The Tale of Two Windows 10 Browsers

The Tale of Two Windows 10 Browsers

By now, you should have heard that when Windows 10 releases this summer, it will come with two web browsers. Windows 10 will sport both Internet Explorer and the as yet officially unnamed Spartan Project browser. The company recently went on record to clarify its stance recently, suggesting that the browsers are two distinct pieces of code. This is something I've been professing all along, but muddled reporting mucked-up the waters a bit forcing Microsoft to make it clearer.

As you can see in the next graphic, Project Spartan and Internet Explorer will be completely separate, even sporting different rendering engines.

As Richard put it

The meat and potatoes of this presentation, on what Microsoft is labeling a simpler browser strategy in Windows 10, is that Project Spartan will only contain the new browsing engine while IE11 will remain much as it is right now in Windows 8.1 and will host the legacy browsing engine.

So, IE11 will remain, solely as a support mechanism for those companies that need legacy web support, and Project Spartan is the new way forward. Some have suggested that Internet Explorer is dead, but digging into the Product Lifecycle for the web browser shows that it'll be around for quite some time.

Microsoft says

Beginning January 12, 2016, only the most current version of Internet Explorer available for a supported operating system will receive technical support and security updates.

Based on Windows 8.1's records, this means that Internet Explorer 11 will reach the end of mainstream support on January 8, 2018 and extended support on January 10, 2023.

Microsoft has also stated it has put Internet Explorer in sort of a maintenance mode, meaning the web browser will continue to be updated to protect customers against exposed security flaws, but that it may never see any new features added again.

But, this stance exposes a couple potential problems for both Microsoft and its customers.

First off, two browsers running on two different codebases means we can expect different updates each month. Microsoft's web browsers are notorious for providing the bulk of security patches each month during Patch Tuesday. Microsoft is not alone in this, of course, the Internet is a dangerous place with ever-evolving security concerns. Chrome is now on some silly increment like version 42 or something, with most updates coming to eliminate found security flaws. So, we can expect patches to flow like an undammed Yangtze. Imagine the patching effort each month.

Secondly, two browsers means IT has to support usage for both of them. One for legacy concerns and the other for more modern web browsing, leaving it up to the end-user, in most cases, to choose which browser to use. I can just hear the support conversation:

 

End-user: "I can't access the company expenses and my receipts are due by noon."

IT staff: "Are you using Internet Explorer or Spartan?"

End-user: "Uhhh…"

IT staff: "You need to be using Internet Explorer. Spartan doesn’t yet work with our financial system."

End-user: "Uhhh…can you just do this for me?"

 

In an effort to shed a tarnished browser history, Microsoft is pushing forward with this new browsing experience. We've yet to actually get a real taste of Project Spartan since it's yet to make a full appearance inside a Windows 10 Technical build. It's probably going to be a stellar web browser, but lingering questions remain for businesses that will have to support it. In one sense, it could be factored that Project Spartan is for consumers while Internet Explorer is for businesses. Microsoft tried this before in Windows 8.x, offering a modern version and a desktop version of Internet Explorer 10 and then a more stable and compatible version 11. That didn't work out too well. But in that case, at least, the code was shared and customers only needed to apply a single security update to fix known issues. With Windows 10, we'll see two distinct attack vectors to manage.

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