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Jan 17 2015

Is Microsoft Building a New Browser?

Tech sites like ZDNet, The Register and Neowin have recently fueled speculations that Redmond may be working on a new browser code-named "Spartan" that's due to be launched as a part of Windows 10. Whether it will be a re-worked version of Internet Explorer (IE) or a different browser altogether is unclear at the moment; but most observers expect a hint or two during Microsoft's upcoming press event scheduled for Wednesday this week.

The notion that something big might be underway first spilled over as early as last June, when Internet Explorer Team announced there would be "substantial changes to the UI" on its feedback page. Since then, the near-proverbial 'sources at Microsoft' succeeded in keeping the rumor mill going: in September, Neowin's Brad Sams (who's also credited with developing the stock market research tool Tracour) first reported that the new IE to be launched with Windows 10 would follow the design guidelines for the Modern UI. Then during the holiday season, Sams and other Microsoft oracles like ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley gave the tale its latest spin. Now the general idea is that the IE developers have in fact forked the browser's underlying Trident rendering engine into one branch that complies with official W3C web standards and another that builds on Microsoft's very own legacy, i.e. proprietary code, functionalities and workarounds that were launched since the browser first hit the market in 1995. Further according to Foley et al., this means that Windows 10 may actually support two different browsers, one of which would be a direct successor to today's IE 11 and thus largely backwards compatible with web sites and intranet pages created for browser versions from IE 6 onwards. The other one – dubbed Spartan by the augurs – could simply do away with this overload and play by the same rules as Chrome and Firefox. Not only would this result in a more lightweight, "Spartan" program code and user interface, but also allow for better expandability and personalization through add-ons and extensions. This, in turn, might finally lure developers into writing and/or adapting apps for the Windows Store, whose roughly 200,000 offerings amount to less than one sixth of what's available from Apple's and Google's sales and marketing platforms. Neowin on the other hand also relates that the fork could simply be a "strategic move" that allows for two rendering engines to be present in the new browser, one for W3C-compliant and one for legacy sites. In this latter case, "if a page calls for IE to render in a compatibility mode, this will cause the older, more resource intensive Trident engine to display the page." If not, the updated rendering engine will do the job.

So far, both narratives seem equally likely to unfold. IT professionals who wish to learn more should check out the Windows 10 Briefing Microsoft has scheduled for Wednesday this week at 9AM PST (12PM EST or 6PM CET).


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