Microsoft's Original Love Of IE6 Crippling Business Migration

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 "Enable[s] 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.