Internet Explorer may finally catch up with rivals in terms of developer access

ZDNet's Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) insider and perennial blogger Mary Jo Foley reports that a major shift is coming to the Internet Explorer browser with Windows 10.  She writes that Microsoft is prepping an alternate build of Internet Explorer 11 (IE 11), known as "Spartan".  (Standard IE 11 launched for Windows in Oct. 2013.)

The new build still uses Microsoft's proprietary Chakra Javascript engine and Trident rendering engine -- an approach which drew the ire of Supersite for Windows blogger Paul Thurrott who advocated a switch to the ubiquitous WebKit rendering engine used by Google Inc.'s (GOOG) Chrome, Apple, Inc.'s (AAPL) Safari, and Opera Software ASA's (STO:OPERAO) self-titled browser.  The new "Spartan" build does branch Trident along a new path, though, independent of the mainline IE 11, according to Mary Jo Foley, though.

IE 11
Windows 10 is reportedly getting a new variant of IE 11, which opens the door to full-blown third party extensions. [Image Source: The Verge]

That shift allows the big planned addition to the "Spartan" browser -- third party extensions. big shift in the new build is the addition of extensions -- a feature long popular in rival browsers and

Since IE 9 Microsoft has offered "add-ons", which offer some of the functionality of its rivals "extensions".  However, IE still trails the competition in some regards.  Namely, an easy-to-develop-for browser extension framework for third party developers been long requested and long lacking in IE.  Now that may, at long last, be rectified.

Mary Jo Foley writes:

If my sources are right, Spartan is not IE 12. Instead, Spartan is a new, light-weight browser Microsoft is building.

Windows 10 (at least the desktop version) will ship with both Spartan and IE 11, my sources say. IE 11 will be there for backward-compatibility's sake. Spartan will be available for both desktop and mobile (phone/tablet) versions of Windows 10, sources say.

Spartan is just a codename at this point. My sources don't know what Microsoft plans to call this new browser when it debuts.

She points to a Reddit "Ask Me Anything" (AMA) discussion from earlier in this year, where Microsoft engineers hinted that Internet Explorer might be renamed.  She also suggests that the Spartan browser could be ported to third party platforms like Android and iOS, as it's not technically "IE" (not in terms of official semantics, thus far, at least).

Spartan will reportedly be ship with Windows 10, both form mobile devices and traditional personal computers (laptops and desktops).  It's unclear, though, how Microsoft plans to utilize Spartan versus the stock IE 11 build.  It's possible the user may get to select the browser they want at run time.

Mary Jo Foley suggests that the browser may not be ready for testing with the next set of Windows 10 programs and features, which are expected to roll out to public preview Windows 10 testers on January 21.  She says it's possible, though.

Some may say "so what", given that many tech enthusiasts have long since left IE for greener pastures (i.e. Chrome, Firefox, etc.).

IE Spartan

That said, Net Market Share reports that IE is still the most-used browser, so the news is significant to many.  IE 11 alone has a reported 25.49 percent market share in the traditional PC space.  Together IE 8, 9, 10, and 11 have an estimated 57+ % PC market share, according to that report.  Overall, though, IE is believed to have a lower market share of all mobile and traditional traffic.  StatCounter, Clicky, and W3Counter estimated IE at 20.3, 28.8, 19.0 percent of total traffic [source].  

That's still one in five website visits, though, so a major shift in IE should be taken seriously, even by those who've moved on.

Sources: ZDNet, via Paul Thurrott's Supersite For Windows

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