Credit Jorgen Kesseler/Flickr

Microsoft puts Internet Explorer out of its misery

The software giant has confirmed a new browser will be shipped with Windows 10. Prepare for Project Spartan.

by Adam Gale
Last Updated: 25 Jun 2015

It looks like multibillion dollar technology firms are capable of taking a hint after all. Microsoft is finally giving up on its once ubiquitous browser Internet Explorer, after years of decline in the face of competition from fresher, cooler, cleaner rivals.

In its place, Microsoft is preparing a new browser to launch an assault on Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox, which have a 50% and 20% share of the browser market respectively. Its rather snazzy codename? Project Spartan.

Perhaps the executives in Redwood, WA were pumped after watching the movie 300, but to most people the word 'Spartan' conjures images of violent, slave-owning Greek warriors and extremes of militaristic austerity. It's also not a world away from 'Trojan', a category of computer virus and brand of condom. None of these really works for a web browser.

Fortunately, it seems Microsoft has cottoned onto this. 'We have to name the thing,' admitted its marketing boss Chris Capossela, though he didn't give away what it would be.

Spartan (or rather whatever slightly friendlier name it ends up with - Athenian, perhaps?) will be much more similar to Chrome and Firefox in appearance and function than its predecessor, and will have new features like on-screen annotations and a voice activated search function, Cortana.

Microsoft boss Satya Nadella is trying to reorient the business away from its historic dependance on the Windows and Office monopolies, into something more forward-looking. The company is pushing hard into smartphones and tablets, as well as cloud services. In a sign of how seriously it's taking mobile, it bought the popular game Minecraft at the end of last year, for a cool $2.5bn (£1.7bn).

Although Spartan will be included with Windows 10 PCs like Internet Explorer was, it's been designed to compete in the battlefields of mobile and cloud in a way that its predecessor has widely failed to do. Microsoft describes it as 'a single browser designed to work great across the entire Windows 10 device family'.

Despite Spartan's 'modern' features, this isn't really the advent of a new product. A final version (the 12th) of Internet Explorer will also accompany Windows 10 for a time to ease the transition, and it will run off the same new engine as Spartan. It's essentially a rebranding exercise.

But it's a smart one. Internet Explorer has fallen from a 95% share of the brower market in the early 2000s to roughly 20% today because people see it as old, buggy and - thanks to a long-since solved problem with Internet Explorer 6 in 2004 - even insecure.

A product without Internet Explorer's negative associations, but with its advantage of being distributed for free with Windows machines, could do well. It would certainly be hard to do much worse, but it would take a brave person to bet that Microsoft Spartan will overcome the might of Google Chrome.

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