To say that Microsoft has not had the best of times when it comes to web browsers is something of an understatement. Although Internet Explorer’s user figures are usually decent enough, this is largely because it comes pre-packaged on Windows devices.
In reality, Microsoft’s long-running web browser is often the butt of many an online joke. Quips like: “Internet Explorer 11 will allow you to download Google Chrome up to five times faster,” are not uncommon.
So the news that Microsoft is shipping another browser with its new operating system Windows 10 was music to most people’s ears. Spartan, the codename of the project, has been revealed via fleeting glimpses at various Microsoft events and exhibits, but later this month, individuals will have the chance to experience the browser for themselves.
The next build of the Windows 10 Technical Preview (No. 100090) is expected to include Spartan for the first time and there are a number of key features worth getting excited about.
One of the most talked about Spartan features is known as “inking.” This enables Windows 10 users to annotate a web page using a stylus, or add notes and annotations, the latter of which is similar to a function in Microsoft Word.
The feature could also prove effective for business users, as annotations can be shared with friends and colleagues. Any additions made to a web page are stored using Microsoft’s OneDrive cloud storage, meaning they can be shared easier for enhanced collaboration.
Of course, inking will rely on users having a touch-enabled screen, but given Microsoft’s focus on its Surface tablets and with a number of laptops now shipping with touch screens, the feature certainly offers something different to Spartan’s competitors.
Spartan will also become one of the first Windows 10 apps to incorporate Cortana integration.
Cortana, the virtual personal assistant that made its debut on Windows Phone, has previously been confined to mobile platforms, but will offer a number of built-in features for Spartan users. Cortana will be incorporated into the web address bar and can be selected to provide additional information regarding the current web page.
If you are on the site of a business, or retailer, for example, clicking Cortana will bring up contact information, opening hours and other useful content in a sidebar.
Spartan users will also be able to highlight text, right-click and select “Ask Cortana,” if they need definitions or additional explanations for any of the written content of a web page. Microsoft’s personal assistant can also supply some information, like the weather, in the search bar, meaning there’s no need to navigate to a separate web page.
Less is more
From the initial images of Spartan, it seems that Microsoft is finally taking some cues from the likes of Google Chrome and Firefox and streamlining its web browser. It utilises a minimalist user interface, emphasising a few key features and making them as clear as possible with large, bold icons.
Spartan also comes with a reading mode, which eliminates additional clutter and simply presents the web page text. This is certain to prove useful on mobiles and also allows users to sync their reading list across all their devices. Although these features have been included on Apple’s Safari browser for some time now, it’s nice to see Microsoft finally implementing it.
Spartan should also make it simpler for users to organise their browsing by enabling them to group tabs together, making it easier to separate work from personal web content.
While Microsoft has reiterated that Spartan is not meant to replace Internet Explorer, the Redmond-based firm clearly felt that it could not salvage the reputation of its almost-20 years old browser. Internet Explorer is likely to remain important for legacy purposes, but Microsoft’s future in the web browser market surely lies with Spartan.