Microsoft yesterday officially confirmed its plans for Project Spartan, a new browser for Windows 10 that will run across PCs, tablets and phones. Now we have more details on how it plans to phase out the widely-used but little-loved Internet Explorer.
Project Spartan will be bundled with Windows 10, although it hasn't yet been made available in any of the public preview builds of the operating system. Since Microsoft is offering a free upgrade to Windows 10 for anyone running Windows 7 or 8.1, the clear intention is that most consumers will shift to Project Spartan as part of the upgrade.
But what about companies that have built web apps that rely on Internet Explorer-only features? That was a major factor in the extended lifespan of the insecure and unreliable Internet Explorer 6, the bane of every web developer's existence for many years.
Following yesterday's media launch for Windows 10, Microsoft has revealed more of its thinking around Internet Explorer's future in a blog post. The crucial detail? Project Spartan will have its own standards-compliant rendering engine, but will also be able to call on the IE rendering engine for sites that need it. To quote Jason Weber, group program manager for Internet Explorer, from the post:
Spartan provides compatibility with the millions of existing enterprise web sites designed for Internet Explorer. To achieve this, Spartan loads the IE11 engine for legacy enterprise web sites when needed, while using the new rendering engine for modern web sites. This approach provides both a strong compatibility guarantee for legacy enterprise web sites and a forward looking interoperable web standards promise.
However, IE11 itself doesn't support many features from older IE releases. In those cases, Weber writes, there will also be a standalone version of IE available:
We recognize some enterprises have legacy web sites that use older technologies designed only for Internet Explorer, such as custom ActiveX controls and Browser Helper Objects. For these users, Internet Explorer will also be available on Windows 10. Internet Explorer will use the same dual rendering engines as Spartan, ensuring web developers can consistently target the latest web standards.
Though Weber doesn't state this specifically, it seems likely that IE won't be bundled in Windows 10, but will have to be downloaded. In a corporate environment, it would presumably be made part of the standard system image. Taking that approach would also ensure that individual users would immediately start using Project Spartan, rather than heading for the familiar IE logo.
Clearly Microsoft wants the Project Spartan rendering engine to be used, rather than the older version. "Public Internet web sites will be rendered using the new engine and modern standards, and legacy Internet Explorer behaviours including document modes are not supported in the new engine. If your web sites depends on legacy Internet Explorer behaviours we encourage you to update to modern standards," Weber writes.
Legacy technologies take a long time to die, and having encouraged developers to use many now-dumped IE features, Microsoft does have some obligation not to leave them completely in the lurch. Nonetheless, it will be surprising if there's a version of Internet Explorer available in the successor OS to Windows 10. The death warrant for IE has been signed.