This is Internet Explorer! Explorer? This is Spartan!


Updated: May 6, 2015

I know, I know, everyone and their mother has already made this joke seven times over, giffed it, memed it, and packaged it any cheesy which way possible. But I cannot let other people's art (or lack thereof) impede on mine, and so we're having a first review of Project Spartan, AKA Microsoft Edge, the new browser for Windows 10, starting with some cliches.

Windows 10 is an important operating system, because it will decide how much the desktop user is going to enjoy or suffer the next few years. For Microsoft, it's a chance to redeem the earlier failure with Windows 8. One of the ways it might do this is by offering a brand new browser, which could help us forget the forever-decline of Internet Explorer. Let's see what gives.

TeaserTeaser, more

There, I dun it. Image credits, memefied version on the right from memegerator.net, both originals Warner Bros.

Windows 10 Build 10049

Micro disclaimer, Windows 10 versions come out quicker than I change my socks, so everything may change, and by the time you read my review, it may be completely wrong, so beta, whatnot, etc. With all that said, I can blatantly ignore the reality and do my own thing.

Before we dig into what Internet Explorer TNG can do, let's most briefly recap the upgrade from version 10041 to the (then) latest one using the fast track updates on my G50 machine. Well, it took forever, almost six hours net time, but it worked in the end just fine. There's little to no difference in what the new build offers except Project Spartan, the brand new browser slated to replace Internet Explorer and its infamy with a sleek, modern, perhaps oversimplified look, design and purpose. In other words, this is a bold attempt by Microsoft to reinstate itself in the browser game.

Build 10049

Let the tour begin

Spartan launches as a Metro application, although it shows on the desktop with all the needed trimming to make it look like any other program. But you cannot mistake the highly angular and very pretty design. In fact, the browser may just be a tad too sharp, and while there's solace in its precise shape, it may appear a bit like a futuristic toy when compared to the rest of them out there. Semblance to Internet Explorer isn't really there, except for familiar Office-like icons.

Browser loading

Main view

If you're used to Firefox or Chrome, the clear lack of detail may confuse you. Indeed, at this point, there's very little you can do with Spartan, and you may actually be frustrated by a distinct lack of technicity about it. If anything, Chrome and Firefox are highly technical tools with lots of options, addons and extensions, which are among the primary reasons for why people are using them. The ability to customize and enrich the experience, plus an interface that lets you play with. Engage in a relationship. Enjoy. Or such.

Spartan offers some impressive features, including a full-screen reading mode, integration with the Cortana AI assistant and such. But the basics are quite spartan [sic], and this might be a hurdle rather than an advantage. Internet Explorer did not succeed precisely because it wasn't customizable enough, and Spartan is even less so, at least at this point in time. Hopefully, this will change in a meaningful manner. But if this Spartan is going to follow its predecessor in terms of options, and if we compare Internet Explorer extensions to the rival browsers, the same way if we compare Play Store to Windows Store, then it's not a good sign, I'm afraid.

Menu

Settings

Perhaps Spartan works well on touch devices - but then, it sure misses its point on a Windows 10 desktop, because that's where it is currently offered.

Speed

Now, a very important thing. Opening and closing of new tabs. This has been an issue in Internet Explorer up to version 8. Version 9-11 are relatively speedy, and on systems configured properly, i.e. no stupid anti-virus to slow everything down, new tabs show and die almost instantaneously. Faster than you can blink, which is useful in instilling a sense of haste and breeziness with users. Not so with the early beta version of Spartan.

There's a noticeable delay in how long it takes to open a new tab and then, even worse, close it. As long as a whole second, which is simply not acceptable. Again, on the same hardware, all other browsers, Internet Explorer included, are quite responsive.

New tab

The browsing itself is fast enough. Pages render quickly, there are no weird errors. Playing media content was smooth and stable. I don't know yet what plugins and codecs Spartan is going to support, and that also indirectly means security, but at the moment at least, you can at least enjoy the Internet. The all-flat, all-gray design can be a little tedious, and some more color might not be bad. Well, we shall to have to wait and see.

Browsing

Youtube

Other features

Search functionality is simple and clean, nothing special yet. And some tools and features have not yet been implemented. This is an early preview, a demonstrator, and it needs a lot more work. It sure does feel like it.

Search

Some features not yet implemented

And still more

One thing that is definitely ready: Developer Tools. Microsoft has always had a decent set of tools designed around profiling web pages and network performance and compatibility, and this browser is no exception. Good. Alas, that won't make the average user happy. Nerds will like it, but if the rest does not show up one day, extensions and other useful, practical features, then Spartan will not see any great market growth, if any.

Dev tools

Conclusion

Project Spartan is an interesting one. But it is meaningful? Well, frankly, no. Once upon a time, there was a big big gap in the market created by the Internet Explorer's usage utter dominance and technological retardation associated with it. Into this gap stepped a few browsers and created the modern reality. There is no such need today.

Therefore, Spartan is sort of a must-have item on Microsoft's internal checkbox list, created to prevent intellectual bleed and to make sure the company remains present in the growing browser space. Because browsers mean browser OS, and that means marketing, apps, money, and such. But without a clear agenda, apart from its own, it will be a hard battle.

The only reasonable way for Project Spartan to become anything meaningful is to offer functionality that its predecessor did not, and to be at least just as good - and secure - as its rivals. This means extensions that are so good you want to lick the screen, and it also means top-notch security, and this will be ultra hard. Internet Explorer and ActiveX have been doomed to ridicule, and virtually nothing can change that. Practically, you do want to be using other browsers, for a real and perceived sense of Internet safety. It will be almost impossible, but let's see what gives. Stay tuned for updates.

Cheers.

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