Project Spartan: a Lean and Unfinished Browser for the Modern Web
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 . 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 . 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.
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.
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.
Finally, the smiley face opens the “Feedback & Reporting” window included in many beta Windows apps, such as the Office Preview .
Spartan’s New Features
In this first release, Spartan sports three notable features.
Cortana is an almost magnetic feature that will draw lots of people into the Windows 10 experience . Spartan doesn’t listen to spoken commands, yet, but Cortana’s Bing-powered wisdom is embedded in its core.
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 , yet need to be developed. If you enjoy chatting with Cortana and like to tease her for witty answers , you’ll have to hit her up in the Windows 10 Taskbar.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 , 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
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