One of the more shocking things about Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) Windows 10 operating system is that it drops the company's long-standing Internet Explorer Web browser for a new one.
That revised browser, which had been only identified as "Project Spartan," made its public debut at Microsoft's recent Build developers' conference. At that event, the Explorer replacement was not only introduced for the first time under its name -- Microsoft Edge -- it also had a bit of a coming out party.
Though very early beta versions of the browser had been available to people who signed up for trial versions of Windows 10, that version only showed some its features. At Build the company's next generation browser had its secrecy pulled away and more of its features revealed.
"Microsoft Edge is the browser built for Windows 10," said Joe Belfiore, who heads the company's operating systems group, "... The name refers to being on the edge of consuming and creating. It refers to the developer notion of being the closest to the modern capabilities of the web."
The name was first shown in a promotional video, which the company later release to the public.
The browser's tag line sums up its purpose
Before the formal presentation of Edge, the video which introduced the name also showed off the company's positioning for the new browser, essentially it's tag line. After showing how browsers had always been "a window into the world" that "we all looked out and saw amazing things," the video offered up what is basically the identity and reason for being for Edge.
"It's time to open that window and blur the edge between consumption and creation," the video showed with appropriately dramatic music.
That line sums up the idea that Edge is not merely a browser in the traditional sense. Instead, it allows interaction in a way that Explorer and its rivals do not. The video showed items being circled on browser pages, and live interactions with the Cortana voice assistant.
The goal was clearly to establish that this was not just a revised version of Explorer or an answer to Firefox or Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL) Chrome -- it's a whole new take on what web browsing can be.
It's a about getting things done
Belfiore highlighted that Edge is an interactive browser that's "for getting things done." He gave being able to take notes on the Internet as an example of how that might work. He also said the presence of the company's voice assistant -- which gets "smarter" the more you use it, should make Edge a better tool for users.
"Because it has Cortana built in, it learns about the things you care about and helps you get things done," said Belfiore, later showing how his own interactions with the voice assistant allowed the browser to know his favorite sports teams and the stocks he follows. The more someone interacts with the browser and Cortana, the more customized (and theoretically useful) the experience becomes.
Apps are key
Because Edge is about discovery and usefulness, it also lets users know when they may have a better option than the browser. At the top of its home screen, Edge shows the sites you have visited most often. That's common functionality on a lot of browsers and a helpful tool which has been around for years.
Where Edge breaks off from tradition is that it shows users which of their favorite sites has an app and offers a download link. Because Windows 10 has a universal app store where apps work across phones, tablets, and even PCs, consumers now have the option of not using a browser at all for a favorite site which has a dedicated app.
Edge makes discovering and installing those apps easy and leads users toward the best possible experience even if it involves using a tool other than the browser.
This may seem like a minor tweak, but it goes against years of the commonly held idea being that the goal of a browser was to keep people using that browser. Microsoft had been among the most zealous practitioners of using Explorer to funnel customers into its Bing search brand and the MSN homepage.
Edge reflects the new Microsoft
Openly sending people away from Edge -- and perhaps from Microsoft products altogether -- shows that the company understands how the Internet has changed. Edge, at least from these early glances, embraces a broader Internet and a less-direct path to profit.
This is in line with what Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has been preaching, but it's still surprising to see from a company that for years acted like it was still the only game in town. Edge plays nicely with others and that's better for consumers.
Embracing this philosophy should make more people willing to try Edge and not immediately switch to one of its rivals. In the long run, that could bring Microsoft a bigger audience, which is a better play than continuing to try to use its browser to support its other products.