Microsoft reportedly developing lightweight browser dubbed Spartan

Raise your hand if Internet Explorer is your primary web browser. Yeah, I didn't think so. IE's share of web traffic has been in decline for quite some time. Chrome dominates, and now, Microsoft may be building a new browser that emulates its minimalist style. ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley cites multiple sources as saying that a lightweight browser dubbed Spartan is in development in Redmond.

According to Foley's moles, Spartan will use Microsoft's Trident rendering and Chakra JavaScript engines. The browser will reportedly be part of both desktop and mobile versions of Windows 10, but it won't be called IE 12. Microsoft appears eager to distance itself from the browser brand it introduced nearly 20 years ago.

IE 11 will stick around in desktop versions of Win10, Foley's sources say, but only for backward compatibility. Spartan appears to be the future of Microsoft's browser plans. There's no indication of whether the new hotness will migrate to older versions of Windows, though Foley speculates that Spartan could be ported to other operating systems, such as Android and iOS. That would fit with Microsoft's recent push to have its flagship products available on multiple platforms.

Foley isn't sure when Spartan will break cover; it could be demoed on January 21, when Microsoft plans to show off the OS's "consumer experience," but it may not be ready for the Win10 Technical Preview. Regardless of when it arrives, the new browser will have to be pretty slick to lure users away from the alternatives.

Comments closed
    • LoneWolf15
    • 8 years ago

    Actually, I use all three browsers in fairly equal measure. There’s something to like –and hate, about all of them.

    Chrome – Performs reasonably well. Supports add-ons. Stable. Don’t trust its privacy further than I can throw a Google dev.
    Firefox – Privacy is decent. Supports add-ons. Can’t integrate Flash well enough not to have it end up taking 1-2GB of RAM and crashing, no matter which version of flash you use, and I shouldn’t have to use NoScript or FlashBlock, nobody else has this problem. I don’t care if it’s your fault or Adobe’s, Mozilla, get it together and freaking fix it.
    IE – Works, mostly. Performance is better than it used to be. Doesn’t allow add-ons.

    P.S. If Microsoft is busy working on the Internets, can’t they start by making it nearly impossible for difficult-to-remove malware to insert a proxy into Windows, breaking the whole ball of wax? I’d like to see that happen first; that, or if we can kill all the malware writers, that’d be good too.

    • Klimax
    • 8 years ago

    Or when using webpage written by idiot, who uses Webkit-only stuff. (Either prefixed or completely proprietary stuff) Saw more then enough examples and it is not limited to mobile pages.

    Unfortunately people can’t learn from history and are hell bent on repeating old mistakes.

    • w76
    • 8 years ago

    Further to your point, as HDO noted, Webkits been forked. All sane people will abandon something if a new, better path appears to make sense. “Because that’s what we’re used to” sounds like the excuse of old men defending old ways, not how technology advances.

    Yeah, I know, standards and such. But the internet seems to be getting on just fine with the current forked state of affairs. The only time I ever have a problem in Chrome is visiting a page designed for old versions of IE, and MS is trying to break with that past themselves here.

    • EndlessWaves
    • 8 years ago

    Yeah, the lack of browser interface progress since IE6 is astonishing, in a lot of ways they’ve got worse (an extra click to open the menu bar, really?).

    • w76
    • 8 years ago

    It would be a good idea if they made it available for Vista, 7, and 8, agreed there. But rebranding can be good marketing, all it has to do to succeed is get people curious enough to at least browse with it for a few minutes just once, versus immediately downloading and installing Chrome.

    Also disagree about the cross-platform support. OSX and linux have such tiny market shares as to be scarcely worth the resources. Targeting one platform gets the VAST majority of users. If it wasn’t a browser we were talking about I’d say, obviously, Android and iOS must be targeted, but I suspect Chrome and Safari have their respective markets locked up.

    • Kougar
    • 8 years ago

    I don’t want a lightweight browser, I want a browser with a GUI that’s customizable so I can actually make it useful and efficient to use.

    It’s 2015, why are we using a static interface layout still based on 2001’s IE6 that was optimized for square monitors.

    • Jason181
    • 8 years ago

    I didn’t actually say that it wasn’t a rebounding (nor that it was, for that matter).

    It just seemed clear from the article, if it’s to be believed, that it’s a lot more than a new coast of paint.

    • Klimax
    • 8 years ago

    So you have problem with very single other OS (maybe outdated stuff like DOS and maybe super stripped down Linux and BSD distros) and device out there then? (You don’t use then Chrome and you don’t use Firefox…)

    That ship sailed with W98. Since then MSHTML is used in Control Panels, Help and number of 3rd party programs. It is literally impossible to strip it. And for what? There is no saving and it would open bloody more security holes as everybody would have to start bundling HTML engines with their apps and guess how big percentage of apps see any update…

    That idea might make sense in 90s, but since 00s it is just stupid idea, nothing else.

    Reminder: Every OS especially those mobile offer WebControl class. Guess what implements it…

    • Klimax
    • 8 years ago

    Why the hell they should use Webkit? What for? Just so we can once more repeat mistakes? Webkit doesn’t offer anything, but nonstandard stuff once more. And don’t try to argue unreleased unfinished alpha version of draft of specification. Already proven as very bad idiotic idea. In past and recently.

    • the
    • 8 years ago

    The new Microsoft isn’t about doing something twice anymore: it is about doing it as many times as possible. For example, you have Office for Windows, Office RT, web based Office, Office for Mac, Office for iOS, and coming soon Office for Android. Each of these products has a distinct twist on the main interface to emulate their native platform.

    This doesn’t bother me as long as it forces MS to actually write good lean software again. My favorite version of Word, 5.1a, is over 20 years old. Why? Because it was light weight but full featured for what I needed to do. Sure, a few niceties like grammar check as you type are gone but what’d expect for software written in the era of 486DX2? The version of Office that shipped with RT back in 2012 was so slow you could type faster than the hardware could display it Word. How many times faster is a quad core Cortex A9 supposed to be over a 66 Mhz 486?

    • Klimax
    • 8 years ago

    Doubtful. At most just rebranding even if that. So far looks only as internal codename like Haswell or Maxwell…

    For one, they recently announced support only for most recent version available for given platform. This would go contrary that. Duplicating code base and maintenance is another factor against such division. Other platforms don’t make much sense either. IOS won’t let you do necessary things.

    Most likely it is amalgam of wish full thinking, technical details of preview (to allow regression and such testing) and misunderstanding. (and maybe some of making up stuff by somebody…)

    • Star Brood
    • 8 years ago

    I work in tech support and while I can say that most of my customers are good sports you get the ones like this who make baby Jesus cry.

    • Laykun
    • 8 years ago

    Care to elaborate on those unpatched performance problems? Any official announcement or news article? I get the feeling you never actually used Vista as a daily driver, I used it for many years and it was perfectly fine. The jump from Windows Vista to 7 was primarily because of a motherboard change and I find it hard to recall any significant differences between the two OSes apart from some UI tweaks. They use the same underlying kernel and you’ll even notice that windows 7 is considered by microsoft as a minor build version, Vista being Windows 6.0 and Windows 7 being Windows 6.1 (open your dxdiag and have a look).

    • l33t-g4m3r
    • 8 years ago

    Windows 7 was miles above Vista. MS deliberately left unpatched bugs and performance issues in Vista, which were fixed in W7. Saying that Win7’s popularity was due to re-branding is completely disingenuous. Win7 was a better OS.

    Win8 is actually “better” than Win7 in terms of performance, but it’s problem was the schizophrenic GUI. Calling it Version Eight did NOTHING to improve it’s sales, and neither will W10 if it’s a bad OS.

    People buy a new version of windows when it’s an actual improvement, not because of the name.

    IE is the same. MS has a monopoly on it. They don’t need to change the name, and it actually makes things more confusing for older people used to using IE. If MS wants a REAL reassessment of it’s browser, the best thing they can do is ACTUALLY MAKE IT BETTER, including being available on more platforms. Tolerable or similar isn’t better, better is better. MS has to actually make a good browser before people will use it. Name changes are meaningless. If anything, name changing can backfire even worse if the product isn’t good enough. The new name will be tainted, and the old brand will not exist for regulars. MS will lose more people than if they had not changed it.

    I’m 100% right here, just like I was with Win8. Not that I care what MS fanboys think, and I don’t use IE anyway. All I have to do is wait for the FAIL to hit the fan, then say, “I told you so” after it happens, and it will happen if the new browser sucks. THE GOGGLES DO NOTHING.

    • Laykun
    • 8 years ago

    “Why bother rebranding”, I think this is clear from my first statement. The IE brand is poison, even if it is packaged with every copy of windows. A rebrand wipes the slate clean of IEs apparently bad history, forcing people to re-assess the product, because really, it’s come a long way since it earned its bad reputation and has never been given the opportunity to make amends. It’s all about winning back mindshare.

    Windows 7 and Windows Vista are nearly identical operating systems but vista had to endure some early teething problems with drivers, application compatibility and OS bugs. Sure Windows 7 has a few little extra conveniences but they are both competent and capable operating systems, but when you even mention the words Windows Vista to most people they’ll wince in disgust and tell you how much better Windows 7 was, as if it was the second coming of jesus. This shows the power of a rebranding, Windows 7, despite sharing so much with Vista was able to completely rid itself of the stigma of Vista and bring respect back to the windows brand by simply renaming itself (notice that they went back to a numbering system).

    • Laykun
    • 8 years ago

    Despite what the actual backend and front end changes are, it’s still a rebranding. If they didn’t decide the rebrand then this would have ended up as IE 12 or 13 or whatever number they’re up to now.

    • End User
    • 8 years ago

    Tl SSK. I read, but got bored, but I DO care.

    • sweatshopking
    • 8 years ago

    Idk what that means, tiff.

    • NeelyCam
    • 8 years ago

    Lol – you are to Microsoft what Warsam is to AMD

    • smilingcrow
    • 8 years ago

    I’m with you.

    • Laykun
    • 8 years ago

    Well this would be the opposite case. Minimal UIs in browsers is about getting the cruft out of the way that you don’t need to see, functions you use very rarely and exposing as much of the actual functional content as possible (the webpage). When you’re on the web you want to use the web pages, not the app, the apps only function should be navigating to web pages, context switching between pages ( tabs ), and drawing web pages.

    • smilingcrow
    • 8 years ago

    Apple are good at that; reducing functionality for the sake of a clean interface to the detriment of usability. My iPod Classic is a case in point.

    • tuxroller
    • 8 years ago

    FF is faster now, especially for js.
    Chrome is unusable since it parses and renders, all tabs, not just the one opened.
    I only use chrome to verify compatibility.

    • sweatshopking
    • 8 years ago

    I’ve never had a problem with trident that an uninstall and reinstall of IE didn’t fix. I can certainly believe other issues may arise.

    • sweatshopking
    • 8 years ago

    Tl. I read, but got bored. And I didn’t care.

    • cygnus1
    • 8 years ago

    The trident engine is integrated into windows. It is the rendering engine used by the windows explorer process for things like file browsing and vista7/ era control panel. Removing IE does not remove trident and you can in fact damage trident beyond repair requiring an OS refresh/reinstall to solve the problem.

    • sweatshopking
    • 8 years ago

    Chrome is sooooo ugly.

    • sweatshopking
    • 8 years ago

    You can delete IE since 7.

    • albundy
    • 8 years ago

    Oh no, the internets!

    • cygnus1
    • 8 years ago

    This will likely not solve the problem I have with IE. I refuse to use IE due to the fact that it uses parts, the trident rendering engine, that are integrated into the OS and hence is not removable and extremely difficult to reliably repair after shoddy software is used in conjunction with it.

    At no time have I ever said, hey, let me use a critical piece of of my OS, that once it’s screwed up means reloading my OS, as a browser!

    If they make it a fully separate and isolated instance of trident and any other parts used by the OS, I will consider using it.

    • Meadows
    • 8 years ago

    You’re “l33t”, you should hate IE anyway, or something.

    • Meadows
    • 8 years ago

    Are you kidding me? Chrome’s the one that’s been getting worse (and for a long while now, too!), so in fact I’d prefer Firefox on any hardware and for any usage scenario.

    • Meadows
    • 8 years ago

    Please don’t copy the Chrome approach to tabs and interfaces. Anything but that.

    I beg of you, Microsoft.

    • Redocbew
    • 8 years ago

    Now they just need to bring back Ballmer so he can kick Firefox into a pit while screaming “THIS IS SPARTAN!!!”

    • HisDivineOrder
    • 8 years ago

    You know what really bugs me about all this news. I should be bothered by the fact that once again they are going their own way with Trident engine rather than adopting one of the two forks of Webkit that would guarantee compatibility with the web proper. Eh. No surprise there.

    I should be bothered by the fact that Microsoft thinks having two browsers in Windows 10 makes a lick of sense when they could just, y’know, build one browser that works well at everything instead by not dividing the pain into two equally unhappy groups. Meh. No surprise they’d come to the road and decide splitting their small marketshare into two equally annoyed groups is the right way. This is Microsoft, after all. Bifurcating is their strategy (ie., Xbox Gaming vs Windows gaming, Play4Sure vs Zune, Windows Mobile/Phone vs Kin, Windows 95/98 vs Windows 2k, Outlook vs Outlook Express/Outlook.com, Office 365 vs Office Web, Windows 8’s apps vs applications, etc.) because they are rarely confident enough to pick one path and take it. They are the two-headed ogre constantly arguing with themselves.

    No, what bothers me are the Halo-based codenames. Windows users get Cortana before Xbox users. Windows users get the Spartan browser, Xbox users do not. Windows users get Threshold (Windows 10) long before Xbox users’ll get that update. And Windows gamers get Halo Spartan Assault before Xbox gamers.

    But when it comes to a real Halo game? Windows users get bupkis. Nada. Nothing.

    So Microsoft, why use codenames that are totally irrelevant to PC users and, more to the point, salt on the open wound that is your AAA gaming support of Windows proper? Is it because you’re really as tone-deaf as you make out?

    That’s what bugs me about the Spartan browser. The codename bugs me because it reminds me what Microsoft is NOT doing for Windows gamers. And if Cortana is anything to go by, they’ll probably say, “Yeah, we love the Spartan name so much, we’re sticking with it for the full release” because they think it makes them seem trendy and cashes in on their Halo brand, but what it really does is remind every gamer everywhere that Xbox is the only place we can get those high-dollar Microsoft published games. Unless we’re talking about ancient titles from when Sidewinder was Microsoft’s only hardware ambition, and Ensemble and FASA were still around. In that case, you can go buy yourself a regurgitated re-release on Steam for $20.

    Yeah, the Halo codenames are starting to bug me.

    • meerkt
    • 8 years ago

    Yeah, hate them. I never liked Chrome. Then Opera gave in (plus dropped their rendering engine), then Firefox. It’s the new black! Along with Flat-n-Ugly™ UI schemes (Microsoft -> Apple -> Google).

    • rahulahl
    • 8 years ago

    Their Age of Empires Online game’s executable was called Spartan.exe
    Coincidence?

    • sweatshopking
    • 8 years ago

    This isn’t a new skin. It’s a new rendering engine in a new browser that can fall back to trident if needed

    • sweatshopking
    • 8 years ago

    Me too. On IE right now, but it and opera are the only two I’ve used in years.

    • Sargent Duck
    • 8 years ago

    *raises hand*

    • Jason181
    • 8 years ago

    I tried some of the alternative browsers periodically, but admittedly not extensively. I didn’t like FF the first time I tried it, so it’s possible it had improved and I just hadn’t given it another chance.

    I thought that windows update would tell you a new version was available for a stretch of time, but could be wrong. It was a pain to update (reboot to install a new web browser??).

    MS did rest on their laurels for too long. They might have shied away from changes in part because they saw what happened to Netscape Navigator when they updated from version 3 to 4 (for me and some others I knew, at least, it crashed constantly).

    Since they were the default, they didn’t have to do much of anything to keep quite a bit of market share for a very long time. By the time they figured it out, they were, like you said, five years behind.

    I’d say they have, for the most part, remedied that. It sounds like even they admit that it was too little, too late.

    • bthylafh
    • 8 years ago

    Not for a really long time, no.

    • DreadCthulhu
    • 8 years ago

    Am I the only one who doesn’t like these super-minimalist (you could almost call them Spartan . . .) browsers UI’s? Whenever I use Chrome or the newer versions of Firefox it always seems like it takes an extra mouse click or two to do anything, since stuff gets buried in menus in order to keep the “clean” look. This strikes me as a very odd design trend, given that large, high DPI monitors are getting ever cheaper an more common, leaving plenty of room for UI elements. Well, at least there is always Pale Moon (a Firefox fork with a different UI).

    • xeridea
    • 8 years ago

    I used FF as my only browser for a long time. Chrome came out and I tried it, I was in between for a few years, but now I use Chrome as main. Chrome is just faster. I still use FF for web development, because I love Firebug, and find it easier than the Chrome dev tools, though Chrome JS debugging is a bit better.

    I still like FF, and it was the first major browser to disrupt IE, so I am happy for it. I still use it, just not my main browser, my wife likes FF better though.

    • xeridea
    • 8 years ago

    I was using FF back around IE7, so I think IE lost about that time. I think the biggest issue with IE was that it was such a pain to upgrade, especially with it being tied so closely into Windows. There were no forced updates, they didn’t even let you know there was a newer version. If you wanted to upgrade, it was often a huge pain since Windows update was terrible back then. IE got an insane amount of complaints and pure hatred from web developers because it took more time working around IE bugs than actually developing a website. And of course MS didn’t care to fix any rendering bugs, so for years and years after a browser was released, developers had to deal with the crap.

    MS let their browser monopoly go to crap because they did not fix any bugs in browser, were extremely slow to have new versions come out, and were always about 5 years behind on features. I remember an ad by MS a few years ago where they had a video of a guy browsing around the internet, and showing all peoples complaints, at the end, they said “IE Sucks…. Less”.

    • Jason181
    • 8 years ago

    Isn’t there a Mac version?

    • l33t-g4m3r
    • 8 years ago

    Why bother rebranding? It’s not available on anything but the latest MS products, because MS doesn’t open it’s browser to other platforms or older OSes. MS has a monopoly with IE, so they’re better off leaving it alone. IMO, what they should really focus on is improving what they already have, by not artificially limiting updates, and keeping up with other browsers.

    I understand this is MS’s patented Mojave brainwashing (which doesn’t work), but all this really does is make things worse for MS.

    • ThorAxe
    • 8 years ago

    I went from Firefox to Opera and stayed there for a long time until they made some odd changes.

    I occasionally use Chrome but find it bloated and rubbish with high DPI.

    Oddly enough my go to browser today is IE so I will raise my hand.

    • l33t-g4m3r
    • 8 years ago

    This is the death of IE, much like everything else MS seems to be efficiently killing off.

    • Jason181
    • 8 years ago

    “How do I open the Internet now?”

    • Jason181
    • 8 years ago

    It sounds like more than a new coat of paint, if this story is true. It’s unfortunate that IE became such a pariah. I think the fact that MS makes it and the OS both gives IE a worse security reputation than it deserves because a) It was so popular with less saavy users (since it’s the default) that it was a large target; anyone who knows about chrome and how to install it is probably more likely to avoid the questionable links in emails and such, and b) Windows’ security flaws I think are kind of lumped in with IE’s security problems, even when the underlying issue lies with the OS.

    That’s not to say IE is perfect, but from IE 4 to IE 8 or so, it was the best browser available imho. Chrome has come a long way in the intervening years, and it’s my primary browser, but I wouldn’t be rioting in the streets if I had to use IE as my primary browser.

    • Kalgash
    • 8 years ago

    Slightly OT: The article is out of date. As of iOS 8 all other browsers do have access to the full Nitro JS engine. See: [url<]http://zoompf.com/blog/2014/06/apples-nitro-javascript-engine-available-to-all-apps[/url<]

    • Kretschmer
    • 8 years ago

    Oh god. This will send ripples of confusion throughout the tech-averse world.

    “Dad, open Spartan for your eBay.”

    “What? I thought we used Internet Explorer.”

    “No, it’s called Spartan now.”

    “What? Where is it?”

    “It’s the green ‘S’.”

    <ten minutes later>

    “No, double click it.”

    “Right button or left button.”

    “Left button.”

    “Click….Click. Nothing.”

    “Try it faster.”

    Etc.

    • derFunkenstein
    • 8 years ago

    I find their privacy policy to be one of the more sane ones out there.

    [url<]http://www.microsoft.com/privacystatement/en-us/windowsservices/default.aspx[/url<] [quote<]How We Use Your Personal Information Microsoft uses the information we collect to operate, improve and personalize the products and services we offer. We also may use the information to communicate with you, for example, informing you about your account and security updates. And we may use the information to help make the ads you see on our ad-supported services more relevant. We do not use what you say in email, chat, video calls or voice mail to target advertising to you. We do not use your documents, photos or other personal files to target advertising to you. You may opt out of receiving targeted ads from Microsoft Advertising by visiting our opt-out page.[/quote<] The antepenultimate and penultimate sentences there are a shot directly across he bow of the Evil Ship Google.

    • Shouefref
    • 8 years ago

    And how much information will that spartan steal from us? MS never gives something for free. There’s always a catch. The question is not whether Spartan will work, but what the catch will be.

    • bthylafh
    • 8 years ago

    This is not madness!

    THIS. IS. SPARTA.

    • Ninjitsu
    • 8 years ago

    Microsoft reportedly developing lightweight PC game dubbed Halo

    • Tristan
    • 8 years ago

    new name: IE Spartan

    • fhohj
    • 8 years ago

    All true but that’s a bit of a stretch. If there’s no new IE version then this new browser will be the sole home of any changes under the hood. Nobody outside Microsoft will know how much the backend has diverged and will diverge.

    • nico1982
    • 8 years ago

    I think it is actually a reference to the Halo universe, but this is funnier 🙂

    • Flapdrol
    • 8 years ago

    This is madness.

    • lilbuddhaman
    • 8 years ago

    They need to drop the halo naming, its not going to convince bro-gamer to use your software.

    • Neutronbeam
    • 8 years ago

    No doubt Spartan will be a leading edge, premium application designed to improve impressions of all of MSFT’s other products–a “halo” product.

    Bada bing! Thanks, here all this year. Don’t forget to tip Cyril, Geoff and Scott and the other staff on your way out!

    • Laykun
    • 8 years ago

    It’s called rebranding. The IE brand is basically poison at this point, even though in my opinion they have the single best tablet browser on the market. IE is more often then not associated with poor security, poor standards support and a poor overall experience and as such has developed a culture of dismissal around the product no matter how good they make it. “The best thing about the new IE is it lets you download Chrome faster”.

    Most people won’t understand that their new browser is IE with a new coat of paint, much like Chrome on iOS being reskinned safari. [url<]http://www.howtogeek.com/184283/why-third-party-browsers-will-always-be-inferior-to-safari-on-iphone-and-ipad/[/url<]

    • fhohj
    • 8 years ago

    It changes more and more to be like the browser that is its undoing, and as it does, it pisses off more and more of its core userbase.

    If it dies, the happy Chromers and IEers will notice a change in the way their two favourite browsers are treating them.

    • sweatshopking
    • 8 years ago

    It will support addons. They confirmed it previously.

    • meerkt
    • 8 years ago

    Why does a new skin require calling it a new browser? Just add it to IE as “minimal UI” mode.

    • odizzido
    • 8 years ago

    Firefox has been getting steadily worse so I’d be open to trying it. Assuming it has support for addons.

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