Edge Considered Harmful: Overlaid Lower-Left Links

This page tells the tale of a major defect in Microsoft's Edge desktop web browser uncovered in January 2016 and resolved in June 2018. You can read both the bug's initial description, plus a series of status updates spanning two and a half years—including the eventual fix in Edge 42.

The short story:

Firefox briefly sprouted a similar but milder lower-left-corner overlay issue between versions 54 and 56. It was first addressed here by a temporary redesign workaround, which was later backed out after the fix in later Firefoxes.

Edge, however, remained rudely broken for roughly three years, until spring 2018. This issue has become past tense (for better or worse, there's very little Windows 10 users can do to avoid getting the fix!), but its saga is typical in today's software world. If you're game for a heavy dose of corporate dysfunction and tyranny, read on for the full story.

Postscript from the future: in early 2020, Edge was overhauled to use Chromium, the same code base that underlies Google's much more popular Chrome. The new Edge's desktop behavior on toolbar links works well, and just like Chrome's—posting the URL popup below the links or on the opposite page side as needed to avoid overlaying content. You might think that renders this page moot, but Microsoft is still Microsoft, and time-machine startups are tough to acquire (though most of the bug-report links here did morph into Edge-propaganda redirects eventually...).

Initial Description: January 2016

Both the books and training sites hosted here have been tested successfully on Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, Opera, and Safari. Any reasonably recent version of these desktop web browsers will suffice (as will all mobile browsers, after later updates).

However, as of early 2016, the new Edge browser on Windows 10 is not recommended for these sites, until a known defect in this browser is repaired. Namely, Edge's URL display popup, issued whenever a mouse (or stylus) hovers above a link, can overlay links in a page's lower-left corner, rendering them difficult to select, if not fully inoperative. Even when no hover is intended, it's nearly impossible to activate any lower-left links—the disabling URL popup appears immediately when the mouse cursor reaches the link, leaving no time for a click.

In the sites hosted here and others, this impacts both a bottom-of-page navigation toolbar, as well as any other link that happens to wind up at the bottom left of the page.

Toolbar Links

The graphic details: when hovering over any of the leftmost links in these sites' bottom-of-page toolbars, or simply trying to select them at all, Edge's URL popup may cover multiple leftmost links. For example, below are screenshots of the book site's main page before and after the mouse cursor is moved to the toolbar's left side; the URL popup hides multiple toolbar links, and disables them in the process:

[Toolbar before]    [Toolbar hover]

Other Links

More generally, Edge's popup can overlay and disable any hyperlink that happens to wind up at the lower-left corner of the page, due to a scroll or general text layout. For instance, below is the scene for such a link before and after the mouse cursor reaches it; the URL popup covers and deactivates the subject link, as well as any other links to its immediate right:

[Other before]    [Other hover]

Impact on Users and Sites

All the other browsers listed above avoid covering such lower-left links by displaying the URL popup more intelligently when needed—on the right of the screen, just below lower-left links, or in a separate status bar. These browsers have long used such techniques to avoid rendering an entire portion of the page useless for actual content.

In Edge, however, content takes a back seat to the browser. Users must either avoid a hover on links at the lower-left corner of the page (e.g., by using touch if available), or perform a haphazard negotiation with the obscuring URL popup—clicking obscured links twice without moving the cursor; clicking just above or below the popup; approaching links from above or below quickly; or clicking while moving the cursor erratically in hope of activation. A frustrating user experience to be sure.

This is clearly an Edge bug. It impacts many other sites, including some of Microsoft's own, and will hopefully be addressed in an Edge update soon. As is, the only recourse for web developers seems to be either a full site redesign—which won't help for links that happen to wind up at lower left after a scroll; or a JavaScript solution to hide the URL popup altogether—which is deemed bad etiquette, won't work for users who have disabled JavaScript, and impacts search engine results.

The Bleeding Edge?

For more background on this bug, see the pertinent but unfortunately unanswered Microsoft support threads here and here. I also filed a report on the Connect site, though its visibility is unclear, and there seems no other venue for bug reports from individual customers.

In its defense, Windows 10 was released just 6 months ago as this is being written, and Edge may still be in a quasi-beta state. Given the vehemence with which Microsoft is trying to impose Edge on Windows 10 users, though, the company should at least fix fundamental behavior issues like this which other browsers solved long ago.

There may be additional reasons to give Edge a wait-and-see, but they are beyond this note's scope. Its initial, default "choices" of search provider, for example, may to some seem either ploy to keep novice users in the Microsoft fold, or unnecessarily dark humor...

[Search settings]    [Search choices?]

Status Updates: 2016..2018

April 2016 — Dismissed as "By Design"

Since I wrote the page above, Microsoft's support team closed the original post of the problem and moved it to a new page, but marked it as a "Duplicate" at its new location. Unfortunately, the most similar report of this bug at the new site has also been marked as "By Design," which strongly implies that the problem won't be fixed.

It's possible that this will be addressed in a future Edge release anyhow; the user bug-reports support team may be arbitrarily far-removed from actual developers, of course, and this may just reflect defect or incompetence in the reporting pipeline. If not, though, the websites here—and scores of others—will simply not work very well in Edge. Sorry, Microsoft, but most people are not going to spend weeks or months redesigning websites just because you've opted to dismiss a widely reported and glaring bug as a "design feature."

I will, however, pass along a word of advice: arrogance and rudeness are not the best ways to win the hearts and minds of people evaluating new systems whose adoption you hope to promote. Barring a surprise future fix, your disappointed customers will have to mark this issue closed too; perhaps they'll file it under "Perils of proprietary software" or "See Edge (and Windows 10) alternatives."

Summer 2016 — A Simple Workaround: IE

If Edge's behavior on this site's lower-left links becomes too annoying, there is a simple fix—click on Edge's upper-right "..." pull-down menu, and select "Open in Internet Explorer." This opens the page in IE, which does the right thing for these links (previewing their URLs on the lower right of the window), and is still present on Windows 10 (despite its owner's best efforts to demote it).

Naturally, installing Firefox or Chrome may be the preferred solution for many readers; roughly one year after its release, Edge today garners just 1% of the traffic at this site (see also the updates ahead). Luckily, IE remains an option for others—at least until Microsoft decides to take it away without your permission, or coerce you into their camp with monopolistic and even puerile practices. Now if only there was an option to "Restart in Windows 7"...

Summer 2017 — Still No Edge Fix, Firefox Broken Too

As of mid-2017's update for Windows 10, Edge has still not addressed the link-overlay-on-hover issue, and after two years it seems unlikely that it will. Alas, the company apparently has more pressing agendas. The good news is that, two years later, Edge still gets at most 4% of the traffic on this website, behind Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Internet Explorer (which garner 59%, 18%, 11%, and 5%, respectively); web-wide metrics show Edge faring similar or worse. Windows 10 S may try to force the issue by making Edge (and Bing) an unchangeable default, but that system seems unlikely to survive contact with market realities.

Also in mid-2017, the latest Firefox began overlaying links in the lower left of a page with a URL-hover popup just like Edge, instead of moving them intelligently to the lower right when needed as it formerly did. This is new in Firefox version 54; may be a genuine regression; isn't quite as disabling as in Edge; and might be addressed by an add-on. On the plus side here, Chrome, Safari, and Internet Explorer all still correctly avoid overlaying lower-left links. Hopefully, Firefox has not decided to parrot a proprietary browser whose market share is a fraction of its own.

February 2018 — Mobile-Friendly Redesign Improves the Firefox Story

And now for a happy ending (well, a temporary workaround for Firefox, at least): in early 2018, the URL-hover popup issue was rendered moot on Firefox and somewhat less severe on Edge by an unrelated site redesign.

Without getting into too many details, CSS code now sets toolbar minimum size and forces scrolls on truncation to support mobile devices with "overflow-x." Although this code can set the scroll's space to appear on demand only, setting it to be always present leaves space under the toolbar to accommodate the URL popup's text. In other words, toolbar scrolling changes for smaller screens also fix or improve the URL-popup issue, as follows:

On Firefox
The issue goes away completely. Here's the new scene on a recent (54.0.1) Firefox without and with a URL popup. The effect is even better when fonts are larger, and not negated when fonts are smaller.

On Edge
Results are mixed, but subpar. Toolbar links are now more usable, but they are still somewhat obscured by the URL popup (which aggravates the problem by posting itself above empty space pointlessly). Here's the scene on the latest Edge without and with a URL popup. The obscuring is worse when smaller fonts are used, and arguably no better than before.

On Others
There was no issue to fix; the new empty space is superfluous, but displayed by desktop browsers only (mobile browsers use swipes instead of bars for scrolls, and most have no hover apart from outliers like the Galaxy Note which doesn't popup obscuring URLs in any event). Ironically, Microsoft's own Internet Explorer still does better than Edge, as do Chrome, Safari, and all mobile browsers.

To summarize, the toolbar scroll is a full solution on Firefox, and a limited improvement on Edge. Although less radical than toolbar expansion or relocation, for both browsers this is still a workaround, not a fix, and leaves empty space at the bottom of windows in all desktop browsers that's less than ideal cosmetically. For Edge, it's also the best this site will do. Waiting for Microsoft to fix the problem—or even acknowledge it—is clearly futile.

In the end, companies that reap many billions of dollars from their customers surely have proportionate responsibility for the quality of their products. Ignoring glaring product defects can be a valid business practice only in a world of mindless consumers and rabid monopolies. Judging from this site's analytics on Edge's market share, that world, happily, seems still a fiction.

May 2018 — Firefox Fix, Toolbar Space Cut, Edge Punt

Like everything else in the computer field, this story changes perpetually. Most recently:

Because of these findings, because JavaScript per-browser styling is a non-starter at this site, and because the extra scroll space didn't help Edge very much in any event, this site has now dropped the extra space below the toolbar on all browsers. Here is this site's new home page in the most-recent versions of its most-used browsers, captured on Mac OS (Chrome and Firefox work the same on other platforms, and beyond these three IE and Edge currently scrounge here for 3% share each):

And here's how these browsers post mouse-over URL popups for lower-left links:

Naturally, this site's pages all follow the same toolbar model; here's one of its apps' user guides.

This change is irrelevant to mobile browsers, which scroll with swipes and never show space for scrollbars. Desktop visitors to this site are encouraged to upgrade Firefox 54 if used, and avoid Edge until it addresses this issue. The inconvenience on Edge is regrettable, but at the end of the day, it still garners just 3% of this site's traffic. It makes no sense to penalize 97 people because 3 are using a broken browser, especially when the penalty helps the 3 little at best.

In the interest of fairness, this site's initial bug report has also been reposted on Edge's latest bug-tracker site. Given the history this seems unlikely to bear fruit (and the absence of a future update here would strongly suggest it did not). Then again, the Right Thing is often just as easy as the Wrong Thing—even for rabid monopolies.

June 2018 — The Final Word: Edge 42 Fixes the Bug

The quest is over: version 42 of Edge—released with the April 2018 Windows 10 feature update, version 1803—finally addresses and fixes the URL-preview-on-hover overlay issue. With the new version, the URL is displayed above links in the lower-left corner, when those links are the subject of a mouse-over. With this fix, all the links at the bottom of a window are now usable.

Here was the scene on Edge 41 and earlier, just before the spring 2018 Windows 10 update:

And here's the new behavior on Edge 42, after the 2018 Windows 10 update released in April and rolled out in May; the fix appears to have found its way into the update without any notice on threads reporting the issue:

The specific version of Edge with the fix on my test machine is 42.17134.1.0. Some users of Edge 41 and earlier may still have the problem, but not for long: Edge 42 is included in the April 2018 Windows 10 update, which is essentially being forced on all Windows 10 users (even some who have opted out of mandatory updates, apparently). On my machine, the fix finally showed up after a half-day update process in June—a few weeks after the May 11 Edge bugs-site resubmit, which I've amended accordingly.

This is good news to be sure: Edge, like all other desktop browsers in common use, can now be reliably used to view this site. While it remains to be seen if Edge will ever garner the market share it seeks, fixes like this one can go a long way to helping its cause. More importantly, they help the very many users of the Windows platform.

That being said, ignoring an issue for some three years and being rudely dismissive to customers along the way isn't exactly the stuff of fairytale finishes. Monopolies—the unfortunate endgame of capitalism—have little incentive to do better. Visitors to this site are still encouraged to use a web browser that is not at the mercy of greedy companies or developer egos. And if you ever find one, please let me know...

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