If you work a lot in a desktop browser like Chrome, Firefox, or Microsoft Edge, do yourself a favor and upgrade to the beta.
Switching to your browser’s beta channel is a great way to take advantage of new features before they hit the mainstream, and it’s also an easy way to get out of your tech comfort zone a bit. And despite the “beta” branding, these builds tend to be remarkably stable, so you can get a taste of cutting-edge innovation without too much risk.
The Case for Beta Navigation
Diving into pre-release software is not always a safe bet. Public betas of iOS and Android, for example, can be quite tricky, with bugs and battery life issues hampering day-to-day use, and you can’t downgrade to stable versions without factory reset your phone. Using pre-release builds of Windows is also a bit risky, as you can’t disable these Insider builds until a new stable build is available.
Beta versions of web browsers are much more attractive in comparison. Even before reaching the beta stage, major browser makers released experimental “Nightly” or “Canary” builds, followed by somewhat rough “Developer” builds, so they’ve already gone through rigorous testing by the time where they reach beta.
This is purely anecdotal, but I’ve been using Microsoft Edge beta for nearly a year already and don’t recall encountering any major issues. What I remember is having a better browsing experience with early access to new features, like the ability to sync Edge’s “Collections” across devices, “Web Capture” to take full-page screenshots (invoked with Ctrl-Shift-S), and of course vertical tabs.
And if you decide to go back, the process is usually hassle-free. Most browsers will carry your bookmarks and extensions between versions, and you never have to wait for a new stable version before you can downgrade.
To the betas (and beyond)
If you agree with this philosophy, here’s how to upgrade your browser to beta:
Once you get familiar with beta browsers, it’s tempting to go further. The Nightly and Canary builds can be a fun way to experience state-of-the-art, but you can also dig deeper into the hidden settings menus for even more never-before-seen features.
In Chrome, you can find this menu under chrome://flags. If you’re using the Chrome beta, Google has just started showing some of these experiments in a beaker icon on the toolbar, so you can quickly discover the most promising new ideas. (A personal favorite at the time of this writing: type “enable-reader-mode” in the search bar, then enable this setting. You will now see a small icon in the address bar that allows you to view items in a clutter-free view. .)
You can find similar functionality in most other browsers by replacing “chrome” with the name of the browser in question, so you can type bord://flags/ Where brave://flags in Edge or Brave, respectively. (In Firefox, you’ll find these experimental features under about: setup.)
If there’s a risk in using beta browsers and unfinished features, it’s mainly that things can change without the kind of clear explanation you’d expect from a final product. Microsoft Edge, for example, once quietly changed how copy-and-paste worked for links, and I had to find a way to change it.
But at some level, that risk is its own reward. Being able to stay on your toes and deal with unexpected change is an underrated technical skill, and beta browsers are a relatively safe and easy way to build that technological muscle when change inevitably comes.
This column originally appeared in Jared’s Advisorator newsletter. Sign up to get Tech Tip delivered to your inbox every Tuesday.