While nearly everyone has likely used Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) Internet Explorer Web browser, for many it was more of a necessary evil than a beloved product of choice.
Despite that lack of love, IE still dominates the desktop market, holding 57% market share as of March 2015, according to NetMarketShare. That's, of course, largely because Explorer comes preinstalled as the default browser on PCs running Microsoft Windows. People can switch -- and some clearly do -- but IE is good enough that nontechnical users don't seek out an alternative.
Though Explorer has been a dominant force pretty much since it was launched, even Microsoft knows that its best days are behind it. Because of that the company is taking the unprecedented step of scrapping its long-term product in favor of a completely new browser.
Code-named "Project Spartan," the browser launches with Windows 10. It's a massive departure from IE, and much like the company's skipping Windows 9 and moving right to 10 was supposed to make people forget Windows 8, the dropping of the Explorer name is very intentional.
"It is fast, compatible, and built for the modern Web," wrote Microsoft's Operating Systems Vice President Joe Belfiore in a blog post. "Project Spartan is designed to work the way you do, with features enabling you to do cool things like write or type on a webpage. It's a browser that is made for easy sharing, reading, discovery and getting things done online."
That's a lot to promise, but Spartan, which is now available in beta form to people testing Windows 10, may deliver. It's hard to know whether people will like the new OS, but it's fair to say that it's radically different enough to deserve a new name.
This is not Internet Explored with a fresh coat of paint; it's a radically different way of browsing the web.
You can speak to it
While Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) Siri, Microsoft's Cortana, and various other voice assistants have been around for a while, none -- even Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL) voice assistant -- are designed to enhance the Web browsing experience in the way voice-integration will for Spartan.
With the new browser, Cortana is always running in the background. The voice assistant learns from your behavior and it gets better with time. It also functions in a similar fashion to the way Cortana does on Windows phone. Let's say you order an Uber car to take you to a certain address at a particular time, the voice assistant may chime in to let you know your spouse has booked a similar trip.
It's not a perfect system, but if the phone experience translates to the browser then it is much closer to being an actual assistant. Siri is more of a vocal method of interacting with an iPhone. It's not actually an assistant. Cortana in Spartan, as it learns about you, is much close to filling the role of a human helper.
It's about reading
Spartan will not only make it easier to reformat online text to make it easier to read it will also make it possible to create easy-to-use offline reading lists. Belfiore explained how that will work in his blog post.
Keeping up with information overload on the web is one of the challenges that we all have to manage. Project Spartan helps with a beautiful new Reading List to collect everything you want to read, including the ability to save any webpage or PDF for convenient access later, and an integrated, distraction-free Reading View that keeps you focused on the content.
Activating Reading View just takes a click on an icon (which looks like an open book) on the upper right corner of the news browser. It's not perfect yet since Spartan is still in a beta phase, but usually doing that turns the relevant text into a format which looks like a book. Things like navigation, ads, and other distractions disappear which makes reading not only easier, but a whole lot more pleasant.
It's designed to be secure
One of the biggest problems Microsoft has is that its Windows operating system and Internet Explorer are prone to viruses, malware, and other software that does bad things to your computer. One way the company will be working to increase security is by offering more updates on a faster schedule than it traditionally has.
"Ship fast, try new things, learn and always get better," wrote Belfiore. "Along with the rest of Windows 10, Project Spartan will be regularly updated, and the team is engaging with customers and partners closely to tune and update plans."
Spartan is also using HTTP Strict Transport Security, an HTTP header to inform the browser to always request a given domain over SSL, reducing MITM attack surface area. That's a fancy way of showing one of the ways that Spartan is being built from the ground up with fending off attacks and keeping data secure in mind.
Spartan is new, but not unfamiliar
Microsoft learned a lesson with the relative failure of Windows 8. That OS was a radical change from its predecessors and the public was not ready for that much change.
Spartan is a dramatically new browser that does all sorts of cool stuff, which Explorer does not. But at the core of the browsing experience, it's not an unfamiliar feel. That should make adoption easier and keep Windows 10 users from running to Chrome. Firefox, or even back to IE.