Monday, November 01, 2010

IE6, Will no one rid me of this turbulent browser?

Internet Explorer 6 was released in 2001 and was deployed widely until the end of 2006 when IE7 appeared. Although a 2001 browser should be ancient history, IE6 has proved hard to dislodge from corporate desktops, in spite of concerted efforts by Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, and Microsoft. Internet Explorer 9 went into beta a month and a half ago.

If you work for a young company, or keep in-house development to LAMP or pure Java, the persistence of IE6 will seem baffling to you. Why not just migrate off to a later review of IE? Better still (in our opinion) try Google Chrome.

The reason why IE 6 has such staying power has a lot to do with the level of Intranet development activity between 2001 and 2007. This period was a boom time for in-house development, and at one point IE6 had around 90% market share. Today that has dwindled to 20%, but what really prevents some of the worlds largest companies from killing IE6 is the millions of lines of code and thousands of man hours of testing they have invested in their IE6-era Intranet applications.

Unfortunately, in an effort to make their applications run and render smoothly on IE6 many developers lost browser portability. Your Intranet works on IE6, but nobody is testing the applets, html, javascript, activeX, frames, and everything else on IE7 and certainly not Firefox or Chrome.

The feedback we have had from our corporate clients is that IE6 Intranets and applications are going to be around for a few years yet, probably outlasting Windows XP itself, which is only supported by Microsoft until April 2014. To give you an idea of just how strong IE6 inertia is, consider the following:
  • 360is know of around 30 unpatched security vulnerabilities in IE6.
  • Performance running certain content is 10x slower than a modern alternative.
  • IE6 doesn't support CSS v2, a cornerstone of modern web site design.
...and yet still your corporate desktop is running a ten year old browser. So how is an IT department to continue supporting IE6 for the foreseeable future, without impacting other desktop projects like Windows 7, VDI, and without exposing the organisation to any more risk than is absolutely unavoidable? On the face of it, there are a few options, but most of them do not survive the acid tests of user acceptance (too fiddly) or licensing (you aren't allowed to do that), or will not be supported by Microsoft. Given the importance of these Intranet applications (normally business critical pricing tools, order entry systems, customer databases, stock keeping) running without support is something we find hard to get comfortable with.
  • Putting XP in a VDI and asking users to access it just for legacy applications is going to be too much hard work for most users.
  • Running IE6 on VMware using ThinApp is not supported by Microsoft.
  • Session Virtualization using Microsoft RDS is a better solution, but not everyone is experienced with this technology.
If you need to support IE6 into 2011 and need to migrate away from Windows XP to a modern desktop operating system, but need expertise and support in your project then just let us know.