Can Microsoft's New Spartan Atone for the Sins of Internet Explorer?
Today, I did something I haven't done in a long time. I fired up Internet Explorer.
Of course, I had to find it first. Like a lot of people, the first and only thing I did with my IE before banishing it to the dark reaches beyond my desktop was search "Chrome" (which I did by navigating to Google while ignoring the Bing homepage, just to add insult to injury).
Internet Explorer started slowly, blinking in the sunlight and looking rather surprised to see me. It asked me, with the timid hope of a gawky teenager, if I would like to make it my default browser, which I declined. And with that, we got started.
Like a lot of millennials, my first web surfing occurred on much earlier iterations of IE than the current IE 11, back when it was not only the best web browsing solution out there, but pretty much the only one this side of Netscape. In its �90s heyday, IE was sharp as a tack, providing fast load speeds (for that time) and reliable performance. This was the golden age of IE, reaching its height in the early 2000's, and Microsoft was the undisputed king of browsers.
Over the following years, Microsoft lost its lead in a big way. The release of Mozilla's Firefox 1.0 coincided with IE doing ... nothing at all, for several years, even after Mozilla started pulling market share. The capabilities of computers and the internet itself were increasing greatly, but IE was staying stagnant.
When IE 7 finally came out in 2006, trailing IE 6 by five years, it was buggy, laggy and prone to crashes. Version 8 came out three years later and, while it showed signs of improvement, it was too little, too late. Microsoft had lost its overwhelming dominance to the likes of Firefox and Chrome.
Presently, people willing to give IE 11 a shot find it to be fast, useable and surprisingly stable. My own experience with it was positive, albeit somewhat brief. Pages loaded quite quickly (Dare I say faster than Chrome?) and I found its UI clean and open, even elegant. It's not technical limitations that are holding IE back anymore, it's reputation. The franchise of two decades, starting strong and finishing respectably, couldn't put its indiscreet tweens behind it.
With all the history, good and bad, it comes as no surprise that Microsoft might find it a little difficult to junk the franchise. This might partially explain why some versions of Windows 10 will ship with two browsers, IE 11 and the highly anticipated new browser presently dubbed Spartan. However, it's probably not the only reason. It's likely that Microsoft learned its lesson about shipping untested, theoretical products without a backup plan from Windows 8.
Now, with their fledgling Spartan browser largely untested, they've wisely decided to leave IE accessible during the transition. Finally, they've left IE in the ring for businesses that rely on its compatibility. While Spartan is certain to overrun IE in due time, for a while they'll share the responsibility of making sure Microsoft's clientele has all the functionality it needs.
So, what about IE's successor? Microsoft has realized that regaining market share is going to take more than just a decent browser; it's going to take an innovative one. Spartan was built from the ground up with this in mind, and features a new rendering engine, Cortana integration, a reading mode and reading list (including offline availability), and a clever (though perhaps not totally practical) webpage markup feature for shared content.
It's really looking like Microsoft wants to shake things up a bit, and without the stigmatic "Internet Explorer" title attached to it, Spartan may actually get a chance to establish itself on its own merits. As I closed my IE (most likely for the final time), I couldn't help but feel a little nostalgic — yet all the same, I'm excited to see how the both militaristic- and austere-sounding Spartan measures up against its father's old enemies.
Let the browser wars begin (again).