What's in the latest Edge update? Vertical tabs for all, and faster start-ups

Version 89 of Microsoft's Edge browser kills off 33 security vulnerabilities and is supposed to boost startup times by up to 41%.

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January 2021

Microsoft's Edge 88, last week released, boasts major improvements to its password manager and debuted new tab features, including vertical tabs — something Chrome has yet to offer.

The Redmond, Wash. company also patched at least 24 security vulnerabilities, the most serious marked as "High," the second level in a four-step ranking system. Google's Chrome 88, which like Edge was built on the open-source Chromium project, included fixes for 36 flaws when it was released Jan. 19.

(Note: Starting Jan. 21, the day Microsoft delivered Edge 88, it began "...releasing the Chrome CVEs that are included in the new releases of Microsoft Edge (Chromium-based) directly in the Security Update Guide." For more information on what that meant, steer to this explanation.)

Although Edge will update automatically in the background, to force an upgrade, select "About Microsoft Edge" from the Help and Feedback menu under the ellipsis at the upper right; the resulting tab shows that the browser has been updated or displays the download process before presenting a "Restart" button.

Users new to Edge can manually download version 88 for Windows or macOS. The Linux version is available as a Dev Channel build from the Insider website, while the Android and iOS browsers can be found in the Google Play and App Store markets, respectively.

Microsoft updates Edge about every six weeks, usually a day or two after Google refreshes Chrome to the same version number. The previous Edge upgrade, v.87, was released Nov. 19, 2020.

Browser or password manager?

Not surprisingly, the bulk of each Edge upgrade's improvements and additions are shared with the same-numbered Chrome, what with both browsers feeding from the Chromium code trough.

Edge 88, like Chrome 88, features changes to its password manager, including in-browser password checking and editing.

The former identifies weak passwords and/or those that have been revealed in past data breaches. (In Chrome, this service, dubbed "Safety Check," debuted in May 2020.) Microsoft called it "Password Monitor," and enabled it as a default in Edge 88. (Not everyone will see it switched on immediately, as Microsoft, like Google, unveils new tools and features in stages so that any still-in-there bugs don't cripple the entire user base. Computerworld, for example, didn't see the new tools in v.88 on its Macs.)

In a blog post and a support document, Microsoft stressed that passwords are encrypted such that even it doesn't know them; it described Password Monitor as a tool that informs "you when any of your passwords have been compromised, so you can update them."

Edge also lets users make in-browser changes to compromised passwords. Clicking on the "Change" box beside a weak or revealed account will, some of the time though not always, take the user to the pertinent website's log-in screen or the site's location for creating a new password. Just because the box reads "Change," though, doesn't mean you'll get this extra help; in many cases it does nothing, forcing you to manually navigate to the site and its alter-password screen.

Vertical tabs, tabs get sleepy

Edge also received improvements to how users handle tabs, notably by introducing vertical tabs.

Rather than plaster tab names across the top of the browser window, Edge 88 will rank them in a cascading list on the left side of the window. The reason for doing so? A vertical display will show much more of the tab's title than can fit on most tabs at the top.

Edge 88's vertical tabs Microsoft

Edge 88's vertical tab feature puts tab labels in a sidebar, where the additional space lets titles expand.

As with other features, the vertical tabs might not be enabled immediately. To switch it on, users can type edge://flags in the address bar, press Return or Enter, search for the #edge-vertical-tabs flag, choose "Enabled" from the choices at the right, and relaunch the browser.

Edge 88 also introduced what Microsoft called "sleeping tabs," a performance enhancement that releases system resources — memory and CPU cycles — for open tabs that haven't been viewed in a set length of time. Gone-to-sleep tabs are marked by dimming the text that names the tab.

When sleeping tabs is enabled, users can set the dozing interval at multiple intervals, from five minutes to 12 hours, and list sites that should never go to sleep.

If the feature isn't yet turned on in Edge 88, it will be for everyone as of the next upgrade, Edge 89, Microsoft said. (Impatient users can look for and set the #edge-sleeping-tabs flag.)

And more for enterprises

Users with work or school accounts — largely Office 365 users — now have a new feature in Edge's new tab page. Labeled "Your day at a glance," it displays content drawn from usage of Microsoft's productivity tools to create a simplistic dashboard. Impending events are shown, as are files that others in a team have recently updated or returned.

The dashboard adds an additional element to an already packed new tab page, which for business users subscribed to Office 365, has been transformed into a launchpad-slash-search-portal-cum-news feed.

Elsewhere in Edge 88, the browser added history and open tabs sync, two-page view for PDFs, and the total deprecation of Adobe Flash support.

Microsoft will release the next upgrade, Edge 89, around March 4.

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