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With Edge browser update, Microsoft says work searches will no longer suck

The first Chromium-based Edge arrives Jan. 15 with built-in Bing that will surface company documents, emails and websites.

Microsoft Edge icon logo

Microsoft Edge is dumping its old icon for a new cresting-wave look that might get you thinking about surfing the web, even as it harks back to the old lowercase "e" logo.

Illustration by Stephen Shankland/CNET

The next phase of Microsoft's effort to lure you into using its overhauled Edge web browser begins in your office with an effort to making searching for work information not suck. Today, you're likely to get useful results if you search the internet for hotels or car repair tips, but a lot of people can't find what they need from their own employers. Microsoft now is tightly integrating Edge, its Bing search engine and its widely used business tools to try to fix that.

"I can search the web in sub-second time and find billions of documents, but I can't find the expense policy," said Yusuf Mehdi, corporate vice president of Microsoft's Modern Life and Devices group. Better search will free up the 20% of employee time that workers waste trying to find the right information, he said, citing a McKinsey study.

Microsoft is in the middle of rebuilding its Edge browser as a variation on Google's open-source Chromium project. The Chromium-based Edge is in beta testing now, and Microsoft will begin distributing a near-final release candidate at Microsoft's Ignite conference and ship the new version on Jan. 15, Mehdi said. The plan is to start shipping it with Windows in the first half of 2020, he added.

The moves are part of Microsoft's effort to reclaim its relevance on the web. And although the Ignite push caters to the office worker crowd, the company hopes Edge's privacy, performance, security and other features will draw ordinary consumers, too. If Microsoft succeeds, the internet could see a more effective counterweight to Google's Chrome, whose dominance today gives Google massive power over the future of the entire web.

Mehdi spoke ahead of this week's Ignite, at which the company announced the new Edge browser abilities.

Company-focused search results

Google search did a good job making the internet useful, and Microsoft hopes its Bing integration with Edge will have a similar effect for workers.

The new search integration in Microsoft Edge blends search results from the internet with a separate section drawn from corporate servers. That can include emails, internal websites and files, all selected with machine learning-infused search technology weighted by factors like who's a frequent collaborator or who's nearby in the org chart, said Jordi Ribas, Microsoft's corporate vice president of search.

Microsoft 

Microsoft

It'll also draw information from connected tools like Salesforce or Google's G Suite and later will be hooked up to Microsoft's Power BI business analysis tools.

In addition, Edge's new tab page will automatically pull in documents you might be interested in -- for example, files co-workers shared with you.

Microsoft browser ups and down

Two decades ago, Microsoft's Internet Explorer vanquished Netscape's Navigator to win the first browser wars, but Microsoft let the browser languish. Mozilla's Firefox, Opera Software's Opera and Apple's Safari chipped away at IE's dominance and sowed the seeds for a revitalized, independent web. Chrome vaulted past them all after its arrival in 2008 and now accounts for 64% of web usage, according to StatCounter.

Microsoft tried a fresh start by stripping down and modernizing IE into Edge, but it didn't catch on. One big problem: Web developers made sure their sites worked with Chrome but often didn't bother with Edge, which led to compatibility problems like the inability of Mehdi's son to upload his college application until he tried with Chrome.

As a result, Microsoft is throwing out the browser engine on which its old Edge was based and swapping in Chromium. That's what's used by several other browsers, including Samsung Internet, Vivaldi Technologies' Vivaldi and Brave Software's Brave. Microsoft's new Chromium-based Edge is available far beyond Windows, too, including on Android and MacOS.

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