Rumor: Microsoft To Release 'Spartan' Web Browser with Windows 10

Redmond may be working on a new Web browser that may be a deviation from its Internet Explorer line.

The claim comes from a December Twitter post by Thomas Nigro, a student partner lead working with Microsoft. Veteran Microsoft reporter Mary Jo Foley spotted Nigro's post, which described Microsoft as building "a new browser that's not Internet Explorer and will be the default browser in Windows 10."

This new default browser purportedly goes by the "Spartan" code name and will ship alongside Internet Explorer 11 when Microsoft releases Windows 10, according to Foley's sources, who went unnamed in her article. Spartan will run on desktop computers as well as mobile devices, according to the sources.

Microsoft has suggested that its finished Windows 10 product, which is still at the preview stage, will arrive in late summer or early fall this year. The company plans to release another updated preview version of Windows 10, which currently comes with the IE 11 browser, sometime this month.

The idea that Microsoft plans to deliver a new non-IE browser with Windows 10 is still at the rumor stage. A company spokesperson said today via e-mail that Microsoft had "nothing to share" on the topic.

Microsoft's next browser was described in December by Brad Sams of Neowin. He described this new browser as a more "lightweight" version than the current IE 11 flagship product. Citing unnamed sources, Sams explained that Microsoft will be "forking" the Trident engine used in Internet Explorer into two versions. One version, presumably for IE 11, will support older code. For instance, it will have the "compatibility mode" capability currently available in IE 11, which emulates older IE browser technologies, allowing sites and apps to run that are based on those older technologies. In contrast, the new browser, which Sams called "IE12," will be lightweight because it presumably will lack support for the older IE code.

The forking of the Trident engine led to rumors that Microsoft plans to release a new non-IE browser, Sams contended.

The idea of Microsoft producing a more lightweight browser isn't a radical concept. The company even released a preview of RemoteIE, which is a kind of browser-as-a-service application that runs off Windows Server 2012 R2, mostly to support developers using other platforms besides Windows. But IE is still widely used by Microsoft's business customers where having legacy IE support is often considered to be a necessity.

Microsoft's solution to the legacy support problems that organizations have faced has been its Enterprise Mode feature, which was introduced with IE 11. Enterprise Mode emulates older IE browser technologies. Originally, it provided support for IE 8 as the oldest supported technology, but Microsoft promised back in October that Enterprise Mode support would be extended to IE 5 technologies as well.

IE 11 with Enterprise Mode appears to be Microsoft's concession to organizations hobbled by legacy code concerns, especially as it accelerates its Windows release pace from once every three years to multiple times yearly. Microsoft traditionally rolls out a new browser with each new Windows product. That circumstance typically has meant that the product lifecycle of the browser was tied to the product lifecycle of Windows. However, in a break from that tradition, Microsoft announced in August that it had drawn up a Jan. 12, 2016 deadline for organizations to move to the most current supported browser per Windows release or lose security patch support.

If the rumors of a second, more lightweight browser hold true (called Spartan or IE 12), then the Jan. 12, 2016 deadline may reflect a kind of line in the sand that Microsoft may be drawing with its browser development efforts. The future for organizations stuck on legacy IE technologies may be with IE 11 and Enterprise Mode, while consumers and the rest of the world will use a more lightweight Spartan/IE 12 browser going forward.

Such a scheme possibly could reduce Microsoft's costs and development burdens associated with supporting so many IE browser technologies over the years. People and organizations continue to use older IE technologies despite Microsoft's prodding them to upgrade. For example, while IE 11 currently holds the browser market share lead at 21.79 percent, according to Net Applications data, IE 8 (which was released back in 2009) is still used by 19.28 percent. In addition, Microsoft supports IE 10 with a 5.93 percent market share and IE 9 at 9.29 percent market share, per Net Applications stats.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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