Microsoft's Spartan and IE11 browsers get some under-the-hood separation

When the two browsers launch along with Windows 10, the future-focused Spartan will have a clear edge over the legacy-minded Internet Explorer 11.

Mary Jo Foley
Mary Jo Foley has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications, including ZDNet, eWeek and Baseline. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008). She also is the cohost of the "Windows Weekly" podcast on the TWiT network.
Mary Jo Foley
2 min read

Microsoft revealed its Project Spartan browser ambitions in January. Photo by Nate Ralph/CNET

Microsoft is making some tweaks to its browser strategy for Windows 10 that center on the rendering engines for its two browsers: Internet Explorer 11 and the one codenamed Project Spartan, which it sees as "the future."

The rendering engine is at the heart of a browser. It processes the under-the-hood programming-level instructions in order to create a Web page or run a Web app.

Back in January, Microsoft's plan of record was to include both its existing "Trident" (MSHTML) and its new "Edge" rendering engines in both IE 11 and Spartan. That way, whether customers were using IE 11 or Spartan, they'd be able to switch back to the legacy Trident engine if and when they encountered legacy or enterprise sites that needed Trident to render correctly.

But based on feedback from Windows Insiders and customers -- who've been able to test the new Edge engine even though Spartan itself isn't yet available in publicly available test builds of Windows 10 or Windows 10 Mobile -- Microsoft is shifting gears.

Microsoft's new strategy for Windows 10 browsing is for Spartan to include the Edge rendering engine only and for IE 11 to include the Trident engine only.

Microsoft disclosed the change in strategy in a blog post, as well as during a "Project Spartan" developers' workshop on March 24 in San Francisco.

The Edge rendering engine is based on a fork of Trident, but a fork that has been heavily optimized for standards and interoperability.

Microsoft has seen developers opt into the new Edge engine more rapidly than expected. Relatively few sites seem to require the fallback to the legacy engine.

Company officials have said that Spartan will be the default browser in all versions of Windows 10. They have not stated publicly which versions of Windows 10 will ship with IE 11 preinstalled, but I hear any device running the Windows 10 "desktop" (as opposed to Windows 10 Mobile) version will have IE 11 shipped as part of the operating system.

Both browsers are important components of Windows 10. But Spartan is the future, as Microsoft execs stated in today's blog post:

"Project Spartan is our future: it is the default browser for all Windows 10 customers and will provide unique user experiences including the ability to annotate on web pages, a distraction-free reading experience, and integration of Cortana for finding and doing things online faster. Web developers can expect Project Spartan's new engine to be interoperable with the modern Web and remain 'evergreen'with no document modes or compatibility views introduced going forward."

This story originally appeared at ZDNet under the headline "Microsoft to make rendering engine changes with Spartan, IE in Windows 10."