Microsoft recently released an early build of its Project Spartan browser, offering the first glimpse of the browser intended as the successor to its now-infamous Internet Explorer. The only way to try out Project Spartan is to run the latest build of the Windows 10 Technical Preview. And CNET’s Nate Ralph reports that that’s a good thing, because like much of Windows 10, this early version of Spartan “is not ready for prime time.”
Ralph explains that “You’ll bumble along on the Web, until suddenly everything grinds to a halt. You’ll click a link, and nothing will happen. So you’ll click it again, and again, and moments later, when you’ve just about given up hope, several identical tabs spring to life.” Spartan lacks some of the smaller features that make modern browsing easy and polished — which Ralph thinks Microsoft will catch up on before the browser is released. Spartan in its early stages is about showing what’s next, from the new rendering engine that powers the browser’s features to its new Reading View to the integration of Cortana into the browser.
Writing for Information Week, Kelly Sheridan reports that on March 30, Microsoft released Windows 10 build 10049 to the “fast ring” of Windows Insiders, who have opted to receive updates as soon as they’re available (and before any bugs are worked out). Build 10049 is the first to contain an early version of Project Spartan, the browser that will roll out with Windows 10 this summer. While Windows 10 will continue to include Internet Explorer for business users who depend on it, Microsoft intends Project Spartan to replace it for the majority of users.
With the new browser, Microsoft has promised fast and lightweight browsing, an improved reading mode, the ability to comment and draw on Web pages, and access to Cortana for when users have questions or want more information while browsing the web. Microsoft is still deciding on a name for the new browser, but Sheridan characterizes “Spartan” as an appropriate nickname for the browser in its early stages. Despite its minimal design, Sheridan says the early build is very functional, loads quickly, and is responsive to swipes and scrolls. She also notes that it handled “plenty” of browser tabs without slowing down.
The minimal user interface is gray and monochromatic, and features icons for functions like reading view, favorites, and Windows feedback. And Mashable’s Lance Ulanoff notes that users will need to intuit what the browser’s icons mean and where to type in the URL. But in Ulanoff’s assessment, Spartan delivers on Microsoft’s goal of creating a browser where everything but the website fades into the background. Spartan still features tabs and a plus sign to let you add more, plus forward, back, and reload buttons, an icon for storing your favorite URLs, and a button to let you send feedback and report bugs. But Project Spartan also sports some new features that make the browser more capable and interesting.
Spartan incorporates a Web Note feature — which you can access via a pen-and-paper icon — to open a purple toolbar. From there, you can choose from among a range of highlighter and pen colors, or opt to create a comment box. When you’ve finished marking up a page, you can save it to your reading list, or share it via options like OneNote. Ralph says that in the current build, the implementation of the feature is “a little choppy,” and when you press the Web Note button, the entire page reloads. Additionally, longer pages get cut short.
The browser’s new Reading View — like the one you see in Safari or apps like Pocket — is designed to present pages in an e-book format, and eliminate ads and unnecessary images. Sheridan notes that not all websites support the mode, but the feature should work well with the majority of pages that contain a lot of text. A small book icon at the top of the browser will appear blue if a page is compatible. The default mode for Reading View displays pages on an off-white background with black text, and users can make changes to the background color or font size in the browser’s settings. You can also add Web pages to a Reading list to read later across all of your Windows devices.
Cortana already appears in the early build of Spartan, but doesn’t yet have all the functionality that Microsoft has promised. The digital assistant appears when you highlight a word or a phrase and right-click. Then it provides further information on the subject in a column that appears on the right. Ralph characterizes Cortana as Spartan’s most useful addition, and Ulanoff says that Cortana could find information on pretty much any page or subject where he tried it. But he points out that, while in Windows 10, Cortana is a voice assistant, in Spartan, it’s a silent assistant.
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