Microsoft's reported 'Spartan' browser will be lighter, more flexible than Internet Explorer

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Instead of revamping Internet Explorer for the launch of Windows 10, a new report claims Microsoft plans to start from scratch with a new browser, dubbed “Spartan.”

Mary Jo Foley of ZDNet reported Monday that Spartan could ship alongside Internet Explorer 11 in Windows 10, due sometime in the latter half of 2015. The purpose of Spartan is twofold, Foley reports: first, as a lightweight alternative to IE, but with the foundation for third-party extensions; and as a marketing “do-over” for Internet Explorer, to do away with Internet Explorer’s legacy once and for all.

Finally, Foley suggests that eventually Spartan could debut on alternative platforms like iOS and Android, much like the Bing search app can replace the search widget on Android devices, for example. 

Technically, the browser will use Microsoft’s Chakra JavaScript engine and Microsoft’s Trident rendering engine (not WebKit), according to Foley. But the more interesting aspect is probably Microsoft’s marketing thrust.

In aggregate, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer is still the most popular browser in the world, holding steady at 58 percent of the user base throughout all of 2014, according to NetApplications. Google’s Chrome is steadily climbing, however, from 16.4 percent to over 20 percent at the end of November. (Opera and Firefox are steadily losing share.) 

But Microsoft still seems determined to pick at the scab of its legacy browsers, with a video campaign mocking “the browser you loved to hate” and similar exercises. (IE 6 still stands as one of the 25 worst tech products ever invented.) Chrome developed as an alternative to Microsoft’s conservatism in standards adoption, and Chrome still stands atop IE in terms of support for HTML5 standards. Nevertheless, most would argue that IE has substantially improved from prior versions, even if some techies pooh-pooh using it in favor of an alternative. 

It would seem, however, that Microsoft might be best served by making Spartan a choice in upcoming tech previews, then settling on a single browser for future versions. Assuming that Spartan lives up to what Foley says are its promises—lightweight, standards-compliant, available on multiple platforms—then Microsoft could launch Spartan as Apple launched OS X: a radical revamp, yes, but one with enormous benefits as a foundation for future development. We’ll be interested to see what strategy Microsoft pursues.

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