A World of Change
Last week, on Wednesday January 21st, 2015 Microsoft introduced to the world a host of new products that have breathed life into a company that to many was going kind of stale. Think IBM. A powerful industry leading behemoth yes, but consumer friendly, desirable, cool (with the exception of Xbox) not so much. But with a brand spanking new Operating System in Windows 10 that brings literally every form factor, from the smallest of IoT (internet of things) devices, to the Perceptive Pixel project, sensor laden, 84 inch, 4K Display, multi-touch, communication cradle – the Surface Hub – and every PC, tablet, hybrid and phone in between, under the same all-encompassing Windows 10 umbrella Microsoft is pioneering a new path. Other announcements of course included a free upgrade to Windows 10 for all Windows 7 and up users within the first year of the OSs release. We also got a peek at Cortana on the desktop. The showstopper was of course Microsoft’s ushering in of the era of holographic computing with HoloLens; a standalone head-borne wearable computer that brings the digital world into the real world. All of these things are news worthy and great moves by the tech giant. But we want to talk about Project Spartan, Microsoft’s new, streamlined, innovative web browser with the integrated personal digital assistant – Cortana.
What Makes Spartan Different
First and foremost the Project Spartan Browser is a departure from the legacy and much maligned Internet Explorer. Microsoft went back to the drawing board and designed Spartan from the core outward endowing it with a new rendering engine which is a true advancement beyond what Internet Explorer brought to the table.
The Spartan browser, as one of the definitions of the word “spartan” suggests is also streamlined – lightweight – laying aside the visual weight of chrome as well to coincide with its lighter and more efficient movements across the web.
Aside from the “physical” enhancements, the project Spartan Browser has some functional enhancements that puts it in true fighting form making it a strong contender, if not superior specimen, in the mobile browsing space. With a unique inking feature which allows users to annotate Web pages and save those edited pages to OneNote for easy sharing with friends, family, co-workers, business partners etc. – the Project Spartan Browser stands out as an elite warrior in the browser wars. Both its rivals Google’s Chrome and Apple’s Safari lack such an advanced feature.
The Spartan Browser also has a reading mode that strips away the visual frills that adorn many web-pages much like Halo’s Spartans were stripped of the encumbering limitations other humans endure or how Leonidas and his faithful 300 bore only what was necessary to be effective in battle. Reading mode streamlines a webpage for easy reading.
The best part, and the point in this discourse for which many of you have been patiently waiting is The Project Spartans Browsers integration with Microsoft’s/Halo’s very popular Digital Assistant/AI. Cortana is an ever present companion to the Spartan internet surfer. She recognizes the content of web pages, provides useful information such as directions to a venue a user may be viewing on a page. She draws on information she knows about the user from other contexts (i.e. windows phone –notebook) and incorporates that knowledge with what she “sees” the user viewing on the Web. She may offer flight information for a user who may be tracking say his wife’s flight when she sees he’s looking for a venue in the area of the airport she is to arrive in. Yes, this is Cortana as an essential and integrated part of the Project Spartan browser. Any Halo or Windows Phone fan, or even just someone who loves a good story will tell you – Cortana and Spartan, well they go together like Peanut Butter and Jelly. They’re just better together. Listen up Chief.
Once Upon a Time
The world was introduced to Cortana on Windows Phone in early April of 2014. Days later on April 14, 2014 eager Windows Phone enthusiasts with the Preview for Developers installed on their devices downloaded Cortana for the first time with the Windows Phone 8.1 update. Things haven’t been the same since.
Eager Windows Phone Fans around the globe whose regions were not part of the initial release clamored (and some continue to clamor) impatiently on social media asking “When will we get Cortana?” Microsoft employees like Joe Belfiore (who runs the team doing Windows Phone/Tablet/PC Product Definition and Design) and Marcus Ash(Group Program Manager for Cortana on Windows Phone) attempted to mitigate the storm the popularity of this Halo Artificial Intelligence companion to Master Chief, turned digital assistant to Windows Phone, users had ignited. Even popular tech Journalists Mary Jo Foley (@maryJoFoley) and Paul Thurrott (@thurrott) acted as buffers, mediators even – between Microsoft and a fan base who desperately wanted/want the digital assistant.
Why was she so popular? What was the big deal? Why didn’t Siri and Google Now, with much larger user bases ignite such an emotional response from their users? The short answer is that neither of those digital assistants exists outside of the OS platform of which it is a part and from which they originated. Cortana is a loved character who was birthed from the blockbuster Halo franchise about 15 years ago. During that time she has been the companion to tens of millions of gamers as they, as Master Chief, heeded her warnings, trusted her advice and [SPOILER ALERT] watched her die at the end of the fourth installment of the Halo series. Cortana was known to many and connected to them in the way game characters, no story characters, connect to participants of stories who vicariously live in the world of the character for a brief escape from the mundane pressures of life.
Microsoft was now bringing that beloved character, alive and well, into our world. Actually fans demanded it. When the codename Cortana, (yes it was just an internal codename much like Project Spartan is for Microsoft’s new browser), leaked to the masses – a firestorm of support was ignited pleading with Microsoft to retain the name Cortana for their new and capable digital assistant. The Redmond company, in what is increasingly evident of their new way of business – heard the voice of their base – their avid supporters – and complied. The name has been a tremendous hit ever since and no one, not even the Redmond giant, has looked back. As a matter of fact Microsoft recently ran a story on our favorite AI digital assistant as it’s featured “person” in a Story: The Smartest AI in the Universe is More Human Than You Think. This looks to be a company who is seeing the power of merging the success of a brand that resonates with the masses, by injecting a theme into a set of products and services that even non-gamers can understand (I have never played Halo and have never owned an Xbox -True story.) – and generate a halo effect.
De Ja Vu All Over Again
Now here we sit at the cross roads. Microsoft is launching, like their ground breaking World’s Most Personal Digital Assistant Cortana – a ground breaking new browser with said World’s Most Personal Digital Assistant thoroughly integrated therein. Joe Belfiore was clear during the Windows 10 presentation that the browser which we have all been calling Spartan, is actually the product of what is dubbed Project Spartan. In essence, this aptly code named Cortana enhanced browser is nameless. Well at least it is to Microsoft and to most of the world. However, as with Cortana the fans have spoken. We like Spartan.
Windows Central recently published an article which indicates that names such as:
are apparently on the table which would effectively sever Cortana’s symbolic symbiosis with the browser. Though not functionally altering the browser a larger theme that Microsoft has already begun and invested in (materially and psychologically with the market at large) with peppering Cortana with Halo themed characteristics via the choice of Jen Taylor, (the voice of the AI from the lauded Halo games), Halo references in Cortana’s jokes and responses and finally some elements of her personality which were translated from the game, will be abruptly severed as that same theme has now transitioned to the Cortana enhanced (via it’s name and AI integration) Project Spartan Browser, if a name other than Spartan is chosen at this point. Via the pre-event leaks, the January 21st event itself and post event videos of the product by Microsoft themselves, the profuse and persistently positive coverage by bloggers, vloggers, journalist’s and the media at large – the marketing for Microsoft’s marvelous new browser has already begun under the widely accepted and appropriately efficient moniker – Spartan.
Why Spartan – What’s in a Name?
I was hoping that the Spartan name would be under very serious consideration by Microsoft. I think that it is a very appropriate moniker.
One, the name itself conveys the sleek, “spartan”, efficient nature of the browser. This is an appropriate association when considering Spartan in relation to the Greek soldiers who were efficient warriors in battle, sparsely armed and lightly garbed for efficient movement, but extraordinarily effective rivals against any foe. This browser is that. Streamlined and under the hood, very powerful – and apparently quite an effective competitor against rivals Chrome and Safari.
Naturally the more appropriate association is Spartan in relation to Halo. Spartans were deliberately engineered from their core, their very DNA, to be natural warriors, and more. This browser was engineered from the core outward to be a powerful mobile browser that does more than the competition.
Second. Naturally what was on the inside of the Spartan was not all that comprised who/what he was but his armor, with the integrated AI was a key symbiosis to the identity of every Spartan. With Cortana integration in the Project Spartan browser the parallels are too blatant to miss. What better name for the ONLY browser with an integrated personal digital assistant that gets to know you and recognizes the webpages you surf and offers relevant support than “Spartan” which echoes Halo’s Spartans with integrated AI’s that recognizes the environments the Spartan is in and offers relevant support.
Finally, Microsoft is converging it’s ecosystem, Cortana is already one of the most recognized names that has transitioned from what was the company’s only “cool” product – Xbox, a product that people choose to use not have to use (HoloLens and changes coming with Windows 10 may change that). Cortana is not only accepted but clamored for. Spartan is, in my opinion, a natural name for a browser that is seeking to claim territory in the mobile space with its integrated digital assistant. Whatever avenues were utilized to rally individuals to make the voices of the masses heard to get Cortana’s name to stick for Microsoft’s personal assistant must, I contend, be employed. I think Microsoft needs to hear the voice of the masses again. If they’re looking for a name for their sleek, powerful AI integrated browser, I think I echo the voices of the majority of Microsoft’s enthusiastic and vocal supporters – We are Sp….I mean Spartan it is!