Microsoft’s new Spartan browser disappoints in first preview

Posted 07 March 2015 12:39 CEST by Jan Willem Aldershoff

A Russian blogger has posted a preview of Microsoft’s new Spartan browser. The preview talks about an undisclosed version of Spartan and it’s unclear how it was obtained.

Nevertheless, the author is Roman Liven, who is a well known Microsoft watcher. Screenshots included in the preview give us a clear indication of how the new browser will look like.

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Clearly visible in the UI is the smiley button which can be used to provide feedback to Microsoft. The other UI elements are as expected in a browser. The usual navigation buttons and buttons for reloading, searching and favoriting websites are available. The UI is entirely flat and nearly all in grayscale, however according to Liven, the header of the browser with a height of 265 pixels consumes more space than the 85 pixels height of Internet Explorer 11.

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Above screenshot shows more expected browser UI elements, but also the new feature “reading mode”, indicated by the book icon. This mode will strip much of the original page layout to make it easier to read large texts.

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Spartan also includes Experimental Features, which can be enabled and disabled from a screen that can be reached by typing an URL. These features appear to be mainly targeted at developers. Another feature shown in the screenshot is phone number detection, which likely means phone numbers on websites become clickable and can be called using Skype. Also the favorites bar and the SmartScreen filter can be enabled and disabled from this screen. Another setting allows changing the style and font size of the reading mode.


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The usual keyboard shortcuts are supported. The Spartan version tested in this preview has the “InPrivate” incognito mode disabled for an unknown reason but at least the feature is there as to be expected from a modern browser. Other features include ways of quickly closing and refreshing tabs, also features to be expected in a browser anno 2015.

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One of the features that should set Spartan aside from other browsers is Cortana integration. When typing something in the address bar it’s possible to ask Microsoft’s digital personal assistant for assistance directly from the browser. When clicking “Ask Cortana”, as indicated in the screenshot above, the results found by the assistant will open in a new window.

Liven mentions that the current version is totally separated from Internet Explorer, settings and history are not synced between Internet Explorer and Spartan. This is unlike the current Metro UI browser that ships with Windows 8.1. The Metro UI browser and Internet Explorer in Windows 8.1  share settings and history, making it easy to switch between both browsers. Obviously, since the tested version is not finished yet, this could change in the final Spartan release. The tested version was also pretty unstable, although Liven notes that the culprit might be the Adobe Flash Plugin.

Liven concludes that the version he tested was far from finished and hopes that a version released to Windows Insiders will be more polished and stable.

The preview shows that Spartan is mainly a new skin around Internet Explorer’s Edge engine, the successor of the Trident engine that has powered Internet Explorer since version 4.0.  The Edge engine will render web pages in both Internet Explorer and Spartan in Windows 10, meaning both browsers will support all the latest web technologies. Which browser users prefer in Windows 10 will be mainly decided based on usability.


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