Internet Explorer: Spartan Assault

IE Spartan

Okay this site has no stance on rumors other than saying upfront when we are writing about something we have no idea is real or conjecture. So the following is rumor until we hear otherwise. So last week I run across a tweet by Thomas Nigro, one of the developers of the VLC app for Windows/Windows Phone. In the tweet he says Microsoft is planning to release a browser not named Internet Explorer for Windows 10; in fact this new browser will replace IE.

This in turn brought about a conversation on Twitter where some noted Windows watchers went about examining Nigro’s information. According to him the info came from the Live tile podcast, a French Windows based podcast. The way Nigro describes it this new browser is a total rewrite with a new interface. When asked by Brad Sams (Neowin) and Mary Jo Foley (ZDNet) it would have heavy integration with Cortana, Microsoft’s digital assistant and be based on IE’s current Trident engine. The whole thing was and is somewhat confusing but is plausible because of recent moves with the Internet Explorer team.

Recently the IE team has been moving to make major changes for the browser. From creating enterprise mode to help move enterprises off older IE browsers to the new preview program allowing users to have test builds. One thing has been clear the IE team is looking at a lot of ways to modernize Microsoft’s browser. Much like many groups within the software giant, the IE team has been open about changes and looking for user feedback. It has also been clear that for them a lot of options are now on the table; and among them could be a new browser. I know from my research that the Explorer team is interested in adding features that make IE more modern and attractive to users and developers. They have widely discussed adding things like extensions and plugins. They have also been trying to extend the reach of Internet Explorer beyond Windows to make it a better choice for web developers who increasingly default to Chrome because of convenience. The IE team continues to move to make the browser more standards compliant; including creating a dashboard so developers can see what’s being worked on.

So this mystery browser has a 50/50 chance of being real. A lot of people, including myself, think Microsoft should make a new browser built around modern usage and web applications free of IE’s reputation. Some would go farther and say rebuild using WebKit (the engine used by Apple Safari and until recently Google Chrome) because its widely adapted in mobile. On the other hand enterprises won’t be too pleased if IE just simply vanished and was replaced by some flashy browser built for consumers. I know based on comments by the browser team in Redmond they feel change is needed but not with their rendering engine Trident. Now based on reports and comments from the IE team, IE12 will be different. It is believed IE12 will be redesigned and include a new extension model. According to stories by both ZDNet and Neowin, the browser is codenamed Spartan and will look familiar to anyone using Firefox or Chrome. Spartan is now in the Windows 10 preview but not user accessible. ZDNet speculated that Spartan may be based on earlier work done by Microsoft Research around the browser such as Gazelle and XAX which looked at ways to get the browser to operate more like an OS (making it easier to run web apps, plugins, and extensions). A new browser with a new more consumer focus could be what’s need to get these technologies widely adopted.

One thing I left out in talking about a new browser be it rebranded or not was the mobile aspect. In the current version of Windows, 8.1, there is essentially two browsers. One is the traditional desktop and the other is a modern version built for touch devices. In Windows 10’s beta there is only a desktop version. We know the next version of the OS will be built to include touch and its feasible this new browser replaces the versions in 8.1 and possibly joins the two browsers into one.

Extra reference:

How the next version of IE, codenamed ‘Spartan,’ might support extensions (ZDNet)

Internet Explorer 12 UI Overhaul is a Blend of Chrome and Firefox (Neowin)



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