Microsoft's Original Love Of IE6 Crippling Business Migration

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News Posted: Fri, Oct 29 2010 2:42 PM
Ah, IE6. Over the past decade it's transitioned from its position as Microsoft's Playmate to Microsoft's ancient, wheezing, colostomy-bag-holding mother-in-law. The decrepit browser's grip on the corporate sector is so strong that Redmond has found itself in the embarrassing position of having to beg ask its customers to stop using its own product. Despite entreaties from MS, security firms, and world+dog, businesses have been slow to move to a new browser. In the past, this was typically explained by referencing slow corporate upgrade cycles combined with the recent recession. Turns out there may be another, more ironic cause. According to Gartner analyst Michael Silver, one reason businesses are having such a hard time moving from IE6 is because they developed web applications and services that required IE6 almost ten years ago.

Some of you may recall that MS put a huge push on its then-new browser as the 'right' choice for businesses and consumers alike. Business software development cycles being what they are, a lot of those venerable web apps are still around. Silver's report claims that an estimated one in five businesses will either take longer migrating to Windows 7 or end up spending significantly more than what they budgeted for the transition. Compatibility problems may be the single largest issue holding things up. Gartner reports an estimated 40 percent of all the businesses running IE6 have apps that won't run under Windows 7 and IE8.  "Microsoft needs to explore all avenues that could ease the transitions away from IE6," Silver said. "Microsoft must do more to help organizations with their IE6 problems that Microsoft helped cause."

License To...Run A Crappy Browser?

There's an interesting, if puzzling, wrinkle to this situation. In addition to its full line of OS virtualization products, Microsoft also maintains an application virtualization product, nicknamed App-V. The product website states that App-V "EnableSleep applications to run without the need to visit a desktop, laptop, or terminal server. Applications are no longer installed on the client—and there is minimal impact on the host operating system or other applications. The most extensive virtualization technology on the market, App-V virtualizes per user, per application instance, as well as key application components. As a result, application conflicts and the need for regression testing are dramatically reduced."



App-V sounds like exactly what businesses need, but there's a problem. Because Windows XP and IE are so tightly integrated, Microsoft doesn't consider it to be a stand-alone application. According to a letter MS sent out to customers (linked on Gartner's blog), using App-V to emulate IE6 is not allowed.
Microsoft does not support the use of Microsoft Application Virtualization (App-V) or similar third-party application virtualization products to virtualize IE6 as an “application” enabling multiple versions of Internet Explorer on a single operating system. These unsupported approaches may potentially stop working when customers patch or update the underlying operating system, introducing technical incompatibilities and business continuity issues. In addition, the terms under which Windows and IE6 are licensed do not permit IE6 application virtualization. Microsoft supports and licenses IE6 only for use as part of the Windows operating system, not as a standalone application.
On the one hand, Microsoft's decision to pat companies on the head and say "Sorry. Our bad," is a lousy way to do business. If Gartner is right, MS will take a revenue hit for this compared to what it might've earned, although we don't think Redmond is exactly hurting for money. On the other hand, businesses, employees, and consumers could both benefit from this over the long term. Rewritten applications could improve intra-business functionality, close security flaws innate to IE6, and could be written to conform to web standards rather than being shoehorned into IE6's broken rendering scheme. 
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AlanH replied on Fri, Oct 29 2010 3:33 PM

Lol, IE6

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mikebogo replied on Fri, Oct 29 2010 3:57 PM

Haven't we known the reason companies haven't upgraded from IE6 is application compatibility for a while now? IE6's unique interpretation of specs meant that applications were often specifically coded against web standards, causing IE6 to be the only supported browser. It's unfortunate Microsoft doesn't allow virtualization of IE6, but that doesn't mean there aren't ways around it while still maintaining compliance (Citrix XenApp, TS RemoteApp, or even Med-V) .

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Drago replied on Fri, Oct 29 2010 4:35 PM

Firefox plus IE Tab or Opera and set compatibility mode to IE.

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3vi1 replied on Fri, Oct 29 2010 6:39 PM

IE6 is still used on 10k+ desktops at my company. Just like the article states: Apps were developed that were dependent on MS's proprietary extension of standards. We've been trying to get everyone to IE8 for many months, but there are all kinds of quirks with the apps.

>> Because Windows XP and IE are so tightly integrated, Microsoft doesn't consider it to be a stand-alone application.

That was Microsoft's way of stopping OEMs from uninstalling it and putting an alternate browser on the system... which is also the cause of the *hundreds* of unpatched security flaws in IE6. Thanks Microsoft!

What part of "Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn" don't you understand?

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realneil replied on Fri, Oct 29 2010 10:11 PM

Quote from MS: "These unsupported approaches may potentially stop working when customers patch or update the underlying operating system, introducing technical incompatibilities and business continuity issues."

Translation: "We're gonna break that functionality soonest!"

Don't part with your illusions. When they are gone you may still exist, but you have ceased to live.

(Mark Twain)

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Dave_HH replied on Sat, Oct 30 2010 10:14 AM

"ancient, wheezing, colostomy-bag-holding mother-in-law".... Joel, you are just priceless sometimes.... priceless.

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PFolk replied on Sat, Oct 30 2010 11:09 AM

Just so you know, there are thousands of people who consider a colostomy bag a life-saving procedure. And not all of them are ancient and wheezing. Some are in their teens or younger. Many cycle, ride mountain bikes, participate in marathons and fly your airplanes. And lead normal lives. Time to get your facts straight. http://www.facebook.com/#!/uncoverostomy

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realneil replied on Sat, Oct 30 2010 11:34 AM

Holy Political Correctness, Bat Man!!

Nobody here is making fun of people who have colostomy bags. (something that we're already aware is necessary to lots of people at times) I've had to deal with them before when my folks each passed on.

We are making fun of an old version of a software program and the way it was tied into many applications years ago. And how the decision to tie that old browser in with software development is biting companies backside's now.

Don't part with your illusions. When they are gone you may still exist, but you have ceased to live.

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Dave_HH replied on Sat, Oct 30 2010 1:05 PM

Well said, Neil. PFolk, this was all said in humor and the article had zero to do with people in this unfortunate situation, obviously.

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LAukett replied on Sun, Oct 31 2010 12:44 PM

Thanks, PFolk - you said it better than I could have. No excuse for that 'humor' - and if Joel has a title that includes the concept of him as a journalist, well, someone better take another look at his diploma. A real journalism program would have prepared him better.

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Joel H replied on Tue, Nov 2 2010 1:11 PM

PFolk, LAukett, & Realneil,

While I agree with Realneil's sentiment wholeheartedly, this is not an issue of political correctness. Nothing in my statement attacks the usefulness of a colostomy bag, declares them the sole province of old people, or degrades people who depend on them. The sentence describes how the ravages of time transformed perceptions of IE6.

I joined the reference to colostomy bags to three other descriptors: "ancient," "wheezing," and "mother-in-law." I am curious as to why you chose to be offended at this particular item as opposed to the other three. If my incorporation of colostomy bags is inherently offensive and a deliberate attempt to mock those who use them, surely I've also unfairly maligned people with breathing issues, old people, and mothers-in-law. Even my description of IE6 as Microsoft's one-time "Playmate" must be suspect; I've implied an improper and perverted transfer of sexual attraction to a piece of software

You both are absolutely entitled to think my comparison humorless and crass. The fact that you are particularly sensitive on the subject of colostomy bags, however, does not mean I treated the concept with any sort of gross thoughtlessness or special malice.

I maintain that either my entire statement is equally offensive in both its positive and negative comparison, or it's inoffensive based on the points I've already made. If offensive, your war against the English language encompasses a much larger front than my modest journalism can account for. If inoffensive, you drew inappropriate conclusions based on an incorrect reading of my motive and the comparison itself.

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