Browsium releases Ion to help migrate to Windows 7, Microsoft no longer pissed off

Browsium has been around for almost two years now with their UniBrows product that runs an Internet Explorer 6 engine inside IE 8 and 9. In that time, they've found a number of ways to get on Microsoft's bad side.

Browsium has been around for almost two years now with their UniBrows product that runs an Internet Explorer 6 engine inside IE 8 and 9. In that time, they've found a number of ways to get on Microsoft's bad side. With Browsium's latest release--Ion--it appears they're friendly again.

If you're not familiar with Browsium, Brian recorded a podcast with CEO Matt Heller back in November of 2011, so you should check that out. Tim Mangan also wrote a blog post about them, and Shawn Bass mentioned UniBrows in a session at BriForum last summer titled "Coping with IE6".

Announced yesterday, Ion is a new take on IE 6 compatibility in a Windows 7 world. Ion replaces UniBrows which, while popular, was at best not supported by Microsoft. At worst...well...let's just say you can't buy UniBrows anymore. That's ok, though, because Ion builds on UniBrows to the point where you don't actually have to be using the IE6 rendering engine at all (that's the part that makes Microsoft happy again).

The reason Microsoft wasn't in love with the Browsium of a few days ago is that what they were doing wasn't necessarily encouraging people to abandon Windows XP, because they still needed the bits from IE 6 to work. Some companies were comfortable ignoring all those "rules" and "EULAs" and went ahead with the solution that worked for them and enabled them to migrate to Windows 7. Others just stuck with Windows XP. Neither solution sits quite right with Microsoft, so they worked with Browsium to create a better product. One that enables companies to migrate to Windows 7 without perpetuating ten year old, insecure bits.

UniBrows was limited in what it could do, so even though it was useful for sites that had weird javascript, old Java versions, or funky layouts, it still couldn't work with all the ActiveX controls out there because those still had to be interpreted by the modern browser. Ion, on the other hand, removes the IE6 rendering engine entirely. Instead it leverages the compatibility mode engines built into IE8 and IE9, which amounts to IE7, IE8, and IE9, plus Quirks, plus Adaptive Quirks, which is Browsium's additional engine that is NOT based on IE6.

Like UniBrows, this is all transparent to the user. Ion uses profiles to dictate which sites get which treatment. Those profiles are configured by the admin, and allow you to use different combinations of settings in different conditions. Some sites, for instance, require a certain version of Java combined with a certain rendering engine, while others have funky JavaScript that breaks in newer browsers. You can also configure various other settings that apps may depend on, such as group policy settings, environment variables, registry settings, and file locations.

With these profiles, Ion allows you to set up rules to deal with those situations based on URL strings. In the case of JavaScript, they actually have a pretty cool way of modifying strings with an on-the-fly find & replace that can replace any bad string with a good one. This string replacement feature and the Adaptive Quirks engine are what allow Ion to replace UniBrows. I'll be interested to see what changes, if any, people experience in the field as the migrate away from UniBrows. The admin features look really, really cool, and my notes are littered with little asides that say "this is cool" or "cool feature."

I'd love to test this software to get a feel for it, but this isn't exactly the kind of thing you can stand up in a lab--you pretty much have to have a real environment to test in. So, if you've already gotten your hands on Ion, let us know your thoughts in the comments.

In the meantime, though, it appears that Browsium and Microsoft have worked out a product that will both help the people that depend on Windows XP for IE6 and allow them to migrate to Windows 7 in a supported, legal way. Nobody can be mad about that.

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