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Mar 26 2015

Microsoft Plans Shedding of Internet Explorer


An era is about to end: 20 years after its initial release, Microsoft's controversial web viewer will lose its status as a default browser once Windows 10 is released over the summer.

For almost a decade, users and web developers alike have listened to rumors that up-and-coming Windows versions will no longer include Internet Explorer (IE), but a completely different browser – only to find that all 'insider reports' were nothing but hot air. This time, the rumors are the same, but the situation is different. According to a statement from Kyle Pflug, Program Manager for Project Spartan, on the official IEBlog, Microsoft's newly designed browser (screenshot above) will be "the default for all Windows 10 customers" and sport several new features like leaving annotations directly on web pages or search support from voice assistant Cortana. Web developers for their part will be happy to find that Spartan's EdgeHTML rendering engine is finally "interoperable with the modern Web" and not supposed to see any "document modes or compatibility views introduced going forward." In other words, Microsoft's next browser will look and behave more like WebKit-, Blink- or Gecko-based software, which also means it should work better on smartphones and tablet PCs. Moreover, a new piece of software that's rid of legacy code and IE-specific tweaks will be a lot easier to maintain and refine.

Analysts and Microsoft critics who have previously called such a decision long overdue may now see the company back on track. But while the move is certainly a step in the right direction, it's not the coup some observers make it out to be – for various reasons. The first and most important is that despite being forced into semi-retirement, IE won't vanish from Windows 10 altogether. Instead, Redmond's next OS will ship with a version of IE11 that's practically identical with the one that currently runs on Windows 7 and 8.1. The idea here is to serve up a browser for enterprise customers that still use web and intranet applications once tailored to cope with the peculiarities of earlier IE incarnations. In fact, this type of legacy support means that companies can continue to run sites that were 'optimized' for IE 5.5, a browser whose latest stable release dates from July 2000. Whether this is really a reasonable strategy or just another way for Microsoft to outwit itself remains to be seen; technically speaking, the decision to include one legacy and one modern browser offers little incentive to move forward and might thus effectively curb the very enthusiasm the company had hoped to create with a cloud- and mobile-friendly Windows. Then again, Satya Nadella and his team appear to be very serious about cleaning out their bowser closet: as Gregg Keizer reports on, Microsoft will completely cut off support for IE versions 6 through 8 between July this year and January 2016. Starting the same month, Redmond will reduce the number of supported operating system/IE combinations to eight – namely, IE9 on Windows Vista SP2 and Windows Server 2008 SP2; IE10 on Windows Server 2012; and IE11 on Windows 7/8.1/10 and Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1/2012 R2. Even with Spartan added to the mix, this would be Microsoft's most clear-cut browser portfolio in roughly a decade – and that alone is no mean feat. In light of this, offering the above-mentioned legacy support may have more to do with building bridges than with encouraging inactivity.


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