A new Microsoft browser?

Recently the news broke that Microsoft may be working on another browser instead of IE. After reviewing the available evidence I’ve come to the conclusion that, although Microsoft is making a few adjustments, and a name change for IE might be a good idea, the new browser will essentially be IE12. Still, I think we web developers should support the “new browser” narrative.

It seems the decision was taken to fork Trident, Microsoft’s rendering engine. One version will essentially be IE11 with all backward-compatible bells and whistles, while the other one will be IE12, although it may carry a different name and will sport a new interface and support extensions. (IE extensions, that is. Not Chrome or Firefox extensions.)

The idea seems to be that Windows 10 will ship both these browsers. The Internet icon on the desktop will start up IE12, while “if a page calls for IE to render in a compatibility mode” IE11 will be started up. I am assuming that what’s meant here is the meta versioning switch.

Remember that to this day IE11 also contains IE 10, 9, 8, 7, and 5.5, which are accessible through the once-maligned but now mostly-forgotten meta versioning switch, as well as, in the case of 5.5, the good old doctype switch.

The plan seems to be that the new IE12 will not carry all that cruft, but be a forward-looking modern browser. If you need legacy stuff you must start up another browser. Actually this is not such a bad idea. The versioning switch never really caught on on the public Internet (although corporate Intranets may be a different story), so why weigh IE down with a lot of other rendering engines that hardly anyone outside a corporate environment will ever need?

An implication of forking IE is that the new IE11 would be maintained separately from IE12. That might be interesting, although it’s also a lot of hassle for Microsoft. We’ll have to see if they’re really going to maintain two browsers.

Finally, IE may be changing names in the near future. Actually, that’s a pretty good idea. The brand “IE” has become synonymous with slow, old-fashioned, non-standard-compliant browsing — even though from IE10 on there was little reason for that judgement. But IE is being weighed down by the IE6 legacy, and a new name may be just what it needs. So let’s do it. (But not “Spartan,” please. It doesn’t make sense for a browser. Why not an explorer from the good old days? Maybe even a Dutch one?)

Internally, when talking to other web devs, you should treat the next Microsoft browser as IE12. Externally, however, when talking to clients and other non-techies, it could make sense to support the “Microsoft is creating a new browser” narrative. Who knows, your clients or other contacts may decide it’s time to say goodbye to their old IE versions and embrace the new browser. That would help them, us, and Microsoft at the same time.

This is the blog of Peter-Paul Koch, mobile platform strategist, consultant, and trainer. You can also follow him on Twitter.
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