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First look: Project Spartan, Microsoft's next-generation Web browser

Simon Bisson | April 1, 2015
With the new browser (code-name Project Spartan), Microsoft finally breaks from the need to support even the oldest of Web pages and Web technologies.

Microsoft's faster release schedule for its Windows 10 Technical Preview kicked into high gear yesterday with the release of another build a mere 12 days after 10041. This time, with build 10049, Microsoft has added one of Windows 10's major new features: its next-generation Web browser.

With the new browser (code-name Project Spartan), Microsoft finally breaks from the need to support even the oldest of Web pages and Web technologies. Instead of incorporating Internet Explorer's Trident HTML and CSS rendering engine, Project Spartan is built around a new engine that is based on Trident's HTML5 features (and has been available in previous Windows 10 builds as Internet Explorer's Edge rendering option). Unlike Trident, the new browser engine is designed to be updated, which allows Microsoft to keep its new browser current in a way that was impossible with IE.

There's a lot in Microsoft's new browser and, at least in this build, a lot that's been left out. You won't find support for device-to-device synchronization of tabs and browsing history or for the promised new extension model. Other features still to come include a download view, browsing history, a roaming reading list (synced across Windows 10 devices), and offline reading. You won't get access to all of Internet Explorer's plug-ins, either. Project Spartan will provide a level of plug-in support similar to Windows 8's Metro IE browser.

Project Spartan's user interface is reminiscent of other modern browsers while still remaining familiar to Internet Explorer users. There's direct access to Cortana from inside the browser (as demonstrated at Microsoft's January Windows 10 event in Redmond). Cortana can be activated from the browser's search bar. Building a search-based agent into a browser makes a lot of sense, especially when it's able to use the context of your searches and browser history to make inferences about what information you need — initially giving you weather and stock information.

Another new feature integrates the browser more closely with Microsoft's OneNote note-taking tool. You'll be able to annotate pages using ink (a feature that's focused on Microsoft's own Surface tablets) or by typing into a Web page, sharing the results as a Web note. You won't need Project Spartan to see shared Web notes. They can be saved into OneNote as an annotated screenshot of a Web page or emailed to contacts, with the added option of sharing to social networks.

Project Spartan improves on Internet Explorer's Reading View for viewing page content without distracting graphics or advertising, with a page layout that's easier to read. Reading View is also integrated with Project Spartan's Reading List (formerly a separate Windows 8 app). As offline reading won't arrive until a future build, you'll have to read saved pages while connected to the Internet. The final version will allow you to share your Reading List across devices, including Windows Phones and small tablets running a mobile version of Project Spartan.


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