This week, Microsoft released the very first preview of its new browser, codenamed Project Spartan. Available only with the latest build of Windows 10 Technical Preview, Spartan promises to replace the company's infamous Internet Explorer with something that is "fast, compatible, and built for the modern Web."
The browser is obviously a beta-level product at best, but we were curious to see how it performs compared to the competition. So we ran Project Spartan, IE 11, Chrome and Firefox through a few tests on a Core i5-4200U-powered ThinkPad T440s laptop running Windows 10 on its 1920 x 1080 display. The very early results are in -- and they are a mixed bag at best.
Screen Real Estate
The more space your tool bars, buttons and status bars take up, the less that's available to show web content. Just a few pixels can mean the difference between seeing an extra line or two of text "above the fold" on a web page or needing to scroll.
To see which browser shows the most content at once, we loaded the same review article in each one, maximized the window and took a screen shot. Each browser was configured to display the page at 100 percent magnification and with the default set of toolbars showing. We also counted the amount of vertical pixels each brower's menus took up.
On this test, Spartan was significantly worse than IE 11, the browser it is replacing, coming in third place out of four with 96 pixels of menu space. Chrome was the clear winner with just 56 pixels devoted to its address bar and tabs while Firefox trailed the field by a wide margin, showing a full 56 pixels. IE 11 took second place with just 71 pixels of tools.
We're not sure what Microsoft is trying to accomplish by eating up 25 more pixels than it did on its previus browser. It's not like Spartan is so good looking that you'll want to spend more time looking at its toolbars. In fact, its dull gray toolbar is kind of depressing; the address bar fades into the background by using the same ugly color and the side icons look like they were grabbed straight from the Wing Dings font. Internet Explorer looks like America's Next Top Model by comparison.
On SunSpider, Project Spartan came in second, completing all tasks in just 158.9 milliseconds. However, IE 11 was about 25 percent faster. Hopefully these are just early numbers, because the last thing anyone wants from Spartan is slower performance than its predecessor.
Peacekeeper Browser Benchmark
On Peacekeeper, Project Spartan trailed the field by a wide margin, dropping over 200 points behind IE 11 and nearly 2,000 points behind Firefox.
HTML Standard Compatibility
You definitely want your browser to support every possible web standard, including all the HTML 5 tags. Running the test at html5test.com showed that Spartan has worse standards support than IE 11, and is way behind Chrome and Firefox. The site assigns each browser a compatibility score, with 555 being perfect.
It's too early to know whether Project Spartan will help Microsoft win the browser war, but the very early performance results aren't promising. We look forward to seeing how the new browser evolves over the next few months and will withold final judgment until it is production-grade software.