For most of the time I’ve used a Mac, I have avoided using Apple’s own browser, Safari. On my first Mac – a 2006 black MacBook – I preferred Firefox, and when Google’s Chrome was finally available for the Mac in 2010, I switched to that. I’ve been a Chrome-on-Mac user ever since.
Earlier this month, Microsoft released a new version of its Edge browser for macOS. Edge, like Google Chrome, is built on the open-source Chromium platform. It’s the default browser on Windows 10 and has been available for Macs since early 2020. I’ve flirted with it on and off, but this new version has fully seduced me, thanks to a killer feature, the utility of which took me by surprise.
With version 89 of Edge for Mac, you have the option to set tabs for web pages to display vertically, in a sidebar down the left side of the browser, rather than horizontally across the top. For those of us who open dozens of tabs in a session – as I write this, I have 31 tabs open, and that’s light for me – this layout is a revelation.
When you have many tabs displayed horizontally, each gets narrower and narrower as you open more and more. Eventually, you’re unable to make out the titles for each page, seeing only an icon. This makes finding a specific tab difficult.
But when tabs are arranged horizontally, the titles remain visible, making them much easier to find. If you prefer, you can collapse the left column to show only the page’s icon, but pinning it open is the way to go – particularly if you’re using a MacBook Pro or Air with a 16:9 aspect ratio.
Here’s what a cluster of tabs looks on Edge when they’re at the top (this is not the full width showing all the tabs, but rather just enough to give you a feel for the cramped look):
Compare that with the vertical tabs layout:
t took me about 10 minutes of using this new version before I was sold. But it’s not the only feature that makes it a great browser to use on a Mac, and certainly make it a better pick than Chrome.
When Chrome originally launched in the late 2000s for Windows, it was touted as a leaner alternative to Firefox, which in turn was considered an alternative to Internet Explorer. Firefox was known as a memory and resource hog at the the time, a reputation that now dogs Chrome. Although Edge is built on the same foundation, Microsoft has tuned it better.
When I launch Chrome on an Intel-based Mac running macOS 11.2.3, it takes around 900 megabytes once loaded. Edge, by contrast, uses around 680 MB. As I work with the two, Chrome consistently uses significantly more memory than Edge when the same pages are loaded.
Another example where Microsoft is ahead of Google on resource management: Sleeping Tabs, which suspend web pages after a specified amount of time to free up CPU and memory. Chrome has this in a feature dubbed Tab Freeze, but with Edge you can control how long before tabs are suspended.
Safari users enjoy an excellent Reader Mode feature that strips out ads and other distractions, providing you with just text. Chrome doesn’t have this (though there are extensions that emulate it), but Microsoft Edge does – and it’s a lot easier on the eyes, with a manila-colored background.
Of course, one of the many reasons both Mac and Windows users are wary of Chrome is because of the amount of data it harvests from users. (See Forbes contributor Zak Doffman’s piece on Chrome’s privacy excesses.) Though Edge and Chrome are similar, they differ greatly on privacy.
For example, Edge gives users three levels of tracking protection from which to choose – Basic, Balanced and Strict, with Balanced the default.
You can also set Edge to use Strict levels when you use InPrivate browsing, which is similar to Chrome’s Incognito mode.
Edge’s Chromium roots means it can use most of the extensions available for Chrome. I tested Edge for Mac when it was first available and it was hit-or-miss whether Chrome extensions would work reliably. This time around, they’re much more stable. I’ve not found any among the 24 installed on Chrome that don’t work on Edge. (Microsoft has its own store for native Edge extensions as well.)
Microsoft also has designed the Mac version to fit in with the macOS design language. Edge looks like a Mac browser, not like a Windows browser with a Big Sur facelift. It feels more Mac-like to me than Chrome.
Not everything is lollipops and roses, though. I didn’t care much for the way Microsoft has implemented sync. I imported my Chrome bookmarks, passwords, extensions, personal info and more, but when I turned on sync using my Microsoft account, my bookmarks were replaced by a set of old bookmarks that I had not used in years. I’m not sure where Edge got them, but fortunately I could turn off sync, re-import my Chrome data and I was good to go.
That’s kind of a shame, because one other benefit is that Edge is cross-platform. Its sync works with versions of Edge on Windows, Android and iOS. But right now, I don’t trust it.
Microsoft also leans toward its own services in Edge. While I was interested in replacing Chrome, I wanted to keep Google as the default search engine. You can do that in Edge, though the starting default is Microsoft’s Bing. However, Edge has a handy feature that lets you view search results in a right-hand sidebar – and the search engine for that can’t be changed from Bing. Grrrrr.
Microsoft’s use of the Chromium platform to make a Chrome-like browser that’s better than Chrome may remind the skeptical and cynical of the company’s “embrace, extend, extinguish” mantra from the 1990s. This approach got the company into trouble with the U.S. Justice Department, which accused it of trying to snuff out competition in the browser arena.
It’s unlikely that Edge is going to “extinguish” Chrome or the Chromium projects, but this approach may be enough to give pause for veteran Mac users with long memories.
Still, if you’re a Chrome user on a Mac, it’s worth your time to give Edge a try. It’s available as separate downloads for either Intel-based or M1 Macs, so make sure you grab the right one.
And even if you’re a dyed-in-the-wool Safari user, take the time to experiment with Edge. You might be very pleasantly surprised … even if it is from Microsoft.
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