If you haven’t been keeping up with Windows 10 developments and what’s happening with its new web browser, here’s a quick recap.

After 14 glorious (and not so glorious) years, Internet Explorer is being replaced. When Windows 10 launches later this year, it will feature a brand new browser called Edge — a name Microsoft announced at its Build 2015 conference last week, which is a bit snappier than the previous ‘Project Spartan’ moniker.

Internet Explorer isn’t going anywhere just yet, but it won’t be the default browser in Windows 10 and Microsoft clearly hopes that users will adopt Edge and make IE a distant memory. So what’s Edge all about and, more importantly, is it any good?

 

Edging to completion

The first thing to make clear is that Edge isn’t finished — and nor is Windows 10. While anyone can use both for free via the Windows 10 Insider programme, that’s only for testing purposes, and all features might well change between now and when the new operating system is released.

Even so, the latest versions of Windows 10 and Edge are working well, so be sure to update to the most recent Build 10074 via Windows Update if you’re running the operating system on a PC or within VirtualBox.

[Related story: Install Windows 10 the easy way with VirtualBox]

 

Inside Edge

Microsoft Edge is named after the new ‘engine’ that drives it — essentially the core code that’s responsible for pulling pages off the web and displaying them within a window. While still loosely based on the engine that drives Internet Explorer, Edge is reckoned to be much better and early tests place it at least on a par with Chrome and Firefox for raw performance.

Even in its unfinished state, Edge is lightweight and fast, and so should be a genuine alternative to Chrome and Firefox for Windows 10 users (it won’t be available for earlier versions). Compatibility with Chrome and Firefox extensions will also encourage its uptake, as long as developers make the necessary (and supposedly minor) tweaks to transfer them to the new browser.

 

Reader mode

Edge doesn’t look much different to Internet Explorer 11 in Windows 10 (it’s still called Project Spartan in Build 10074, but the way). The interface is a bit cleaner and the tab placement has moved around, but there’s nothing there to confuse.

There are two new buttons on the toolbar for the two new features we’ve seen so far. The first is a book icon at the far right of the address bar.

Edge Reader Mode

Click it when viewing a web page (it’s not working on all web pages just yet) and Edge will switch to ‘reader’ mode, with a simplified page layout that makes it much easier to read pages with lots of text. This isn’t a web browser innovation by any means, but it’s great to have it built-in, rather than require an extension.

[Related story: What the end of Internet Explorer means to you]

Web notes

Further along the toolbar is a button for the new Web Note feature. Click it and a new toolbar appears, with buttons for various tools you can use to doodle and type on the current web page.

This is great for highlighting something on a page you want to share with someone else, or just note for your own reference — just click the two buttons at the right of the Web Note toolbar for both options.

Edge Web Notes

It’s not that easy to scribble a note on a web page with a mouse or trackpad, so we suspect this feature will be most useful on PCs with a touchscreen — but it may improve over time.

 

Give Cortana a call

The third and final feature to find its way into Edge is Cortana — Microsoft’s intelligent digital assistant. Cortana is supposed to step in when it thinks it can with something you’re doing online, such as presenting a map when you search for a business. You can also right-click a word on a web page and select Ask Cortana to see more information about it.

Edge Ask Cortana

[Related story: Microsoft Cortana: How to test drive Windows 10’s voice-controlled personal assistant]

You’ll need to activate Cortana first by clicking the search box on the Taskbar and then signing into a Microsoft account, but this feature was a bit hit and miss for us. Still, if all else fails, you can always click the menu at the far right of the Edge window and open a page in Internet Explorer.

Edge open with IE

 

At the moment there's no news when Microsoft Edge will be available, we know Windows 10 will launch this summer so we'll find out more about Microsoft Edge very soon.

Are you excited about trying the Edge browser? Let us know in the Comments below.