Microsoft Previews First Batch of Edge Browser Extensions

Several months after its release, Microsoft is finally addressing one of the new Edge browser's most glaring omissions: add-on support.

Microsoft Edge

Windows Insiders, members of Microsoft's early-access program, can get an early look at how extensions work on the Microsoft Edge browser, the company announced.

Microsoft Edge is bundled with Windows 10, replacing Internet Explorer (IE) as the operating system's default Web browser. (IE11 is still available for users of legacy Web applications.) Faster and more Web standards-compliant than IE, Edge offers a streamlined and minimalist user experience popularized by rival browsers like Google's Chrome and Mozilla's Firefox.

Widely considered an improvement over IE, the browser launched alongside Windows 10 on July 29, 2015, lacking a critical feature for many users: add-on support.

Add-ons, plugins or "extensions" as Microsoft terms them, are used to layer additional functionality onto the stock Web browser experience. For example, many users turn to ad blockers to avoid malvertising and improve their personal privacy and security online. Some busy professionals use extensions to track expenses and edit documents online, among other work-related tasks.

Now, more than seven months after Edge officially hit the scene, Microsoft is finally plugging that hole with a preview build (14291) of Windows 10.

"In keeping with our commitment to an interoperable web, we're participating in the W3C Browser Extension Community Group's efforts to define standardized extension APIs [application programming interfaces] based on familiar Web technologies," Chee Chen Tong and Mike Pietraszak, both senior program managers for Microsoft Edge, wrote in a jointly-authored March 17 blog post. "This release supports a selection of preview extensions that have been validated by our team to work with the current set of supported APIs," they continued.

Currently, those extensions include Microsoft Translator, Mouse Gestures and Reddit Enhancement Suite, a collection of quality-of-life improvements and user interface customization tools for the popular community site. Similar to Google Translate functionality in Chrome, the Microsoft Translator extension can translate the contents of a foreign-language Web page with a single click. Mouse Gestures allows users to perform browsing tasks (forward, back, close tab and more) with a series of clicks and mouse movements.

Future extensions will be made available through the Windows Store app marketplace. Microsoft claims the approach will help improve security and simplify the discovery and installation experience for users. During the preview, however, extensions must be loaded manually. Microsoft plans to share more details on its Edge extension APIs and Windows Store integration during the upcoming Build 2016 and Microsoft Edge Web Summit conferences.

Browser extensions aside, Microsoft's browser developers are also focused on improving accessibility.

As one of the group's priorities for 2016, the Edge team is working on delivering tools that help developers build and test accessible sites. In terms of Edge itself, Microsoft is striving to improve high contrast support and readability for visually impaired users.

And while Microsoft isn't going as far as Firefox in blocking Adobe Flash, the company signaled a major change in how the its browser handles Flash content in 2016. Microsoft has started work on isolating Flash into a separate process and on pausing "unnecessary content," announced the software maker last month.

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the network of...