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Microsoft paves way for ad blocking in Edge browser

Blocking ads isn't just about keeping annoying sales pitches at bay. It's also about keeping safe from ads that may come packing malware.

Microsoft wants its Edge browser to be on the cutting edge.

Microsoft is making sure its new Web browser can be part of the war on Internet ads.

At its Build conference in San Francisco on Wednesday, Microsoft outlined improvements to the new Edge browser it introduced with the Windows 10 operating system last year. High on the list is technology that will let you customize the browser's behavior, for example, by installing ad-blocking extensions.

Microsoft's longtime browser, Internet Explorer, can be customized through a more cumbersome method that Microsoft didn't include in Edge. Instead, the company adopted a variation of the approach Google, Mozilla and Apple already use for their browsers. That paves the way for popular extension AdBlock Plus, which is working on Edge support.

Ad blocking used to be a niche activity, but it is moving rapidly into the mainstream. Some Web browsers, like Opera and Brave, which is a startup browser from former Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich, are even starting to build the feature directly into the software. Apple lets you download a third-party ad-blocker for its Safari mobile browser.

This isn't just about blocking annoying ads. Safety questions have come to the fore after the likes of The New York Times, BBC and AOL accidentally distributed ads infected with malware. Ads can also make websites slower to load and more taxing on phone batteries.

Microsoft once ruled the browser game with its Internet Explorer, but over the last decade it has seen a dramatic decline in usage as Google's Chrome and Mozilla's Firefox rose to prominence. The new extensions technology, combined with support for many Web technologies, shows that Microsoft is determined to be more forward-thinking as it moves on from its legacy product and presses ahead with the evolution of Windows 10 and Edge.

At Build, it initially appeared that Microsoft would be baking ad-blocking capabilities into its browser itself. The confusion stemmed from wording in a Microsoft presentation. In a chart laying out future features for Edge, spotted by CNET sister site ZDNet, one of the actions described for the summer 2016 update was listed as "build ad-blocking features into the browser."

"What people saw during a session at Build yesterday was in reference to the work we're already doing in bringing extensions to MS Edge," Microsoft said in a statement.

Correction, 3 a.m. PT April 1: Microsoft is creating extensions technology that will let other companies build ad blockers for Edge.