They can review user extension requests, as well as add or delete extensions.
Microsoft Edge Dev Tools
Microsoft Edge Dev Tools has 33 tools, but to alleviate sprawl, a new Focus Mode experimental feature promises to offer a "refreshed, simplified interface." Focus Mode is expected to reach "general availability" release status sometime this year.
Also expected at general availability this year will be the JSON Viewer experimental browser extension, which lets developers inspect JSON data.
Other Edge Dev Tools improvements include Memory tool and Performance tool enhancements. Microsoft shows off the improvements in this video.
Other Tooling for Developers
Microsoft Store purchases from within Microsoft Edge progressive Web apps will be "coming soon" via the Digital Goods API. Developers will be able to use this API to see purchase information. Sales will be enabled via the Payment Request API.
Microsoft touted the benefits of WebView2 for apps, which is used by the Microsoft Teams engineering team. It also announced that a preview of WebView 2 for the HoloLens 2 Insider Preview release is available. It "enables developers to display spatially aware, app-integrated, and dynamic web content in 3D applications." A WebView2 preview also "will be available for Xbox later this year."
Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.