Wednesday 1 April 2015

To be IE, or not to be IE

Microsoft has released more information on their new web browser, currently code-named Spartan. You can read more about Spartan on the newly minted wikipedia page here

The new browser will be completely different from Microsoft IE, with a different rendering engine and a different code-base. 

The IE team provided a few different reasons for these changes:

  • Project Spartan was built for the next generation of the Web, taking the unique opportunity provided by Windows 10 to build a browser with a modern architecture and service model for Windows as a Service. This clean separation of legacy and new code will enable us to deliver on that promise. Our testing with Project Spartan has shown that it is on track to be highly compatible with the modern Web, which means the legacy engine isn’t needed for compatibility.
  • For Internet Explorer 11 on Windows 10 to be an effective solution for legacy scenarios and enterprise customers, it needs to behave consistently with Internet Explorer 11 on Windows 7 and Windows 8.1. Hosting our new engine in Internet Explorer 11 has compatibility implications that impact this promise and would have made the browser behave differently on Windows 10.
In addition to these changes, I think that there may be some customer confusion about which browser to use, and when. Enterprise customers may still need the legacy compatibility support for their internal enterprise systems while Spartan will be used for the "rest of the web". The web is a messy place, with compatibility issues of its own. I am not sure that a simple distinction of "if it's internal, use IE11 and if not, use Spartan" will work.

That said, Microsoft has updated Windows 10 at its fastest pace ever, and the new browser has been updated as well. Some key elements in the new browser include;

  • Cortana is built-in and ready to assist: Cortana in Project Spartan is a digital personal assistant that helps make Web browsing easier.
  • Inking and sharing so you can capture and communicate your thoughts: Now with new inking capabilities, Project Spartan enables you to write or type directly on the page, comment on what’s interesting or clip what you want – then easily share this “Web Note” via mail, or a social network. 
  • Distraction-free reading with Reading List and Reading View: Project Spartan helps with a new Reading List to collect everything you want to read, including the ability to save any webpage or PDF for convenient access later.
  • A new engine for the modern Web: Project Spartan’s new rendering engine is built around the idea that the Web “just works,” while being fast, more secure, and more reliable. 
However, if you are currently in the UK (like me) you will not be able to see all of these benefits, until worldwide distribution later this year. You can read more about this latest update to the Windows 10 Insider program here

This may all sound interesting from a simple technical perspective. However, if you have been watching my patch updates for a while (years?) and see how often IE is completely refreshed/updated each month, this may not be good news for you. Also, I think we have to ask the question, "Will anyone care?". There are already a number of very good, and fast evolving browsers out there. Microsoft is going to have work pretty hard to woo customers back to a new browser. 

Actually, it's kind of exciting to watch.

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