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A large – but manageable – February Patch Tuesday brings critical browser updates

With 99 reported vulnerabilities and patches to both Microsoft browsers, Office and Windows, this month’s Patch Tuesday update is not as large an administrative burden as you might initially think. We’ve rated the browser updates as a “Patch Now” update due to issues with the Chakra engine, but both Office and Windows can be scheduled according to a regular patch cadence. Unfortunately, we have another Adobe Flash update to deploy, but no critical development updates for February.

You can find more information in our helpful infographic here.

Known issues

Each month, Microsoft includes a list of known issues that relate to the operating system and platforms included in this update cycle. I have referenced a few key issues that relate to the latest builds from Microsoft including:

  • Microsoft Cluster Shared Volumes (CSV) can still generate the error message,” “STATUS_BAD_IMPERSONATION_LEVEL (0xC00000A5).” Microsoft is still working on a solution. Until a fix is released, you can try the operation as an administrator or try to “own” directories in question before the operation.
  • After installing some Asian language packs you may still (see KB4493509) receive the error, “0x800f0982 – PSFX_E_MATCHING_COMPONENT_NOT_FOUND.”

Microsoft has been working on a fix for both these issues for a while now; we don’t expect a resolution any time soon.

Major revisions

This month, two CVEs have undergone a major revision increment:

  • CVE-2019-1332: CVE information revised to announce the availability of Microsoft SQL Server 2016 for x64-based Systems Service Pack 2 (CU) and Microsoft SQL Server 2016 for x64-based Systems Service Pack 2 (GDR).
  • CVE-2019-8267: Microsoft revised this to include Internet Explorer 11 installed on all supported editions of Windows 10 Version 1809, Windows Server 2019, Windows 10 Version 1903, and Windows 10 Version 1909 because they are affected by this vulnerability. This change may affect your server update cycle

Each month, we break down the update cycle into product families (as defined by Microsoft) with the following basic groupings:

  • Browsers (Microsoft IE and Edge)
  • Microsoft Windows (both desktop and server)
  • Microsoft Office (Including Web Apps and Exchange)
  • Microsoft Development platforms ( ASP.NET Core, .NET Core and Chakra Core)
  • Cloud and Devices
  • Adobe Flash Player (to be discontinued)

Browsers

Microsoft has released nine updates to both browsers (Internet Explorer and Edge) this month, with five rated as critical, two as moderate and the remaining two as important. The biggest concerns are the four critical updates to the Chakra core scripting engine that could lead to remote code execution.

Microsoft advises that these four critical vulnerabilities could lead to a scenario where “An attacker could then install programs; view, change, or delete data; or create new accounts with full user rights.”

Add this update to your “Patch Now” schedule.

Microsoft Windows

Ok, this may sound like a lot of updates: Microsoft has released 79 patches to the Windows desktop and server ecosystem. Five of these updates are rated as critical and the rest are all rated as important by Microsoft. It sounds (and feels) like a lot of patches, but other than the critical updates to the Remote Desktop (RDP) platform, the administrative burden is not that great.

This patch cycle feels more like an administrative cycle than that one that addresses critical or exploited vulnerabilities. It’s “clean-up” time for Microsoft after the Christmas break and a very light January patch cycle.

Add these updates to your standard release schedule. 

Microsoft Office

Microsoft has released six updates to Microsoft Office – all rated as important. The most serious for this month affects Microsoft Excel with a potential (but difficult-to-exploit) remote code execution scenario involving how Excel handles objects in memory. All of this month’s reported vulnerabilities require access to the target system and require users to take explicit action on vulnerable systems. There is an update this month to Microsoft SharePoint server which will require a reboot of all affected servers.

Add these Office patches to your regularly scheduled updates

Microsoft development platforms

This month, Microsoft has not released any updates to the many variations of .NET, but we do have one update to SQL Server that has been rated as important. CVE-2020-0618 is relatively difficult to exploit, as it requires access to the SQL server instance and requires specially crafted pages sent to the SQL Server Reporting services.

Add this update to your regularly scheduled patch release cadences.

Cloud and Devices

We have allocated this space to the recent cloud (Azure) and device updates from Microsoft. This month, Microsoft has not released any Azure related patches, but has published a Microsoft Surface (device level) patch (CVE-2020-0702) that has been rated as important (and difficult to exploit).

Add this device related update to your regular patch cycle.

Adobe Flash Player

I thought that we were done with critical Adobe Flash Player updates from Microsoft. I even instructed our development team to remove this section from our internal bulletins. Well, they (Flash Player) updates are back, with a vengeance.

This month, we see another ActiveX flaw in Flash Player (ADV20003/CVE-2020-3757) that could lead to the execution of arbitrary code on the compromised computer. According to the Adobe security bulletin, “The vulnerability exists due to a type confusion error when processing Flash content. A remote attacker can create a specially crafted .SWF file, trick the victim into playing it, trigger a type confusion error and execute arbitrary code on the target system. Successful exploitation of this vulnerability may result in complete compromise of the target system.”

Microsoft has documented a potential work-around relating to the Flash ActiveX control which includes making the following registry changes:

Windows Registry Editor Version 5.00

[HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINESOFTWAREMicrosoftInternet ExplorerActiveX Compatibility{D27CDB6E-AE6D-11CF-96B8-444553540000}]

“Compatibility Flags”=dword:00000400

[HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINESOFTWAREWow6432NodeMicrosoftInternet ExplorerActiveX Compatibility{D27CDB6E-AE6D-11CF-96B8-444553540000}]

“Compatibility Flags”=dword:00000400

Add this update to your “Patch Now” release schedule.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.



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How to replace Edge as the default browser in Windows 10 — and why you shouldn’t

Microsoft has been struggling to get people to use its Edge browser for years. Even though the company made Edge the default browser in Windows 10, users left in droves, most of them flocking to Google Chrome — and with good reason. Edge was underpowered, had difficult-to-use features, and offered very few extensions compared to Chrome and Firefox.

Now Microsoft has launched a new version of Edge that’s based on the same technologies that drive Chrome. The new Edge is a much better browser, and there are compelling reasons to use it. But you might still prefer to use Chrome, Firefox, or one of the many other browsers out there.

Note that even if you’ve previously set up another browser to be your default, it might have been changed since then. When there’s a major Windows 10 upgrade, the upgrade recommends switching to Edge, and you might have inadvertently made the switch.

Whatever the reason, if Edge is your default Windows 10 browser, it’s easy to switch. to the browser of your choice. As I’ll show you, it only takes a few minutes.

The instructions in this article assume that you’ve installed the latest version of Windows 10 — version 1909, a.k.a. the November 2019 Update. If you haven’t installed it, the screens you see may vary somewhat from what you see here.

Why you might want to stick with Edge

The new Edge will be automatically delivered to most Windows 10 Home and Pro users via Windows Update, while enterprise users will likely get it only when their IT departments roll it out. If you’ve been using the old Edge as your default browser, the new one will be your default as well. If you’ve set another browser as your default, the new Edge won’t automatically override your preference — but like all browsers, it will ask if you want to make it the default.

It’s probably worth at least trying out the new Edge. The browser offers a clean design with intuitive features. The biggest drawback to the old Edge was its paltry selection of browser extensions, but because the new Edge uses the same rendering engine as Chrome, it can run Chrome extensions, which number in the thousands. And unlike Chrome, Edge offers tracking prevention, which blocks ad providers from tracking you from website to website.

In my tests, Edge also feels faster than Chrome and uses on average 14% less RAM. And it has some interesting features worth trying, such as the ability to launch a website as if it’s an app.

All that said, you might not be interested in trying out the new Edge, or you might try it and decide you still prefer Chrome, Firefox, or another browser. You may, for example, like Firefox’s ability to alert you when a website covertly uses your computer’s processor to mine cryptocurrency in the background, without your knowledge. Or you might like the way Chrome’s Omnibox (the place you type URLs and searches) can do things like perform math functions, convert currencies or answer questions such as naming the capitals of U.S. states without having to search the internet.

If you want to use another browser as your default, here’s what to do.

How to designate another browser as your default

The first thing you need to do to switch to another browser as your default is to install the other browser on your system. After that’s done, click the Windows 10 Start button and click the Settings icon that appears on the left-hand side of the screen. (It looks like a little gear.) You can also type “settings” into the search box and click the Settings result that appears at the top of the screen.

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In the Settings app, select Apps > Default apps. The Default apps screen appears. It shows the default apps for email, maps, playing music and videos, viewing photos, and more. To change the default browser, you’ll have to scroll down toward the bottom of your screen.

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Near the bottom of the screen, you’ll see Microsoft Edge under the “Web browser” listing. Click the Microsoft Edge icon and you’ll see a pop-up with a list of your installed browsers.

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(Side note: The pop-up also has a “Look for an app in the Microsoft Store” option, but if you click it, you won’t find Chrome, Firefox, Opera or any other browser you’ve likely ever heard of. Clicking it launches a search of the Windows App Store for the term “http,” which turns up a motley collection of apps, from file downloaders to an app that dims your Windows background to make it easier to view videos. There are also some little-known browsers listed, such as Super-Fast Browser and BlueSky Browser. Try them out if you like, but keep in mind that they’re Windows Store apps, and as a general rule, Windows Store apps are underpowered compared to desktop apps like Chrome, Firefox and Opera.)

Click the browser that you’d like to be your default browser. No need to restart; your work is done.

This story was originally launched in September 2017 and most recently updated in February 2020.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.



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Microsoft’s new Edge browser: Third time’s the charm?

Microsoft’s revamped Edge browser, due to be released today, is the company’s third attempt at building a better browser. The first try, Internet Explorer, was initially released in 1995 and eventually became the world’s most popular browser, peaking at 95% market share in 2003. But Microsoft’s actions in making it difficult for users to use other browsers in Windows put it in the federal government’s crosshairs and led to a successful antitrust suit against the company. After that, Microsoft did little to improve the browser, and Internet Explorer became old, buggy and insecure, allowing nimbler browsers like Firefox and Google Chrome to gain in popularity.

The company’s second browser, Edge, released in July 2015, was an attempt by Microsoft to replace Internet Explorer and regain browser leadership. It failed. That version of Edge, available only for Windows 10, was sluggish, overstuffed with features that few people wanted and severely lacking in something people did want: browser extensions. Edge’s failure to ignite only accelerated rival Chrome’s ascent. According to Statcounter, as of December 2019, Chrome had 69% of the worldwide desktop browser market, compared to 4.6% for Edge and 3.6% for Internet Explorer.

Microsoft’s new Edge browser is as dramatic a break as can be imagined from the company’s past. Instead of developing the browser with proprietary code, Microsoft decided to build the new Edge using open-source Chromium source code, which was originally developed by Google and also underpins Google Chrome and other browsers such as Opera and Brave. Doing that is anathema to the go-it-alone-and-dominate-the-market vision championed by past CEOs Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer.

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Microsoft’s new Edge browser, based on open-source Chromium, is Microsoft’s third attempt to build a better browser. (Click image to enlarge it.)

Current Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has been willing to break with that Microsoft orthodoxy in the past. But using open-source code first developed by Google for Microsoft’s new browser is probably his biggest gamble yet. Looked at another way, though, it was no gamble at all. With Microsoft’s browser market share so minimal and its browsers so widely reviled, he likely felt he had nothing to lose by taking a dramatically new approach.

So how well did Microsoft do with this break-from-the-past browser? Will the third time be the charm, or did Microsoft once again build a browser bound to fail? Read on for details and answers.

Note: Unlike the original Edge browser, the Chromium-based Edge works with Windows 7, Windows 8.1 and macOS in addition to Windows 10 but in this review, I focus on the Windows 10 version.

Faster and clean-looking

One of the first things you’ll notice about the new Edge is just how zippy it is, and how quickly web sites load in it. Even when using 10 or more tabs, I didn’t find it sluggish, as often happens with Chrome.

In my experience, the new Edge also doesn’t suffer from another Chrome problem — the tendency to slow down the longer you use the browser, especially when you have multiple tabs open. Not uncommonly on my machines, when I leave Chrome running for days with multiple tabs in use, it becomes so sluggish I need to close the browser down. In several weeks of testing, that never happened to me with Edge, even when using the beta version.

Tests I ran using Task Manager to measure RAM use found that Edge uses less RAM than Chrome. Running the browsers with the same five tabs open and with all extensions removed, Chrome used on average about 14% more RAM than Edge.

As for design, the new Edge borrows from Chrome’s less-is-more ethos. Microsoft jettisoned many of the little-loved and little-used features of the old Edge. So there’s no unneeded frou-frous like the ability to mark up web pages and share them with others. No reading lists or e-reader so you can buy and read books in your browser. The old Edge’s confusing tab-handling features that were accessed via the top left of the screen are gone as well.

Features like that always felt like lipstick on a pig to me — they couldn’t hide the essential shortcomings of the Edge browser. With the new Edge, no lipstick is needed. Chromium Edge is no pig. It’s a very good browser.

Finally, extensions for Edge

Microsoft has long had a problem attracting developers to write extensions for its browsers, first Internet Explorer and then Edge. Chrome and Firefox each have thousands of extensions for everything imaginable, while the original version of Edge has only 298 as I write this, four-and-a-half years after it was first introduced. Given how much time most people spend using their browsers and the useful capabilities that extensions can add to them, this was one of Edge’s biggest drawbacks.

With this Chromium version of Edge, those days are over. The new browser was built to work with Chrome’s existing extensions, and in my testing, those extensions worked without fail. I went to the Chrome Web Store and downloaded and installed Google Translate, the New York Times Cooking extension, the Smart PDF conversion tool, Adblock Plus, Evernote Web Clipper, and Checker Plus for Gmail, and all worked without a hitch. Microsoft also has its own extensions store for Edge, Microsoft Edge Addons, which as I write this has more than 700 extensions. I use the Ghostery ad blocker extension from the Microsoft store, and it looks and works like the version I’ve used on Chrome from the Chrome Web Store.

microsoft edge chromium 02 extensions IDG

Edge can run extensions from the Microsoft Store or from the Chrome Web Store. (Click image to enlarge it.)

To use extensions from the Chrome Web Store or any other location apart from the Microsoft Edge Addons site, click the three-dot icon in the upper-right corner of Edge, select “Extensions” from the drop-down menu, and on the bottom left of the screen that appears, move the slider next to “Allow extensions from other stores” to the On position. Then you’ll be able to download and install apps from the Chrome Web Store.

Microsoft warns that some Chrome extensions might not work on Edge, including those that rely on Google Account functionality to sign in or sync data and those that rely on companion software on your PC. However, I didn’t come across any Chrome extensions that didn’t work, including Checker Plus for Gmail, which requires signing into a Google account.

All this is a big win for Edge and fixes a problem that has bedeviled Microsoft’s web browsers for many years. One of several reasons why I have always preferred Chrome to Edge was Edge’s lack of extensions. That’s no longer the case, though.

Stopping tracking in its tracks

A lack of privacy has become one of the most common complaints people have about browsing the internet, and Edge has taken a solid step forward in addressing that. It offers a feature called tracking prevention, which blocks ad providers from tracking you from website to website. That makes it more difficult for companies like Google, Facebook and others to build comprehensive profiles of your activities and interests.

By default, tracking prevention is turned on. But you can customize how it works, making it less or more restrictive depending on how much privacy you would like when browsing the web and how much you want to see ads and content that mirror your interests.

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You can customize Edge’s tracking prevention to block more or fewer tracking ads. (Click image to enlarge it.)

To do it, click the three-dot icon at the top right of Edge’s screen and select Settings > Privacy and Services. You have three choices:

  • Basic, which allows most trackers and blocks only those that Microsoft considers harmful. You’ll have less privacy but will be more likely to see personalized ads and content.
  • Balanced, which blocks many trackers and is more restrictive than Basic. This is Edge’s default setting. You’ll have more privacy than with Basic, but ads and content will be less likely to be personalized. And like Basic, it blocks harmful ads. With both Balanced and Basic settings, the websites you visit will work as you expect them to.
  • Strict, which blocks the majority of trackers from all websites, as well as harmful ads. You’ll have the most privacy, and ads and content will probably have minimal personalization. Parts of websites may not work properly when you choose this setting.

You can customize tracking prevention further by clicking Exceptions. That will let you specify sites on which you’d like to allow all trackers. Edge also allows you to see which ad trackers it has blocked. Click Blocked trackers to see them.

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A list of all trackers blocked by Edge. (Click image to enlarge it.)

Edge also offers you a nifty way to see which trackers have been blocked on any website you’re currently visiting. To do it, click the lock icon to the left of the URL, then click “Trackers” at the bottom of the menu that appears.

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Viewing a list of trackers blocked by Edge when visiting CNN using the Balanced setting. (Click image to enlarge it.)

You might wonder why I installed the AdBlock Plus and Ghostery extensions in Edge, since it offers built-in tracking prevention. Tracking prevention only stops ad tracking that follows you from site to site. But Ghostery and Adblock Plus (and similar software) also stop ads that don’t follow you around. In my testing, for instance, Ghostery blocked quite a few ads that weren’t blocked by tracking prevention; the tools work in concert nicely.

Note that Firefox also offers tracking prevention, but Chrome doesn’t. The way in which Microsoft determines which trackers to block is quite complex. For details, see the company’s “Improving Tracking Prevention in Microsoft Edge” blog post.

Running websites as apps

Although the new Edge has abandoned many of the old less-than-useful Edge features, it has added an interesting new one: It lets you run websites like Twitter or Computerworld as standalone apps, without having to run Edge itself.

To do it, when you’re on a website you want to run as an app, click the three-dot icon at the top right of the screen, then select Apps > Install This Site as an App and click the Install button. When you do that, the website will show up in your Windows 10 app list (and you can pin it to the taskbar) like any other app. Just click the app’s icon, and the website will be rendered by Edge with all of its functionality, but it will work as its own app without any other Edge features.

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Edge lets you run websites as standalone apps, without having to launch Edge. (Click image to enlarge it.)

You can also run the app by selecting Apps from Edge’s three-dot icon, then clicking the app from the menu that appears. To delete any app you’ve installed, click Manage Apps from the menu, and on the new screen that appears, click the X next to any app you want to delete.

This isn’t an earthshaking new feature, but I found it moderately useful to be able to create apps from websites I frequently visit. I can run them by themselves, which allows me to run fewer tabs in Edge, so I don’t have to hunt as much in a cluttered Edge for sites I want to visit.

Other extras

Edge has a variety of other minor but useful features as well. The most welcome one is the ability to silence the audio in any individual tab. If you hear audio playing, look at each tab and look for the audio icon that tells you audio is playing. Click the icon and you’ll mute the audio, indicated by an X next to the audio icon. Click it again to turn the audio back on.

You can also customize, on a site-by-site basis, what kinds of permissions you want to give to websites to access your PC. When you’re on a page, click the lock icon to the left of the URL in the address bar and select Site Permissions. On the screen that appears you can select whether to allow the site to access your location, your computer’s camera and microphone, whether to run or block Adobe Flash, allow pop-ups and automatic downloads, and so on.

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Edge lets you set permissions on a site-by-site basis. (Click image to enlarge it.)

Those who like to go over to the dark side will be pleased to see that the new Edge has a dark mode, just like the old one did. Also like the old Edge, the new one offers a read-aloud feature that will read web pages to you. Because the browser is based on Chromium, you can also Chromecast video streams to tablets, PCs and TVs that allow for streaming, something the old Edge couldn’t do.

Microsoft has also made it exceedingly easy to switch from another browser to the new Edge. It will import Favorites and passwords. When I imported them from Chrome, the import happened instantaneously — so fast I thought Edge had made a mistake and only claimed to have imported them. It did, however, import them that quickly, and accurately as well.

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Importing bookmarks, passwords, settings and more from Chrome to Edge was fast and easy. (Click image to enlarge it.)

Collections missing in action for the moment

One of Edge’s more useful new features, called Collections, isn’t yet ready for prime time and is not available in the just-released version of Edge. However, it’s been available since August in Edge’s bleeding-edge test channel called Canary and recently was released into the somewhat more stable Dev channel, which is where features appear before they head to beta. So even though you won’t see it in the just-released version of Edge, you may well soon; along with the Chromium source code, Microsoft is adopting a more frequent update cadence — approximately every six weeks, the company says.

Collections does exactly what it sounds like — lets you create collections of websites so that you can easily see them grouped together, and then perform actions on them, such as send their URLs to Excel or Word.

In the Dev and Canary channels, Collections isn’t enabled by default, so if you have one of those versions of Edge, you’ll need to turn it on. To do it, type edge://flags#edge-collections into the address bar. That opens the experimental settings page. Scroll down to “Experimental Collections feature” on the page, select Enabled, then click the Restart button at the bottom of the screen.

After you restart, a new Collections icon shows up to the right of star-shaped Favorites icon at the right edge of the address bar. The Collections icon has a square with a cross on it. Click it to launch the Collections pane.

From here, click Start new collection, give the collection a name, and you’re ready to go. You can now add pages to the collection. Whenever you’re on a web page that you want to add to one of your collections, click the Collections icon to display the Collections pane, click the collection to which you want to add the page, then click Add current page.

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The new Collections feature hasn’t yet made it into the latest version of Edge. (Click image to enlarge it.)

When you go to a collection, you can click any web page there to jump to it in a new tab. You can also create notes in any collection, by clicking the note icon to the right of the “Add current page” button.

Click the three-dot icon to the right of the note icon and you get these options:

  • Send to Excel. This creates a new Excel worksheet in OneDrive in a new Microsoft Edge Collections folder, with the title and file name of the collection, and a list of all the titles in the collection, including links to them.
  • Send to Word. This creates a new Word document in OneDrive in a new Microsoft Edge Collections folder, with the title and file name of the collection, and a list of all the titles in the collection, including links to them. It also shows your notes.
  • Open all. This launches a new instance of Edge, with all of the pages from the collection in their own tabs.
  • Copy all. This copies the list to the Windows clipboard.

I found Collections especially well-suited for research, as a way to get instant access to all the pages useful for projects I’m working on. But some of its features are works in progress. When it created a new worksheet with “Send to Excel” feature, for example, it created rows and columns for each website, but some of those columns were empty because they had nothing to do with the websites: Price, Rating, Number of reviews, and Brand. Also, there were errors when I chose to copy information about the collection to the clipboard.

Despite that, I found Collections to be exceedingly useful and one of my favorite new Edge features. We’ll have to see whether its imperfections have been cleaned up by the time it makes it into formal release.

What IT needs to know about the new Edge

One way that Microsoft hopes to make the new Edge stand out from its rivals is by including a variety of enterprise-friendly capabilities. For instance, it lets IT administrators use group policy objects (GPOs) to create enterprise-centric web pages that employees logged in to an Azure Active Directory (AAD) account see when they open a new tab in Edge. This customized new tab page essentially acts as a front end for Office 365, giving employees access to Office documents, company sites and other resources. In addition, when users sign into their corporate account, they can search the company intranet from Edge’s search bar.

Microsoft has also worked to make sure that any enterprise apps and websites that were designed to work with Internet Explorer 11 (through a feature called IE Mode), the pre-Chromium version of Edge, or Google Chrome will also work with the new Edge. If your company’s website works with one of those browsers and not the new Edge, Microsoft says it will “help you fix it at no additional cost” under the company’s App Assure program.

Microsoft has also put together a security baseline, a group of pre-configured security settings and default values, for the new version of Edge. IT staff can use that baseline as a starting point for setting security controls.

Finally, you’ll be able to deploy and manage Edge using familiar Microsoft tools including group policies, Configuration Manager and Intune.

For more details about enterprise features, see Microsoft’s post “Introducing the new Microsoft Edge and Bing” and the company’s Edge enterprise blog.

The bottom line

What does all this add up to? The third time really has proven to be the charm for Microsoft: Its new Chromium-based Edge is a winner. It’s speedy, works with many thousands of Chrome extensions, does a nice job of protecting your privacy, and has some useful new features like the ability to turn web pages into apps, and eventually, the ability to create collections of web pages.

Edge is now at least a good a browser as Chrome and possibly better, particularly for enterprise use. Whether for personal or business browsing, you’d do well to at least give it a try, even if in the past you’ve vowed to stay away from Microsoft browsers forever.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.



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21 time-saving tips for the Chrome Android browser

Mobile web browsing is all about finding what you need quickly and with as little hassle as possible — well, in theory, anyway. In the real world, the act of surfing sites from your smartphone is often anything but efficient.

From sites that have not-so-friendly mobile interfaces to browser commands that take far too many steps to execute, hopping around the World Wide Internuts from a handheld device can frequently leave something to be desired.

Fear not, though, my fellow finger-tappers: There are plenty of tricks you can learn to make your mobile web journey more pleasant and productive. Try these next-level tips for Google’s Chrome Android browser and get ready for a much better mobile browsing experience.

1. Switch tabs the simpler way

Got multiple tabs open? Move between ’em with minimal effort by sliding your finger horizontally across the address bar. You’ll be zapping between sites in seconds.

2. Manage tabs like a pro

For more advanced tab management, swipe down on a tab, starting at the address bar. That’ll take you to Chrome’s tab overview interface, where you can see all of your open tabs as cards.

From there, simply tap on any tab to jump to it, or swipe sideways on it to close it.

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Chrome’s tab overview interface — which seems to be in a constant state of flux as of late — is the fastest way to view and manage tabs.

3. Close all of your tabs at once

When you have tons of tabs open and want to clean house quickly, tap the three-dot menu icon within that same tab overview interface — and whaddya know? There’s a handy hidden command there for closing all of your tabs in one fell swoop.

4. Copy a site’s URL in no time

Sure, you can copy a site’s address by opening the main Chrome menu, selecting “Share,” and then selecting “Copy to clipboard” from the list that appears — but sweet sassy molassey, that sure seems like a lot of steps.

Snag a URL with less work by tapping the address bar at the top of the screen and then hitting the copy icon (what looks like two overlapping rectangles) directly next to the page’s URL.

5. Save a page for offline viewing

The next time you’re about to head onto a flight, into a tunnel, or into a time machine that’s transporting you back to an era without Wi-Fi, plan ahead and save some articles for your offline reading enjoyment.

You’d probably never know it, but Chrome actually makes that easy to do: While viewing any web page, open the main Chrome menu — by pressing the three-dot icon in the app’s upper-right corner — and tap the downward-facing arrow icon at the top. And that’s it: Chrome will save the entire page offline for you. Whenever you want to find it, just open up that same menu and select “Downloads.”

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Chrome’s “Downloads” section lets you store and view complete web pages for offline viewing.

All of your saved pages will be there and waiting, regardless of what place, year, or dimension you happen to be visiting.

6. Convert a page into a PDF

Maybe you want to make a more permanent and easily shareable offline copy of a web page. Hey, no problem: Just save it as a PDF.

Open Chrome’s main menu while viewing the page, then select “Share” followed by “Print” (which may actually be listed as “Chrome: Print,” with a Chrome icon above it, depending on your Android version). Make sure the printer is set to “Save as PDF” — if you see some other printer name at the top of the screen, tap it to change it — and then tap the circular blue icon in the screen’s upper-right corner and hit the “Save” button on the next screen.

All you have to do next is open your phone’s Downloads app or your favorite Android file manager to find the document.

7. Act on text within a web page

Why waste energy typing things into Chrome when you can just tap to find what you need? Anytime you see text on a web page that you want to act on, press and hold your finger on the words — then use the sliders that appear to adjust what’s selected.

Chrome will pop up a small menu with options to perform a web search on the phrase or to share it to any other app on your device (like a messaging service or note-taking app, for instance). If you’re using Android 8.0 or higher, the system should also automatically recognize and offer appropriate one-touch suggestions for things like phone numbers, physical addresses, and email addresses.

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Tap some text to share it, search for it, or act on it in other context-appropriate ways.

8. Search without stopping

There’s an even simpler way to perform a web search when you only need a quick peek at the information: Highlight the phrase you want to look up, as described in the previous tip — and then look for the Google bar that appears at the bottom of your screen.

Either tap it or slide up on it, and you’ll be able to glance at the results for the term right on top of the page you’re already viewing. You can then tap on any result you see to open it in a new tab, tap the top of the search results panel (or slide your finger up on it) to open that as a new tab, or tap the “x” at the top of the search panel (or slide your finger down on it) to close it altogether, if you’ve seen all you need to see.

08 chrome android tips quick search JR Raphael/IDG

Chrome’s built-in quick search option is a convenient way to peek at results without interrupting your workflow.

9. Get answers right in Chrome’s address bar

Sometimes, you don’t even need to open a thing to get the information you require. The Chrome Android browser is able to serve up instant answers right within its address bar — so if, for instance, you want to know how old Mark Zuckerberg is (the correct answer is always “old enough to know better”) or how much $25 is in euros, just type the question directly into the box at the top of your browser. Chrome will give you the info right then and there, and you can go right back to whatever else you were doing without having to load another page.

10. Preview a link before you commit

I don’t know about you, but I tend to open up an awful lot of links while I’m looking around the web. And more often than not, I end up looking at the resulting pages for approximately 2.7 seconds before deciding to close ’em and move on.

The Chrome Android app has an incredibly useful command that now saves me tons of time in this area. The catch is that it’s still under development as of this writing, which means it’s hidden — and so you’ll have to do a teensy bit of under-the-hood tinkering to find it.

It’s pretty easy, though: Just type chrome:flags into the browser’s address bar, then type the word ephemeral into the search box at the top of the screen. See the option labeled “An ephemeral Preview Tab in an Overlay Panel”? Tap the box beneath it, where it says “Default,” and change it to “Enabled.” Tap the blue box at the bottom of the screen prompting you to restart the browser — and then, open up any web page (heck, even this one!) and press and hold your finger on any link you see.

Select the newly present “Preview page” option from the menu that appears, and there ya have it: You can see the linked page in an overlay panel, just like with the search results in our previous tip. Just slide up on the panel to see more of the page, slide it up all the way (or tap its title bar) to open it as its own tab, or slide it downward (or tap the “x” in its title bar) to dismiss it entirely.

Convenient, no?

11. Find what you need faster

Chrome has a hidden way to scan a page for a particular term without much effort: Open the browser’s main menu, select “Find in page,” and type in the term you want. Hit the down arrow at the top of screen once — and then, instead of hitting that same arrow over and over to see every place the term appears, slide your finger down the vertical bar at the right side of the screen.

That’ll move you rapidly through the page, with every instance of your term highlighted for hassle-free viewing.

12. Zoom single-handedly

Pinch-to-zoom is, like, so 2013. When you’re using your phone with a single hand, as so many of us tend to do these days, Chrome has two far easier methods of magnifying a specific part of your screen.

First, on many devices, you can simply double-tap anywhere on a page to zoom into that area and have it take up the full width of your display. Double-tapping a second time will then zoom back out.

Second — and especially nifty — you can double-tap and leave your finger down, then drag downward to zoom in or upward to zoom out. It sounds a bit strange, but give it a try; it’ll get you where you need to go without all the awkward finger yoga that comes with one-handed pinching.

(Note that these advanced zooming methods won’t work on all web pages; generally, if a site is already optimized for mobile viewing, you’ll be limited to the regular ol’ pinching action. But more often than not, the need to zoom comes up when a site isn’t properly optimized — or when you’re deliberately viewing the desktop version of a site — and that’s when these techniques are typically available.)

13. Zoom where you wanna zoom

For some inexplicable reason, lots of websites prevent you from zooming in on your mobile device in any manner. And for a variety of reasons — whether you want to make the text larger or get a closer look at something that catches your eye — there are bound to be times when you want to move up close and personal.

Thankfully, Chrome lets you take back control. Head into the app’s settings, open the Accessibility section, and find the option labeled “Force enable zoom.”

Activate the checkbox alongside it and get ready to zoom to your heart’s content — whether the website you’re looking at wants you to or not.

14. Make the web easier to read

Let’s face it: Some websites don’t exactly make reading pleasant. Whether it’s an annoying layout or a font that hurts your cerebrum, we’ve all come across a page that could be a little easier on the eyes. (Uh, no need to name any specifics, OK?)

Google has a solution: Chrome’s simplified view mode, which makes any website a bit more mobile-friendly by simplifying the formatting and stripping out extraneous elements such as ads, navigation bars, and boxes with related content.

Look in that aforementioned Accessibility section of Chrome’s settings and make sure the box next to “Simplified view” is activated. Then, whenever you’re opening an article, watch for a white bar at the bottom of your browser with the words “Show simplified view.” Tap it — and the text will transform right in front of your tired eyes.

14 chrome android tips simplified view JR Raphael/IDG

Before and after: Chrome’s simplified view.

Need easier reading yet? Go back to that Accessibility section of Chrome’s settings and play with the “Text scaling” slider at the top of the page. It’ll make all the text you encounter across the web larger, independent of your system-level text size setting.

15. Refresh with a flick

Need to reload a page? Swipe downward from anywhere in the main browser area. (You’ll need to be scrolled all the way to the top of the page in order for it to work.) Once you see a circle with an arrow appear, you can let go, sit back, and say: “Ahh. Isn’t that refreshing?”

16. Slide your way through Chrome’s commands

Excessive tapping is for amateurs. Instead of tapping Chrome’s menu icon, lifting your finger, and then tapping the item you want (pshaw!), slide downward on the button to move right into the menu without ever lifting your precious paw. Just keep swiping down until you reach your desired option, then let go — and Chrome will select it for you.

17. Pick up where you left off

One of Chrome’s most powerful features is something you might not even know exists: The browser always keeps all of your tabs synced and available across devices — which means you can open up Chrome on your Android device and get to the same tabs you left open on your laptop or desktop computer.

All you’ve gotta do to take advantage of it is open up Chrome’s main menu and select “Recent tabs.” There, you’ll find a full list of tabs currently or recently open in Chrome on any devices where you’re signed in. Just tap the tab you want, or press and hold on a device’s name to find an option to open all of its listed tabs at once.

17 chrome android tips recent tabs JR Raphael/IDG

You might not know it from its name, but Chrome’s “Recent tabs” section covers more than just your mobile device.

18. Find that site you surfed to earlier

Maybe it’s not a recently open tab you need but one you had open a while ago — say, a page you were viewing from your laptop last night, before you shut it down and put on your favorite pink footie pajamas.

Well, no problemo: Tiptoe your way back to Chrome’s main menu, and this time, select the line labeled “History.”

Here’s the secret about that section: It shows every page you’ve had opened in Chrome while signed in on any device — including desktop and laptop computers along with any other phones or tablets — all in a single searchable list. You can browse through the pages chronologically or look for specific keywords using the box at the top of the screen.

This might also be a good time to remind yourself about the existence of Chrome’s Incognito mode for the type of web surfing you don’t want kept on record. And don’t forget, too: You can always clear your full browsing history from Chrome on any device, should the need ever arise. (Don’t worry: I won’t ask for details.)

19. Make a site especially easy to access

For any site you visit routinely, make your life a little easier by placing a one-tap shortcut directly to it on your device’s home screen. Just look in Chrome’s menu for the “Add to home screen” option. That’ll put the current site’s icon right where you’ll always see it for fast future access.

19 chrome android tips home screen shortcuts JR Raphael/IDG

Add sites to your home screen and then access them just like apps.

20. Speed up your browsing and use less data

These tips all revolve around the notion of saving time — so how about one that quite literally makes web pages load faster while also helping you use less data?

Chrome’s Lite Mode is a powerful yet out-of-sight system for doing exactly that: When activated, the feature routes pages through Google’s servers — in a split second — before they reach your device. The pages are then compressed and sent to you in a sized-down form, though you probably won’t notice any difference from a visual perspective.

You can try it out by opening the Lite Mode section of Chrome’s settings. Once the feature’s been running for a while, visiting that same section will show you a detailed breakdown of exactly how much data you’ve saved over time.

21. Swim into a wilder channel

You may know that Chrome offers different release channels for its desktop browser — but did you know you can also opt to be more adventurous with Chrome on your Android device?

If you like trying out new features before they’re released, grab Google’s Chrome Beta app. It gets new elements and interface changes before they’re ready for prime time (which, fair warning, means they might occasionally be a bit unpolished).

If you want to go a step further, try out the Chrome Dev app. It’s described as the “bleeding edge” version of Chrome, with experimental elements that are guaranteed to be “rough around the edges.” (Careful with those fingers!)

And if you’re really feeling bold, give the Chrome Canary app a whirl. It’s the most unstable and frequently updated channel of Chrome, with features so fresh they’re bound to be partially uncooked on occasion.

The best part? All of the Chrome Android channels exist as separate standalone apps. That means you can install any or all of them and run them right alongside the regular Chrome app, with no major commitment and no real risk involved.

And that, my friends, is what we call livin’ on the edge — in the most gentle and hazard-free way imaginable.

This article was originally published in June 2018 and updated in December 2019.

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.



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Would It Be Better If There Were Only One Browser?

When Tim Berners-Lee gave us the WorldWideWeb in 1990, it was the first and only web browser. But it didn’t remain alone for long.

Even in those early days of the web, there was plenty of competition for web browser market share: Mosaic, MidasWWW, SlipKnot, Arena, Netscape, and Internet Explorer emerged around that time, too, and duked it out for the top spot for the better part of a decade.

So, if there’s always been a battle of the browsers, why do we care so much about how many browsers are available today? You’d think it wouldn’t matter much. After all, browsers are nothing more than a shell through which we access the web, right? Superficially, that’s true. As consumers, browsers provide us with key navigational elements that help us move around the web: the home button, address bar, back and forward buttons, bookmarks, and more.

As designers and developers, though, you understand that browsers play a bigger role in the user experience than just what users can see at the top of their screen. With various rendering engines used to interpret and display code, we see varying results in how browsers show our websites to their users. As such, it’s a worthwhile question to ask: Would we be better off if there were only one browser?

 

The State of Web Browsers Today

There was a time when Internet Explorer was the reigning champ of browsers. However, it failed to prioritize the user experience and to adhere to web standards put in place for that very purpose. It was this failure that ultimately opened the door for other browsers to usurp IE from the lofty position it sat upon for years.

Here is what the global browser market share looked like in 2010, according to StatCounter:

StatCounter-DesktopBrowser Market Share 2010

As you can see, IE was quickly losing popularity to Firefox, which provided a much better (i.e. less intrusive) browsing experience for its users.

What’s interesting to note, though, is that Firefox didn’t remain the frontrunner for long. Just a year later, Chrome surpassed Firefox in terms of market share.

StatCounter-DesktopBrowser Market Share 2011

Eight years later, this is what the browser market share looks like:

StatCounter-DesktopBrowser Market Share 2019

It’s a totally different picture. Chrome owns the majority market share and there are no major waves detected in the market. Everyone’s browser preferences seem to be holding steady.

Even when we throw mobile browsers into the mix, the same holds true.

StatCounter-AllBrowsers Market Share 2019

Notice how Chrome’s percentage share shrinks slightly, from 69.08% to 63.72%. That’s thanks to Safari, which cuts a bit deeper into Google’s share on mobile:

StatCounter-MobileBrowser Market Share 2019

Even so, it’s clear that Chrome is an untouchable force when it comes to browsers. So, why don’t the others give up and just let Chrome run it all? Wouldn’t it be a better experience for users and, by consequence, make it easier for designers and developers to build for the web?

 

Is One Browser the Solution?

This is a tricky question to answer. Because if we’re being honest with ourselves, there’s really only one browser that we realistically could default to without the entirety of the web going bonkers: Chrome.

Google Chrome Web Browser

That said, there are some (albeit legit) concerns that will probably keep that from happening.

Concern #1: Privacy Is at Stake

Google is the entity behind Chrome and Chromium, the open source project that helps others create better browsing experiences. Browsers like Opera, Brave, and Vivaldi have been built with Chromium. Even Microsoft’s own browser, Edge, is getting a makeover with Chromium.

While it’s great that Google’s doing its part to bring order and stability to the web, that doesn’t negate the fact that there are serious privacy concerns when it comes to the Chrome browsing experience.

There’s the issue with cookies, for starters. Some web browsers have gone so far as to block websites from using cookies, by default. Google, on the other hand, leaves this to its users to configure on their own. Granted, the passing of GDPR has brought more awareness to the issue of privacy and cookie tracking on the web. But in terms of getting support from the leading browser, consumers aren’t going to get much there.

Then, there’s the matter of how much tracking Google is doing on its own. After all, if someone is using Chrome, that means they’re using other Google products as well. So, how much data is Google collecting as it watches its users go from its email platform to Google Drive to its search engine and so on? Probably a lot. Which will only strengthen the monopoly it has over the web.

Concern #2: Google Doesn’t Play Fair

Google has demonstrated that it doesn’t always have others’ interests in mind when it passes down big decisions. And that’s something that consumers and companies alike should be concerned with.

For instance, there’s the recent news about what Google wants to do to the Web Request API; specifically, how it relates to ad-blocking extensions.

Its reason for this? It says it’s moving its Chrome extensions to the Declarative Net Request API in order to improve user privacy. Some suspect, however, that Google wants to introduce its own API in order to cripple ad-blockers (which obviously impact its own ability to generate revenue through ads).

There are also assertions that Google edges out products it doesn’t like (including competing browsers) using less-than-reputable means. For example, the former CTO at Mozilla, Andreas Gal, told Bloomberg:

“There were dozens and dozens of ‘oopsies,’ where Google ships something and, ‘oops,’ it doesn’t work in Firefox. They say oh we’re going to fix it right away, in two months, and in the meantime every time the user goes to these sites, they think, ‘oh, Firefox is broken.’’

It’s not just the big competitors that Google has edged out either. The same article reports that developer Samuel Maddock had a similar experience. After building a browser using Chromium, Google refused to give him permission to use one of their products to complete it. When he sought out a reason for the rejection, there was none given.

Concern #3: Innovation Will Slow

When you look at the history of web browsers, you’ll see that it’s not just the leading options that have improved the browsing experience.

Take Opera, for instance, which was responsible for giving us browser tabs, thumbnail speed dial, and mouse gestures. Even if it’s never held a large share of the browser market, it’s still been a major innovative force, and one that the big players have had no problem copying.

Opera Web Browser

Which leads me to wonder: Without multiple browsers competing and collaborating, is it possible that innovation will stagnate?

You could argue that we wouldn’t need to upgrade the browsing experience if we were given one really high-quality option to work with. But as we’ve already seen, Google doesn’t always look out for its users. So, who’s to say that it wouldn’t just kick back and wait to make improvements to its browser only when it served its own interests?

That’s not how technology works. As our needs change as consumers and the world around us becomes more complicated, technology always needs to be on the cutting edge. It would be rather reckless to give up on less popular browsers whose mere presence leads to greater innovation in how we move around the web.

 

Wrap-Up

As it stands now, we’re better off with multiple browsers. We could definitely stand to trim down the list of browsers that are available — for the sake of development and testing — but it would require the leading browsers to collaborate and work on building a more standardized web.

You can’t design for the majority of your visitors; you have to design for all of them.

As for what you can do with this information, here are my final thoughts:

You can’t design for the majority of your visitors; you have to design for all of them.

So, first things first: familiarize yourself with the differences between the leading web browsers. If you don’t have this set up already, install Chrome, Firefox, and Safari on your desktop and mobile devices. And put them into rotation as you spend time on the web, for work or personal use. You’ll quickly learn where these browsers fall short and where they shine.

Next, take a look at Google Analytics. Which browsers do your visitors use? What about in years past? If you don’t have any data to go on, then you need to assume that visitors could be coming in from any and all browsers.

And, finally, build websites that adhere to basic web standards. You’ll find information on this at the World Wide Web Consortium. Until our web browsers come together to align their rendering engines and browsing experiences, we have to do what we can to bring consistency and stability to the web.



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