Microsoft

Spartan: Microsoft's potential new entry in the browser wars

Greg Shultz takes a look at rumors of a new browser, going by the code name Spartan, that's being built for Windows 10.

Spartan

As you may know, there are rumors circulating on the web that Microsoft is working on a new browser for Windows 10. Going by the code name Spartan, speculation has it that this new browser sheds much of Internet Explorer's proprietary baggage to become a more light-weight browser akin to Chrome or Firefox. Furthermore, it supposedly will support extensions.

In this article, I'll discuss the rumors in more detail and then show you how to go behind the scenes in the version of Internet Explorer included in Build 9879 of Windows 10 and see for yourself some of the early experimental Spartan features.

Time for a new browser

Over the years, Internet Explorer has gained a bad rap for its numerous glitches, heavy-handed proprietary features, and various security breaches. Such bad press has driven many users into the waiting arms of Internet Explorer's competitors, such as Chrome and Firefox. In fact, a recent article on PCMag.com put Internet Explorer in 3rd place behind its main competitors. Considering all of the negativity associated with Internet Explorer, it might just be good time for Microsoft to introduce a totally new web browser with a new name to go with the bright future being projected for Windows 10. Of course, at this time, Spartan is just a code name — but who knows, it could stick and become the actual product name. It's happened before. Windows 7 started out as the code name, and it ultimately became the product name.

The rumors

According to a ZDNet article by Mary Jo Foley, instead of just developing a new version of Internet Explorer (12), Microsoft is building a totally new browser that will have a new user interface, be more streamlined, and perform much faster than Internet Explorer 11. Like Windows 10, the new browser will come in desktop and mobile versions.

The new browser is still going to use the Microsoft JavaScript engine, developed in the Internet Explorer 9 timeframe, and an updated version of the Microsoft Trident rendering engine, which is the layout engine developed back in the Internet Explorer 4.0 timeframe.

Windows 10 January Technical Preview

On January 21st, Microsoft has scheduled an event, at which time the Windows 10 January Technical Preview should be announced. There's a good possibility that we'll learn more about Spartan at the event as well.

Behind the scenes

You can see some of the work Microsoft has been doing on the browser front in the version of Internet Explorer included in Build 9879 of Windows 10. To begin, just launch Internet Explorer as you normally would. Then in the address bar, type about:flags and press [Enter]. When you do this, you'll see a page titled Experimental Features (Figure A).

Figure A

Figure A

You can see some of the work Microsoft has been doing on the browser front in Windows 10 Build 9879.

The center option, titled Experimental Web Platform Features, allows you to choose which Trident rendering engine to use. The default setting is Automatic, which allows Internet Explorer to decide. For example, when you visit a website that requires compatibility mode, then the older, more resource-demanding Trident rendering engine is used to display the site. On the other hand, if the site doesn't require any special treatment, the new Trident rendering engine is used to display the site.

If you want to experiment, you can select either the Enabled or Disabled options — and then visit a different website and see if you can notice a difference in how the browser loads the site. After you change the setting, click Apply changes. Then close and reopen the browser.

Keep in mind that these settings are very early in the development stage, and some anomalies are bound to occur if you experiment with them. As the page warns: These Experiments bite! Turn them on at your own risk.

You can find more information on the Experimental Features page on Microsoft's IEBlog.

What's your take?

Are you ready for a new Microsoft web browser? What do you think about the Spartan rumors? Share your opinion in the discussion thread below.

About Greg Shultz

Greg Shultz is a freelance Technical Writer. Previously, he has worked as Documentation Specialist in the software industry, a Technical Support Specialist in educational industry, and a Technical Journalist in the computer publishing industry.

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