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Tech Matters: Microsoft Edge gets a competitive edge

By Leslie Meredith - Special to the Standard-Examiner | May 4, 2022

Photo supplied

Leslie Meredith

Microsoft will be adding a free built-in virtual private network (VPN) service to its Edge browser, offering better security and privacy. While an integrated VPN is not a new concept — both Firefox and Chrome offer one — Microsoft is the first to offer the feature for free, likely in a bid to attract more users.

Microsoft’s Edge browser runs a distant third place behind Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox. In the United States, 59.55% of users favor Chrome, 17.09% have chosen Firefox and 12.54% run Edge, according to Statcounter figures for March 2022.

It’s surprising that Edge has fallen so far behind. While it’s true that the original Edge browser introduced with Windows 10 compared poorly to Chrome (slower, difficult to use and had few extensions), the browser was rebuilt in 2020 and the improvements were significant. In fact, today’s Edge uses far fewer resources than Chrome, meaning you can have more open tabs without pages slowing or crashing.

In a test conducted by Computerworld, Edge used 665 megabytes of RAM with six pages loaded while Chrome used 1.4 gigabytes — more than twice the memory. This can make a noticeable performance difference, especially on systems with limited memory. That alone should be compelling enough for Chrome devotees to at least give Edge another chance.

The free VPN is icing on the cake.

If you are unfamiliar with the term VPN, it is a service that you can buy to hide your location and encrypt the data sent to and from your computer to access all websites. While it’s unlikely you’d need one at home, you do need one if you’re using unsecured public Wi-Fi, an unsecured hotel Wi-Fi while traveling, or if you are visiting a country that blocks websites you need or want to access. If you’re accessing sensitive company data outside the office, your employer likely requires you to use a VPN.

Called Edge Secure Network, Microsoft said in an announcement that it is testing a VPN service powered by Cloudflare, one of the world’s largest content delivery network and security providers. The new VPN service will roll out to the public as a part of a future security upgrade.

When activated, Edge Secure Network will encrypt users’ web traffic so internet service providers can’t collect browsing information such as health-related services. A VPN is considered more secure than using a browser’s private browsing feature. It will also hide your location, substituting a virtual IP address for the one assigned to your actual location.

Unlike a third party VPN, Microsoft will limit VPN data usage to 1GB per month. This means that you will need to be judicious with your use, reserving the VPN for times when you need it — and remember to turn it off when you don’t. Microsoft has not yet said whether customers will be able to pay for additional data.

Once the preview version becomes available, you can try it for yourself. If you’d like to be among the first to try out the VPN, sign up for one of Microsoft’s Edge Insider Channels at https://www.microsoftedgeinsider.com/en-us/download.

Either way, you’ll access the new VPN by opening up Edge, heading to “Settings and more” and clicking on “Secure Network.” If you aren’t already signed into your Microsoft account, you will be asked to do so or create an account. Once that’s done, you will see a solid shield icon in the browser frame, indicating Microsoft’s Edge Secure Network is on. It will turn off when you close the browser.

If you’d like to make the switch to Edge and make it your default browser, it’s easy to do. Go to “Settings” and then select “Apps,” followed by “Default apps.” The screen will show you default apps for email, maps, playing music and videos, viewing photos and more. To change the default browser, scroll down toward the bottom of your screen and click on the browser that you are currently using. A list will pop up where you can select Edge, and that’s it. No need to restart.

Leslie Meredith has been writing about technology for more than a decade. As a mom of four, value, usefulness, and online safety take priority. Have a question? Email Leslie at asklesliemeredith@gmail.com.

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