There has long been a tension in the legal world in the web browser space. While most lawyers use Microsoft products – Windows, Windows Server, Office Suite – the Microsoft browser, Internet Explorer, has been an also-ran against better browsers like Google Chrome and Mozilla’s Firefox. The broad release of the new Chromium-powered Microsoft Edge means that law firms – and law libraries – can rethink the need for Google’s browser.
A default corporate software load still needed an alternative browser, which was most likely Google Chrome. I haven’t plugged them in a while but the International Legal Technology Association’s regular technology survey is one of the best views into what large US law firms are using. Those serving the legal vertical and those within it could do worse if they’re trying to get a sense of the state of play. You can see in their 2019 technology survey executive summary the dominance of the Windows platform in law firms.
I’m making an educated guess about non-Microsoft browser adoption, based on general browser adoption. The legal profession is unlikely to have bucked that trend.
I like it. I tend to use it more than Google Chrome now. Part of that is the attempt to use Google-based products as much as possible due to privacy concerns. Where I might have used Chrome by default in the past, it’s now the least used of the 4 browsers I have on my PC (three on my tablet and phone).
Extensions from Chrome Store
One obvious benefit is that any extension you’re using in Google Chrome will now work in Microsoft Edge. This was always Microsoft Internet Explorer’s greatest gap, other than it was pretty much awful. There were very few add-ons, they were often premium and enterprise focused.
The latest Edge also allows you to sync your extensions between browsers. If you login to a desk computer and then later onto the shared reference desk computer, you can keep those extensions in sync. I am not confident it syncs the extension data (a Stylus rule or a Privacy Badger block list) but that can sometimes be fixed with exporting and importing within the extension.
I tend towards extensions that de-personalize my research (script and tracker blocking, for example, using NoScript, Privacy Badger, and uBlock) but there are plenty of research positive extensions to hook into research notebooks or to organize resources you find.
Microsoft has warned Internet Explorer users to stop using it. Unlike Chome, Edge, and Firefox browsers, which have largely nerfed security holes caused by Java and Adobe’s Flash technology, Internet Explorer is a laggard. I know of companies in the legal vertical still using Microsoft’s Silverlight plugin for Internet Explorer. It provides some multimedia functionality but it is about to run out of runway and is already no longer supported in Edge, Chrome, or Firefox or on the Mac.
The same with Adobe’s Flash, which is coming to the end of its life this year. It has been a top source of browser-based exploits. Chromium-based browsers can view Flash-based objects but you can disable the functionality until you need it. It is disabled by default in Edge and will be removed at the end of 2020.
Single Sign On to Microsoft Products
As soon as we moved to Windows 10 at home, I noticed that I was no longer prompted for a signon to Microsoft OneDrive, Skype, and other online Microsoft apps. This is a consumer experience and not necessarily what happens in your office. It makes me wonder if this part of the Microsoft 365 experience, though. If it is, and your law firm or law school is entirely a Microsoft stack, this could be a nice feature.
It requires a Microsoft account – which is not always what you have on your local PC – which makes sense. This single signon is similar to when you log in to Google Chrome with a Google account. From that point on, accessing Google Drive, G Suite, GMail, and other Google apps is seamless. The connection between Chrome and the Microsoft 365 environment seems a bit more complicated. The difference is that the Microsoft Edge experience is based on your primary OS login, so it’s a bit cleaner. It won’t disappear if you clear your cookies.
Edge has also adopted some common functionality. For example, you can add custom searches the same way you can on Chrome. This allows you to search specific sites without using site: search syntax but rely on the service’s own search engine (so long as the site’s search supports it):
Go to the site. Federalregister.gov works. Run a search in the search box.
The search doesn’t matter. Executing it causes Edge to store the search engine in your list of possible search engines. You can then go in and edit the entry to customize the search engine keyword.
Click the three-dot menu at the top right in Edge, select Settings, and search for Address Bar. Choose Manage Search Engines and scroll down to FederalRegister.gov. Click on the three dots in the far right column for FederalRegister.gov.
The default keyword is the domain name, which can mean you may not have seen the functionality before. Change the keyword to something short that you’ll remember. I made mine frsearch. Now, when I type frsearch in my Edge address bar, there is a prompt to see if I want to search the Federal Register web site. If I hit TAB, I can search their site directly from the address bar. Not Bing, not Google, not using a site: delimiter.
The benefit of common functionality is that it will be easy to move people to Edge from Chrome if there is a push towards software standardization. Legal researchers are likely to keep multiple browsers – whether for performance, tool, or de-personalization reasons – so the similarity should make swapping between browsers easier.
All in all, I’m glad to see the direction Edge has gone. I’m sorry to see some functionality disappear, like its ability to act as a native ebook reader. Bing still isn’t as good a search engine as Google. But having better browsers gives legal researchers an opportunity to mix up our toolset to get the best experience.