Microsoft today is delivering Windows 10 Technical Preview 2 build 10049, the second time it has delivered a new build for PCs in less than two weeks. When you consider the nearly two month wait between builds previously, that’s a near-miracle. But the big news this time around really isn’t the timings so much as it is the long-awaited inclusion of Microsoft’s new web browser, Project Spartan.
Note: To be clear, Windows 10 build 10049 is only for PCs, not for phones. So it’s currently only possible to test Project Spartans on PCs (including tablets, 2-in-1s like Surface Pro, and so on).
As I noted last week in Microsoft Simplifies Windows 10 Web Browser Strategy, there’s been some confusion around Microsoft’s plans to ship two web browsers in Windows 10 and, as a result, some changes to those plans over time. But what you see in the new build should set the stage for how the firm intends to present these browsers going forward. That is, Project Spartan—and not Internet Explorer—is pinned to the Windows 10 taskbar and Start menu. Yes, IE is in there. But mostly to support legacy requirements, especially in the enterprise.
Microsoft first announced Project Spartan—a codename, though I suspect the company will stick with the Spartan branding if it can—at the Windows 10 Technical Preview 2 press event in January. That was a long two and a half months ago, so we’ve been waiting for quite a while to get our hands on the real thing. As you might expect, however, what we see in build 10049 is an incomplete experience. That is, some of the announced features are available, while some aren’t.
Here’s what you can expect from Project Spartan, with some notes around what is and isn’t available in this build.
New rendering engine. Spartan features a new rendering engine that is designed solely for the modern web, and not for the web or 10 or 15 years ago. This new engine is in the build we’re getting today.
Streamlined user experience. While Microsoft pushed the notion of “content not chrome” in recent IE versions, Spartan goes even further with a minimalistic user experience that scales across all the devices that run Windows 10, including phones, tablets and PCs. It works well with Continuum on 2-in-1 class devices and emphasizes the content you’re viewing even more so than did IE.
Cortana integration. Microsoft showed off various Cortana integration features back in January, showing that its digital personal assistant would always be there to help out as you browse the web. Some of that functionality—like right-clicking to get contextually relevant information about the current web page, and Cortana Assist, where you type phrases like “weather” or “stocks” in the address bar—are available in the current build.
Annotations. Spartan lets you annotate web page using your keyboard, touch or pen, and then save those annotations so you can read them later or share them with others as web notes (which will work in any web browser). That works today, but other annotation features are coming later.
Reading view. Like the similar feature in IE, Reading view provides a distraction-free way to read web-based articles, and this capability—and the ability to read saved web articles while online-is available in the current build. But some other features—offline reading and the ability to roam your article list to other Windows 10 devices—will come in a future build. (This capability is Windows 10-only; you can’t save an article for offline viewing in Windows 10 and then read it on a non-Windows 10 device.)
Some basic browser features are missing. Some rudimentary browser features like Browser History and the Download user interface are missing from this build, but would of course be added to subsequent builds. Likewise you can’t currently pin a web page in Spartan to the taskbar as you can today with IE, but that feature is coming.
IE has a few features Spartan lacks. IE may be riding off into the sunset, but as you might expect of such a mature product, it includes a few features that Spartan lacks. Among them is a favorite of mine: the ability to pin a multi-tab web page to the taskbar.
You may be wondering whether there’s anything new in this build besides Spartan. As it turns out, no, there is not. But Microsoft did provide a short list of bugs it fixed since 10041. These include:
Photos app crashes. In build 10041, the Photos app could crash when you select the Camera Roll button.
Desktop accidentally visible. Windows open over the desktop were accidentally visible behind the Start Screen, Task View, Snap Assist, and when rearranging windows in Tablet Mode in build 10041.
Lock PC bug. If you manually locked your PC (WINKEY + L) during the initial out-of-box experience, the PC could lock up.
And as you might expect, there are also some known issues:
Sign in to a blank blue screen. Microsoft says you may see a blue screen instead of your desktop when you sign in. As a workaround, lock the PC and then try signing in again.
Outlook indexing is broken. Outlook can’t index new email in this build, so search results will be limited to when the last index was built.
Visual Studio 2015 is broken. There are two issues with the Visual Studio 2015 preview on this build. The emulators will not boot and you won’t be able to deploy a Windows Universal app to the Mobile emulator. And the XAML designer in Visual Studio and Blend will crash when opened. Microsoft recommends that developers who use these tools now to develop Windows universal apps should switch to the Slow ring until a patch is available.
Oh, and one more thing: No ISOs today, those will come when this build hits the Slow ring. So you’ll need to be running 10041 first to upgrade to the new build.
I’ll post some observations about Project Spartan once I’ve used it a bit.