Project Spartan: a Lean and Unfinished Browser for the Modern Web

Tina Sieber 13-04-2015

The original Greek Spartans were known for being disciplined, educated, and thoroughly trained for battle. Still today, spartanic stands for being frugal and brave. It’s those same ancient qualities that formed the ultimate warrior in the futuristic game Halo: Spartan Assault Windows 8 Gaming Hits Second Gear With Halo: Spartan Assault One of the greatest video game franchises, Halo has been shy of Windows PC since Halo 2 was released in 2004. Halo: Spartan Assault for Windows 8 changes all of that – but is it... Read More . Can Microsoft’s new browser Project Spartan live up to those ideals?


Windows 10 Technical Preview Build 10049 offers a first look at the browser that is set to replace the tainted Internet Explorer Is Internet Explorer Making A Big Return In 2015? Microsoft no longer has to offer EU Windows users a choice of browsers. Moreover, Microsoft is working on a new browser. Nevertheless, we'll show you how to install your favorite browser without touching IE. Read More . Let’s have a look at this early version of Spartan.

The First Impression

Spartan’s interface is that of a modern Windows app — square, flat, and simplistic. Tabs are lined up in the title bar, each tab has its own address bar, which is flanked by navigation buttons to the left and options to the right. You can enable a Favorites bar, but at this point this cannot be populated inside Spartan.

Spartan Interface

Click the starred folder to expand Favorites, the Reading List, History, and Downloads. Favorites contains the Favorites Bar folder, but as mentioned above, it’s impossible to add pages to it. The Reading List doesn’t yet sync with the respective Windows app, although when you add pages to the list, they will appear in the app. History and Downloads are officially not functional, yet.

Spartan History


Under Settings you’ll be able to change style and font view, select the start page, customize privacy settings, toggle services, and manage add-ons. Notably, the Send Do Not Track requests option is turned off by default. If you don’t wish to be tracked, you’d better head in and turn this setting on.

Spartan Do Not Track

Finally, the smiley face opens the “Feedback & Reporting” window included in many beta Windows apps, such as the Office Preview Microsoft Office Leaps Into a New Era with Touch First Apps & New Desktop Suite Office has been the gold standard for office suites for a very long time. Microsoft is working hard to keep it that way as it's expanding to new platforms and technology. Read More .

Spartan’s New Features

In this first release, Spartan sports three notable features.


Cortana Integration

Cortana is an almost magnetic feature that will draw lots of people into the Windows 10 experience Windows on Every Device - This Is How Microsoft Is Realizing Its New Ecosystem Windows was never gone, but it's about to make a comeback nevertheless. You can currently observe how Microsoft is getting its flagship up to speed. Last week on Microsoft... Read More . Spartan doesn’t listen to spoken commands, yet, but Cortana’s Bing-powered wisdom is embedded in its core.

Spartan Cortana Integration

When you start typing a search query in the address bar, answers will magically pop up. Likewise, when you select and right-click text, you can Ask Cortana and the calculated answer will show in the sidebar. If you’re asking about an ambiguous term, Cortana will predict what you mean. She will also make herself noticed when she can provide additional information about a business whose website you’re viewing.

The information in Spartan is limited to facts and the comprehensive skills Cortana displays on Windows Phone Cortana Talks Back: Laugh, Cry & Love With Windows Phone's Digital Assistant Bored with no one to talk to? Why not strike up a conversation with your Windows Phone? These cues will make Cortana talk. Read More , yet need to be developed. If you enjoy chatting with Cortana Cortana Arrives on the Desktop & Here's What She Can Do for You Is Microsoft's intelligent digital assistant as competent on the Windows 10 desktop as she is on Windows Phone? Cortana has a lot of expectation on her shoulders. Let's see how she holds up. Read More and like to tease her for witty answers Geek Humor Included! Meet Cortana, Windows Phone 8.1 Digital Assistant Cortana is the best reason to upgrade your Windows Phone early. Microsoft's answer to Siri offers great features and will make you laugh. Read More , you’ll have to hit her up in the Windows 10 Taskbar.


Reading Mode

On small screens, reading mode is a key feature. It strips the page from superfluous elements and reformats the text to make best use of the screen size. To activate reading mode in Spartan, click the book icon in the URL bar. Unfortunately Spartan fails to support paginated articles.

Spartan Read Mode

Eventually, you’ll be able to add articles to your Reading List through More actions > Share. At this point, the Reading List doesn’t synchronize with Spartan.

Make a Web Note

If you’ve ever had the desire to comment on a website, here is a new way to do it. With Spartan’s annotation you can highlight text and make notes with your stylus, mouse, or keyboard. You can save your notes and share them with others.


Spartan Make a Web Note

Whether or not this is useful is debatable. When testing, marker highlights were not saved. If this feature works, this may be a useful tool for creative types.

Internet Explorer Will Live On

Even though Spartan is supposed to largely replace Internet Explorer, the old war horse won’t be retired just yet. For legacy reasons, Microsoft will maintain Internet Explorer. If you’re testing the Windows 10 Technical Preview, you may have noticed that Internet Explorer 11 disappeared from the list of programs in the Start Menu. It’s still available under C:\Program Files (x86)\Internet Explorer and it can be made the default browser via group policy. Meanwhile, however, it was pushed back to not distract from Spartan. Microsoft explains:

“Spartan provides compatibility with the millions of existing enterprise web sites designed for Internet Explorer. To achieve this, Spartan loads the IE11 engine for legacy enterprise web sites when needed, while using the new rendering engine for modern web sites.”

In other words, Spartan will decide which rendering engine to use-it’s own Edge engine or the legacy IE11 Trident engine. This is a smart move because it relieves the user from the burden of choice, while still equipping Spartan with support for custom ActiveX controls designed for IE11.

At this point, however, the browser doesn’t switch automatically. When we tested ActiveX in Spartan, we received the message depicted in the screenshot below.

No ActiveX Support

Moreover, you can still enable the Edge rendering engine in IE11 on Windows 10. Launch about:config (not available in Spartan!) to access experimental features that will all eventually be ported to Spartan.

IE11 Experimental Features

Spartan Yet Needs to Go Through Bootcamp

Spartan hasn’t deserved the name of a warrior, yet. It looks good on the surface, but it’s weak. Performance is one of Spartan’s selling points, but it’s too early to draw a serious conclusion. Sure, it is a lightweight browser, but it’s also devoid of key features and even some of the functions deployed with this initial build are not working smoothly. Spartan is spartanic as in sparse.

The lack of extensions, which was IE’s Achilles Heel Surprise: Internet Explorer 11 Has Matured Into A Modern Browser Remember Internet Explorer 6? Well, Internet Explorer isn't horrible anymore. Whether you like IE or not, you can't deny that it has improved dramatically and is now worthy of taking its place alongside other modern... Read More , is a glaring issue, but will hopefully be addressed very soon. It was rumored that Spartan might support Chrome addons, but that’s probably just wishful thinking. I imagine Spartan will eventually feature user profiles and OneDrive integration to support syncing across devices.

Should Spartan turn out to be a super functional, lean, and cross-platform browser, I’m sure it could come out on top, but that’s still a long way.

What do you expect from Microsoft’s new browser and what would make you switch?

Image Credits: Sparta concept Via Shutterstock

Related topics: Internet Explorer, Microsoft Edge.

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  1. A41202813GMAIL
    April 17, 2015 at 7:57 am


    Is The New Browser Available Somewhere For Download As An Individual EXE File Or Any Archive Format ?

    Thank You.

    • Tina
      April 17, 2015 at 8:53 am

      Right now, Spartan is only available as part of the Windows 10 preview.

    • A41202813GMAIL
      April 19, 2015 at 3:15 am

      Thank You For Responding.

  2. sree
    April 15, 2015 at 2:21 pm

    reviews are meant for final versions of softwares

    • Tina
      April 15, 2015 at 2:37 pm

      Maybe this is a preview for people interested in what's coming their way with Windows 10.

  3. josh
    April 14, 2015 at 7:26 pm

    As long as it's still the fastest browser (IE was fastest, as long as you knew how to keep your computer running properly, people think it was slow because it was tied into Windows and if you messed up your windows, you messed up IE) I'm down.......

    Once IE synced bookmarks across devices, I ran from Chrome and never looked back.

    • Tina
      April 17, 2015 at 9:46 am

      Right now I'm not sure Internet Explorer is the fastest browser around, but it's definitely a good performer and way underestimated.

      You're bringing up an interesting point though that not many people are aware of: Internet Explorer is optimized for Windows like no other browser.

      With Spartan that will be even more evident. Due to features like Cortana or syncing to apps like the Reading List, it will also be much more tightly integrated into the OS.

  4. withheld
    April 14, 2015 at 2:26 pm

    My questions (for the final version) are:
    * Whether MS will still try to differentiate by including proprietary extensions such that web-sites developed to take advantage of them won't work properly in other browsers (remember web sites that used to say "best viewed using...")
    * How good is support for legacy sites. I see what you say about legacy versions of IE which is probably the biggest cause of problems - the problem is recognised but not comprehensively fixed.
    * Performance & reliability - I'm seeing both Firefox and Chrome grabbing vast chunks of RAM and seemingly not releasing them when no longer required.

    Given the number of Windows users who never bother to upgrade from the default browser shipped with Windows to Firefox/Chrome I don't think Spartan particularly needs to be "better" than either of those, it only needs to be good enough so there's no incentive to bother with an alternative.
    Of course many of us have "essential" add-ons in our favourite browser but the point about those is that they customise the browser for PERSONAL preferences & needs. As a web developer I'm very reliant on FireFTP and some of the Firefox diagnostic add-ons but I'm in a small minority. Others will have their own different "must have" add-ons but I'd guess the majority of users have none. Don't forget that Make Use Of readers are not typical internet users, we are more tech-savvy so our personal considerations are not those of typical users.

    Possibly key to keeping the browser compact and fast is to avoid the temptation to include features many won't need but make it quick and easy to add them. For example do browsers need to include developer diagnostic tools that very few users will need?
    On the other hand it probably does make sense to include "safe browsing" add-ins such as those provided by some of the PC security products to alert naive users to potentially compromised web sites..

    • Tina
      April 17, 2015 at 9:02 am

      Regarding proprietary extensions, I hope Microsoft won't do stuff like that anymore.

      Spartan won't support all legacy sites, but it will redirect to Internet Explorer 11 / the Trident browser engine for those sites. As outlined in the article above, that doesn't work, yet.

      From what I've read about performance, Spartan isn't quite on par with Chrome, yet. It does feel fast, though.

      In terms of competition, I think you're right. Now that the EU dropped the browser ballot requirement, Spartan shipping pre-installed with Windows 10 has a good chance of rising to the top of the market globally, provided it doesn't mess up key features.

      It would be cool if Spartan supported Chrome add-ons. Browser extensions is definitely something Microsoft will have to work on.

      Thank you for taking the time to sharing your perspective!

  5. Greg
    April 14, 2015 at 1:47 pm

    I have a question about Spartan and Cortana. If I was at work and I wanted to ask Cortana a question, would that activate Cortana on my neighbors computer as well?


    • Tina
      April 14, 2015 at 2:33 pm

      No, Cortana knows your voice. When you set up Cortana to respond to voice commands, she will ask you to speak a couple of sentences so she learns your voice.

  6. Rattbag
    April 13, 2015 at 9:22 pm

    I'd only switch if it offers the same - or equally lucrative - web technologies as Google Chrome.

    • Tina
      April 14, 2015 at 11:28 am

      You and everyone else. :)

      I'm sure Microsoft knows that. And I hope they have a couple of game changing features still coming up, otherwise Spartan will struggle.