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Wednesday, April 8, 2015

What is Project Spartan, and how does it differ from Internet Explorer


What is Project SpartanInternet Explorer (IE) has been the go to option to browse the internet for many Windows users. Competitors like Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox have used their rapid updating, and fluid user experiences as means to divert Windows users away from IE, which is quickly showing signs of aging in the modern post PC era.

For the next version of Windows, Microsoft hoped to address the shortcomings of IE, and felt the best way to do so was by introducing a brand "new web browsing experience for Windows 10", which became Project Spartan.

The name Spartan, like Cortana has been borrowed from Microsoft's popular game Halo. Just like Cortana, the new browser has been built from ground up with a new rendering engine that was built to be compatible with today’s web standards.

But Spartan doesn't aim to be yet another browser, instead, it has three new big features that would set it apart from other browsers; a note-taking mode that would allow you to annotate directly on web pages with a stylus or by touch, a distraction-free reading experience which will remove clutter from web pages, making them easier on the eyes and the addition of an offline reading list, and the inclusion of a context-aware Cortana, who can help you out with definitions, directions, and more to make information you might be looking for readily available to you.

Microsoft Project Spartan on desktops

Spartan will be a universal Windows app, which will work across PCs, tablets, phones, consoles and more. Unlike IE, Microsoft will continue to update Spartan to ensure it will always be modern and smooth.

Microsoft Spartan on mobile
Microsoft Spartan on mobile

Microsoft wanted both Spartan and IE to be the browsers that will render all websites, old and new, accurately and as fast as possible. To achieve this, Microsoft planned to have two rendering engines built into the browsers. The first is Trident (MSHTML.dll), the existing rendering engine used in IE. Although it was updated rapidly since the launch of IE9, Trident was designed to remain compatible with the web of the past. It has legacy support for websites designed for browsers as old as IE5.5. Back then, IE also ran on the Apple Macintosh.

(The old Spartan strategy featuring two distinct rendering engines)
(The old Spartan strategy featuring two distinct rendering engines)

The second rendering engine is Edge (EdgeHTML.dll). This new engine started out as a fork of Trident, but then quickly diverged into a separate entity. According to Microsoft, creating Edge from Trident, and then splitting the two apart allowed the company to keep all the major subsystem investments made over the last few years, while also allowing them to remove all the legacy support from the new engine. So this would leave Spartan and IE with two distinct engines; Trident, that would from here on out, remain largely unchanged outside of critical security updates, and Edge, which would continue to be updated as a service with bleeding-edge web technology and standards. Microsoft stated that Spartan and IE on Windows 10 would use Edge as the default engine, rendering your modern websites like Facebook, Twitter, Outlook.com, YouTube, and WinBeta.org and only switch back to Trident temporarily when you try to access legacy websites. The inclusion of Trident means a big deal to enterprises that haven’t updated their intranet sites since IE ran on the Mac, and there must be a lot of such enterprises out there if Microsoft is so reluctant to get simply get rid of Trident altogether.

(The new Windows 10 browser strategy; two browsers, each with its own engine)
(The new Windows 10 browser strategy; two browsers, each with its own engine)

Microsoft has since had a change of heart, and has decided to completely remove Trident (MSHTML.dll) from Spartan, and completely remove Edge (EdgeHTML.dll) from IE in Windows 10. So Windows 10 customers will be left with two browsers; Spartan solely with Edge, and IE solely with Trident; this means that Spartan on Windows 10 will not be able to render legacy websites. Customers and enterprises that need to do so will have to turn to IE.



So it seems clear that Microsoft doesn't plan to offer Spartan as an upgrade to IE, and while the Edge rendering engine did start out as a fork of Trident, it has diverged into a product of its own and can no longer be considered as something that is simply a modified version of Trident. IE is not going to die, if we have to put a word to it, it is being discontinued as Microsoft insinuates that it plans to keep the browser “largely unchanged” for the sake of compatibility. It will still have security updates coming its way but expect all new browser-related features to make their way to Spartan instead.

Despite knowing quite a bit about Spartan at this point, there is still a lot of unknowns regarding this browser. We don't know if IE will be removed from Windows Phones as well, we don't know the final icon Spartan will use, and in fact we don't even know if Spartan will be the final name Microsoft will choose for their web browser. What we do know is Spartan is now available on Windows 10 build 10049 and is making its way to the final version of Windows later this year. You can try out the technical preview of Windows 10 now, or follow our Windows 10 news for more news on the upcoming version of Windows and Project Spartan.

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