Internet Explorer | Funeral for a Friend?
After being considered ‘terminal’ pretty much from birth, the end is finally in sight for the very much unloved Internet Explorer. It’s a funeral that will run for some months yet. It might even be the longest wake in history with mournful dirges and the fumes of incense punctuated by the jubilant sound of streamers popping while jaunty renditions of ‘ding dong the witch is dead’ are sung from the gallery.
But while we wait for the cortege to begin its final journey we wonder what it will all mean for users and developers alike?
The first thing to say regarding the imminent death of Internet Explorer is obviously that there will be a replacement. And, if early tech previews are anything to go by this could be one hell of a replacement, marking a significant shift by Microsoft in its browser technology. The working title – and quite possibly the market brand name too – is ‘Spartan’. That name should already give some clues as to the relatively lean makeup of this new browser.
Before we take a look at Spartan, some more reassurance. Those of us not part of the early adoption of Windows 10 can still avail of Internet Explorer. However, Microsoft has made a significant change to the “Internet Explorer Support Lifecycle Policy:
What does that mean exactly? Well, essentially, it means that Microsoft will only support the latest version of Internet Explorer applicable to the Operating System you are running. Naturally, this assumes that the Operating System itself is supported. So, Windows XP users, you’re already exiled!
We’ll take a quick look at Spartan ‘under the hood’ shortly. Before that, have a look at that UI below. This is a simple, flat design UI, which has become part of Microsoft’s look & feel since Windows 8 surfaced a couple of years’ ago.
Microsoft says it wants to get the app out of the way of your content, hence this minimalist design. You still have the usual navigation and bookmark buttons, but these are now relatively large to be touch-friendly. Otherwise it’s a fairly traditional browser layout.
One of the trumpeted features in Spartan is the new ‘Reading View’. The idea here is to keep your browsing distraction-free by presenting websites in an e-book like format. When in reading view you only see text and relevant images.
You can of course change the way Reading View looks through the settings menu. By default, it’s got a parchment background colour with black text, but you can also choose from white, grey and black backgrounds too. As you’d expect, you can also adjust the font size to your liking.
Not all sites support reading view. However, this is likely to change over time as web designers and developers add the necessary CSS to allow Spartan to render their sites this way. At the moment it seems to work best with the content it’s intended for, such as blog posts and other text heavy pages. Having said that, some pages, Wikipedia in particular, are notable omissions. The reading view option will be greyed out if it’s not available on a particular page.
Once you save a page, it will then be available from a ‘Reading List’ view in your favourites menu. One cool feature here is that you can export Reading List pages as PDF. Nice touch!
Web Note is simply a case of Microsoft bringing OneNote to the Spartan browser. When you click on the new Web Note button, the browser turns a purple shade and you’re presented with a few annotation options including a marker, highlighter and a comment box.
This reminds me of the wonderful iAnnotate app, where you can annotate and slice up PDFs to your heart’s content. It’s a wonderful way of organising your notes or, in the case of Spartan, Listed Pages, in a way that is unique to you.
You can then save the annotated page to your Reading List or share your notes through other apps like Facebook, Flipboard or OneNote. You can also clip a section of the page to copy, save or share. Very cool!
From the perspective of designers & developers, Spartan represents a very radical shift from Internet Explorer. This comes in several forms, but most significantly it is the change of rendering engine that draws gasps. Gone is Trident (MSHTML.dll), that powered Internet Explorer for decades. In comes EdgeHTML (EdgeHTML.dll).
Trident has given many a designer and developer sleepless nights over the last number of years. It made cross-browser compatibility a real challenge and without frameworks and libraries, such as jQuery and Bootstrap normalising these cross-browser inconsistencies, I dare say that the average number of sick-leave days taken by developers would almost certainly be several orders of magnitude higher than it currently is!
If you think these are trivial matters, just hear what Microsoft’s Jacob Rossi, the senior engineer at Microsoft’s web platform team, had to say about that moment, when Trident was replaced by EdgeHTML:
You can read more of what Jacob Rossi has to say on the new rendering engine right here >>
As Spartan has only just been included in the latest beta Windows 10 builds, it is still a little buggy. However, there is some very early promise from a performance point-of-view. We gave it a test drive on i3, i5 and i7 processors and, despite a few occasional hiccups when loading multiple tabs – something that is so obviously a glitch that it will be ironed out before the official release – it showed itself to be a very efficient tool.
If you’re a curious soul and you’d like to experience the new rendering engine within Internet Explorer 11, you don’t have to wait for Windows 10. You can simulate the experience by visiting RemoteIE. Otherwise, just sit tight. The funeral drum is beating for IE and a new king is en route to challenge Chrome and Firefox. Interesting times ahead!
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