More Details and Speculation About Microsoft Spartan

Today the IE team took to their Blog to share a few more details about Spartan than were revealed in yesterday's keynote. What exactly did we learn?

Clean Browser Chrome

From the screen shots and yesterday's keynote we can see Spartan features a cleaner UI. I have no clue how and if it can be customized. I also do not know if there are hidden toolbars, etc. I keep my Internet Explorer very thin on toolbars, so it does not look that much different to me.

The Mobile UI

The address bar is at the top of the screen and the AppBar at the bottom. The AppBar is new, I believe it was part of IE7 on Windows Phone 7, I can't recall. Both of these are changes from the current Windows Phone browser.

Is that too much real estate? Yeah probably. I hope they provide a way to do full screen without using the full screen API. For example both iOS and Android allow you to pin web apps to the home screen and launch them without the browser chrome. Microsoft should do the same thing for Windows 10, both mobile and desktop. If the web app is launched from a Live Tile, then it should be full screen.

Stolen from the IE Team Blog

A New Rendering Engine

Like I said yesterday I don't think Microsoft would throw out the massive engineering effort that is Trident and Chackra. They are removing years of crap though. Just like your wife, girlfriend or mom does, they are throwing out things we don't use or should not use anymore. They are cleaning the house and will have more freedom to work faster. This means we as developers should have a platform that reacts to market and standardization changes faster.

Why Not Fork WebKit

Right now there are 3 viable browser engines, WebKit (Safari, forked by Chrome, Opera and about a gagillion other browsers you never heard of), Gecko (FireFox) and Trident (Internet Explorer). By giving up and killing a 3rd browser engine innovation would stop. I don't know the finances of the FrieFox team, but I have to imagine they have a hard time making real money from a free browser offering. I know they get ad revenue, but loosing their agreement with Google had to hurt.

In a worst case scenario Gecko dies and we are left with 2 engines and two companies, Google and Microsoft. Sorry Apple you just are not innovating anymore. Had Microsoft gone WebKit we would have a single engine and the web would become stagnate again, just like the days of IE 6. So thank you for not going WebKit.

However, the this does not excuse the Spartan team from innovating. Instead they need to take advantage of the new freedom they have with the new Trident to experiment. Try some things out and see if they work. Did anyone say a Hologram API? We need more W3C submissions from Redmond. Pointer Events were awesome, lets keep going. How about a solid Push API specification?

Legacy Web Sites

I think developers forget there are millions of web sites written against old, obsolete standards. Most of these sites live behind the firewall and never see the light of day. So their pasty white skin is shocked into some sort of creepy web rash when modern browsers render them. These applications cost millions, if not billions, for companies to upgrade.

While I want to see these applications upgraded and I am excited about helping enterprises tackle these challenges, I know the majority of them will not be upgraded. They will eventually wither on the vine and die a natural death of attrition. In the meantime Microsoft offers the ONLY viable browser to run these site, Internet Explorer/Spartan Enterprise Mode. Like I said yesterday, this is probably the biggest advantage Spartan offers over the competition. No other browser vendor provides a way to run legacy, mission critical business applications like Internet Explorer does.

The Enterprise Mode feature make the Spartan/Internet Explorer combination very attractive to billions of personal computers running in enterprises and businesses all over the world. No IT department wants the burden of updating thousands of web sites, especially if they don't even know they are hosting them. Yes you would be surprised many web sites are running without the IT department knowing about them. They will find out, the day the server dies and goes to data center heaven.

2 Rendering Engines

This might sound scary, but I think this is brilliant. The Spartan team has a clean break, a chance to rebrand while maintaining legacy support. I do not know what it will take to keep MSHTML.dll up to date. I doubt they will add future standards support to the engine. They will do their best to keep the security wall around it current.

EdgeHtml.dll gives the team a relatively clean slate to start over. If you have ever maintained software for more than a few month you have seen scar tissue build up. Imagine almost 20 years of scar tissue! The new rendering engine was the team sticking to a new years resolution of loosing weight and they did. They can not be more agile and live longer. Web Developers and more importantly our end users will reap the benefits.

No More X-UA-Compatible

If you read point #2 under What Does This Mean to web developers, you see compatibility modes are no longer recognized. This is a good thing. Too often web developers and designers have been lazy and written markup or specified the X-UA-Compatible header to use the current engine number and not edge. I have seen it hundreds of times browsing around the web. It is one of the many reasons why web sites render and perform badly in Internet Explorer and not other browsers.

Instead, like all other browsers Spartan ignores the X-UA-Compatible directive. So how do you go backwards? Again Enterprise Mode is your gateway to yesteryear. I don't have a solid story yet on how the average consumer will enable enterprise mode for public web sites. Once I do I will share with you.

New Features

Spartan will implement a few new specifications and features. Nothing in the list I consider too exciting yet. I think, HSTS, HLS, DASH, Video tracks and DOM XPath are really new and niche. I suspect as time moves on their significance will become clearer. For the average developer they probably look a bit out there.

New Developer Tool Features

I told you yesterday I felt they would keep adding and updating developer features. The new network tool is by far the most important one for me. I have been asking for request type filtering for a while now, so you are welcome! I utilize this feature in Chrome everyday, now I can do it in IE as well. I have not had a chance to try the new features out so nothing to report yet. It looks like the network tool has changed the data displayed, I hope we still have a good breakdown of what parts of the requests took the longest, etc. Network waterfalls are very important in diagnosing performance issues as well as bad AJAX calls.


Till next week it looks like we are still speculating on much of the new Spartan features. Some questions I keep seeing asked include extensions and update cadence. Nothing public or NDA for me yet on extensions. I cannot foresee Spartan holding onto the ATL/COM extension model any longer. I predict as the summer moves along and those pasty white legacy site pine for some sunshine we will have a clearer extension story and hopefully some useful extensions.

I don't see anything in today's Blog post that hints at update cadence. Again my speculation, we will no longer wait for major operating system updates to receive browser updates. Over the past year we have already seen several updates to Internet Explorer 11 roll out without an operating system update. The developer tools alone have changed several times as well as new features added like WebDriver. I suspect this cadence will continue and hopefully increase.

It looks like we will all have to wait a few more months for Spartan because it will not ship in next week technology preview. This makes me sad because I am eager to try it out.

One thing I want to build support behind is the name. Spartan is a code or project name. It is cool, let's build some community support behind retaining the name! As always remember you can submit your requests to the Microsoft Spartan team via their User Voice site. They keep (the Spartan Status site)[] updated with the current status of various standards support plans and of course the site has free virtual machines and other resources for Microsoft's browsers.

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