Asked for a more specific speed assessment on a scale from 0 to 10, O'Brien says, “Let’s say Firefox is a 5, Chrome is a 6 ... Safari and Spartan would both probably be around 8 ½."
O'Brien also praises Spartan's rendering performance: "You know if they understand rendering well by things like anti-aliasing. So if I have a diagonal line on the screen, how pixelated does that thing look? On Spartan it looks really, really nice; on Firefox it looks really, really terrible ... [Spartan] passed all our tests and drew everything the way that we thought it should be drawn."
Other improvements, say Newcomb and O'Brien, include better developer tools. O'Brien thinks Microsoft has a way to go before catching Google Chrome's developer tools, which he considers best among browsers, but Spartan is already ahead of Safari. He's also impressed by the way Microsoft is driving CSS3 standardization.
Newcomb can't resist amplifying this last point: "Microsoft always used to be non-compliant to anything ... Microsoft for the first time is actually driving towards standards and ubiquity instead of going its own way."
Dealing with Microsoft is not a new experience for Newcomb. Seven years ago, he was instrumental in selling the semantic search startup he co-founded, Powerset, to Microsoft for a rumored $100 million. When asked to contrast his past dealings with the openness he's seen from Microsoft lately, Newcomb says, "It doesn't feel like Microsoft at all."