Microsoft released the first technical preview of Project Spartan in Windows 10 build 10049 on March 30, 2015, and this article offers a test drive of that release. This ambitious new browser is Microsoft’s clean slate for delivering a new web browsing experience. The new browser is simple, light-weight and is built for the “modern web.” Project Spartan is touch friendly and even lets you take notes on web pages using your Surface Pen. Project Spartan isn’t the final name of the browser – it’s simply a code name. We should expect the final name to be announced as we get closer to the launch of Windows 10.
You can find Project Spartan in the task bar with a new icon.
Figure 1: The Project Spartan icon in blue, included in Windows 10 build 10049.
Project Spartan has a very sparse interface with simple icons for all of the common actions such as Back, Forward, Refresh and Favorites. You’ll recognize that Project Spartan is a Windows 10 Modern Application (now referred to as a Windows app and not to be confused with a Windows Desktop app). It features a similar interface with multiple tabs (figure 2) that you see in other browsers with a “+” icon to add a new tab.
Figure 2: You can add a tab to open a window in Project Spartan by clicking “+” similar to other browsers.
On the right side of the toolbar you will see an icon for the Reading List, Favorites, making a Web Note, Feedback and Settings. Your favorites list will automatically include your favorites from Internet Explorer.
I’ve tried a number of sites in Project Spartan and I haven’t seen any visual issues yet. I have had a very positive experience so far with it. The browser supports Adobe Flash. You can disable Adobe Flash in the Settings menu.
Figure 3 shows an example of what the home page of IT Unity looks like in Project Spartan.
Figure 3: The IT Unity home page viewed in Project Spartan, March 31, 2015.
Windows 10 reveals our friend Cortana in more and more places and Project Spartan is no exception (figure 4). You can invoke Cortana in a couple of different ways. First, you can highlight a piece of text on a page, right-click to bring up the context menu and then choose Ask Cortana. This will usually just provide a Bing search, but if you ask Cortana something that she personally cares about such as Windows 10, she’ll include some cheesy comments and show extra things like videos and download links. Don’t worry, she doesn’t talk when you activate her this way.
Figure 4: In the right third of the screen you can see suggestions from Cortana when you highlight text in Project Cortana.
It’s a cool feature. However, I’d like to see some kind of additional visual cue that you can activate Cortana this way.
You can also activate Cortana when searching. For example, if you type weather into the search bar, Cortana will provide it for your current location (figure 5). However, you can also type a city afterward and she’ll give you weather for that location.
Figure 5: Cortana will fill in the weather for your current location when you type weather in the search bar.
Reading View is a new feature designed to get rid of the noise when you are reading your favorite pages. Project Spartan wants to provide a distraction-free reading experience. When a site supports Reading View, the Reading View icon (the book in the toolbar, see figure 6) will highlight.
Figure 6: On a page in Project Spartan you can see the Reading View icon, which looks like an open book.
Clicking that icon gives you a completely stripped down version of the web page. It removes all navigation, advertisements and more. It makes reading pages a much more pleasant experience. Figure 7 shows the official Project Spartan blog post. Project Spartan has removed the noise.
Figure 7: In Reading View, a feature of Project Spartan, you can see the page content without columns that provide ads and navigation.
Reading View even works on advertisement heavy sites like ibtimes.com. While I find Reading View quite impressive, I think advertisers will hate it. I won’t be surprised if they even file lawsuits over it.
Microsoft introduced the Reading List back in Windows 8.1, but few people used it. Microsoft will bring the Reading List to the foreground a little bit with Project Spartan (figure 8). Now when you click the “Add to favorites or reading list” icon (the star), you will have the option to add a page to your Reading List for later. You can view your Reading List by pressing the icon immediately to the right, Favorites, reading list, history and downloads. Clicking the Reading List here provides a nice interface for viewing pages you have added along with thumbnails.
Figure 8: Project Spartan makes the Reading List more accessible.
Whether you have a touch-screen device or not, Web Notes are really cool. They allow you to annotate a page, mark it up and share it. Gone are the days of copying and pasting a screenshot into Paint and then making notes. To get started, click the Make a Web Note icon in the toolbar (the icon with a pencil and page). This will switch the browser to a mode (figure 9) where you can start highlighting things, use different colors and add text. Even if you are using a keyboard and mouse, Web Notes are useful.
Figure 9: Using the Web Notes feature in Project Spartan to highlight parts of a page.
When you are done making notes, you can save the notes for later and easily share them. You can view Web Notes in other browsers like Google Chrome. Project Spartan basically just renders one large static image of the entire page (figure 10) but it’s nice that others can view your notes outside of Project Spartan.
Figure 10: Web Notes viewed in a browser other than Project Spartan.
I noticed a few issues where Web Notes saved my markings as I was using it. I expect the Project Spartan team will resolve that before launch.
Features not included yet
As this is an early build of Project Spartan, Microsoft has not included a few features, notably, browsing history and download history. Project Spartan’s settings menu is also pretty sparse, although I expect it will likely stay that way.
One feature I noticed: if you are watching a video and click the Full Screen Mode, Project Spartan will only display the video inside the window. Even if you maximize the browser, it won’t show up as a true full screen experience. I’m not sure if this will change or not.
Your feedback wanted
Microsoft wants your feedback on how Project Spartan works, especially from developers. Be sure and go to the Project Spartan uservoice forum to submit your ideas and feedback.