We’re finally getting a real taste of Microsoft’s new Web browser Project Spartan. That’s just a codename for now, but based on my recent experience with the online surfing tool, which I downloaded with the latest Windows 10 Preview Build, the name fits.
It would be easy to describe Project Spartan as a boiled-down version of Internet Explorer, Microsoft’s legacy browser that will live on with less frequent updates. But that description would also be wrong. Spartan, which arrives alongside Windows 10 later this year, has a new browsing engine, one that IE will not share.
In practice, Spartan feels whip-fast. It may also be that there’s little else that comes along with the web pages — in the form of icons, menus or other surrounding clutter — to slow down page loads.
Project Spartan is still recognizable as a web browser. But Microsoft dispensed with things like color (beyond white and gray) and text, leaving a very simplistic interface. You have to intuit what the icons mean and where to type in your URL.
If that sounds like a bad thing, it’s not. Project Spartan delivers Microsoft’s goal: a browser where everything but the website fades into the background.
There are still tabs, of course and a simple plus sign lets you add more. Forward, back and reload buttons exist, too. There’s an icon for storing your favorite site URLs, and a smiley face button that lets you offer feedback and report bugs. There are also some more interesting features, such as the ability to mark up and share page elements (under a simple pen and paper icon).
Project Spartan lets you markup web pages with text and art. You can also clip and share portions.
Page markup works well. I could draw on any website, and highlight and clip any portion of a page. I could then paste the clip into a Paint file, email or social media account.
Spartan is also the first Microsoft browser to integrate Cortana, Microsoft’s voice assistant. When I typed “weather” into the address bar, Cortana jumped into action and showed the weather for my location in a large box below the address bar (where I typed the original query). I know it’s Cortana because of the red circle next to it. I was also able to select a topic on any web page and right click to access Cortana, which offers up topic details in a large pane on the right.
Pretty much anywhere Cortana could find extra information on my subject or desired page, it did. The one thing it didn’t do: talk to me. Cortana in Windows 10 is a voice assistant. In Spartan, it’s more like a silent assistant. Even so, I was impressed with this early look at Cortana integration in Spartan.
Project Spartan integrates Microsoft’s Cortana. It knew where I was and delivered the weather forecast.
Microsoft promises more stability with Project Spartan. So I tried to open a bunch of YouTube pages to see if I could overload it with as many videos running simultaneously as possible, but I couldn’t crash it. Not bad for beta software.
Project Spartan had no problem with YouTube video.
I checked Task Manager to see if Spartan is using resources more efficiently. But just like Google’s Chrome, it has separate processes for each page (Internet Explorer uses a lot of resources, too, but tends to group them together).
Adding them all up, it looked like Spartan was eating roughly the same amount of computing resources as other Web browsers. So, yes, it’s stable. I can’t say yet if it’s more efficient.
This is the first public beta of Spartan. By the time you use it with Windows 10, I expect the interface will have changed, Cortana will be even more visible and Project Spartan will most certainly have a new name. Though I wouldn’t mind if Microsoft decided to keep the Spartan moniker, which is fairly apt.
If you want to try out Project Spartan yourself, join the Windows Insider program and opt for “Fast Ring” downloads. This essentially gives you access to new Microsoft Windows Code as soon as Microsoft is ready to share it. Regular Insiders usually get these updates a few weeks later.