Someone's got your back with IE6 apps in Windows 7

I have been looking for a decent solution handling apps that require Internet Explorer 6, and maybe we have a good one now from Browsium. One problem faced by many enterprises in moving to Windows 7 from Windows XP is that they have applications that only work in Internet Explorer version 6.

I have been looking for a decent solution handling apps that require Internet Explorer 6, and maybe we have a good one now from Browsium.

One problem faced by many enterprises in moving to Windows 7 from Windows XP is that they have applications that only work in Internet Explorer version 6. Microsoft made significant changes in the IE7 rendering engine that broke many plug-ins and web applications. Windows Vista ships with IE7 and Windows 7 ships with IE8, and there isn't a way to downgrade your browser. You might think by now that companies would have fixed those applications, but they haven't because they stayed with Windows XP and could ignore the problem. But now these enterprises are moving their desktops to Windows 7, and are finding that they finally need to fix or replace these outdated applications. While they knew this, they are stunned at how very costly it will be to do so now - up to a million dollars in some cases.

A few people have found ways to hack their way around the problem, but it isn't easy. Usually, these solutions involve application virtualization, but as Spoon found out, a vendor has to be really careful not to run afoul of Microsoft licensing restrictions on distribution of their components. I hear that VMware and Symantec had similar problems and you can only find some very complicated instructions on how to hack it yourself. CSS Security also demonstrated they had crafted some sort of a solution, but they too have been strangely quiet after announcing.

For some time, Microsoft has been telling customers that running multiple instances of Internet Explorer on a single instance of Windows is not supported. Microsoft says that their supported ways to handle IE6 on Windows 7 is to use Med-V, which runs Windows XP as a virtual machine, or to stand up a 2003 Terminal Server, often using Citrix, to provide remote IE6 access. The latter has become "the norm" for customers moving to Windows 7 and still needing IE6. Now Microsoft has launched a marketing campaign to convince companies that IE6 is a big security issue. You can bet what Microsoft's reaction to anyone saying that would have been 10 years ago when the Beta was released!

The internet is a bad place today with a lot of ways to break IE6, so Microsoft has a point about using IE6 for all your browsing. But for companies that want to use IE6 for internal sites, I just don't see the risk. I don't agree with Microsoft's stance on supporting IE6, and have certainly let them know this on many occasions (as have so many customers). But they are not budging on this.

Along comes a new company called Browsium. Managed by three former Microsoft executives that helped build the Internet Explorer, they have come up with a solution that doesn't seem to run afoul of Microsoft licensing. As a plug-in, it even avoids the idea of running multiple instances of Internet Explorer. While this might not get you Microsoft support, the Browsium solution does not run multiple instances of IE- which seems to be Microsoft's concern.

The product, which if It dropped the final 's' would easily win the award for best product name of the year, is called UniBrows. UniBrows, released last week, is an internet explorer plug-in that supports site specific invocation of different rendering engines, including IE6 and IE7. Using configurable rules, you designate URLs or sites that need specific support. One instance of Internet Explorer, but using different rendering engines for different sites. UniBrows works by utilizing their own magic code to manage and invoke the appropriate dlls for the rendering you need for that page. But unlike attempts by others to include parts of IE6 in their solution, they have the customer repackage their client after downloading some publicly available distributable components that Microsoft has on their download sites. Once repackaged, and they make this very easy for you, you can deploy this to your machines.

I support a lot of customers using App-V, so naturally I wanted to make sure that I could sequence this plug-in and understand how to do the configuration of sites. I contacted Gary Schare, the President of Browsium, and after talking about what they are doing, he was happy to point me to the free 60 day download available to anyone on their website. I sequenced the plug-in using the latest 4.6 SP1 sequencer for App-V from Microsoft on Windows 7 SP1. The package worked well, although I had to be careful about creating rules.

There is a separate management app to aid in configuring when to invoke different rendering engines. This configuration is rules based, making it quite flexible. You can define a set of rules that look at the URL for different patterns, such as starting with a particular string, containing a string, or from a domain name. You can also specify what to do with cross site content on a page (for example, a site that pulls content from another site). The rules definitions seem well thought out.

The rules may be designated as machine or user specific. This would allow you to push out a set of rules across the company, and let users supplement their own rules. For some reason, with App-V, I had to use rules that were "machine based" and not "user based" to get them to work at the client. Possibly this was my fault, and it will need a look when I have more time, but if you are into App-V you probably want to use the same rule-set across the enterprise anyway so I didn't look into it further yet.

The rules may be deployed in three ways; via Registry, Group Policy Preferences, or File based. I went with registry based inside the App-V package. Group Policy method should work well with App-V, although you might need to tweak the transparency settings of a few keys in the virtual registry to get that to work. Because you may be unlikely to know every URL upfront for the rules, you probably want to keep the rules out of the App-V package. So Group Policy might be the way to go. Another potential is to configure the plug-in to use the file based rule set, and point it to a central share. I'm not sure if this would create a performance issue for launching, especially for laptop users using a VPN back to the office, but if that was a problem you could probably use an OSD script to help.

Of course the kicker is the cost, but in the face of not moving off of Windows XP or rewriting/abandoning your IE6 based apps, it could be well worth it. Pricing is yearly subscription based, so even as an interim solution while you move your apps it can be worth it. Pricing, when I looked, included a $5000 base, plus a per seat ranging from $4 to $20 depending on volume, plus a support plan. I queried Gary on what a seat meant for Terminal Servers, and he replied that it meant "maximum concurrent users". He said they would update the notes on the website to make that clearer.

It is great to see a professional product that addresses this important need to enterprises. Ultimately, you are going to want to replace those old applications, but at least for now, someone's got your back.


Tim Mangan  

Author: Tim Mangan is a Microsoft MVP for App-V, a Citrix CTP (I know, redundancy) and holds the position of Kahuna at TMurgent Technologies. He has spoken at every BriForum and at many other venues. Read more at his home blog or website.

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I really like the look of Browsium. Paul Thurrot wrote an article about it last week too - www.winsupersite.com/.../Solving-IE-6-Site-Compatibility-Issues-When-Microsoft-Won-t.aspx.  I think this is something we are going to look at closely.


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can Cameyo work for this scenario? (http://www.cameyo.com)  Sounds like application virtualization can accomplish this type of work using thinapp or xenapp.  Cameyo is a free app virtualization that I would probably consider testing for this kind of assignment.  I love free stuff.


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If I have to pay MS MDOP fees to get App-V and then somebody else more fees to solve IE 6 problems because MS can't be bothered to fund my upgrade of applications to something else. Then it's fair for me to argue MDOP is free and I don't need SA to get it. If not MS can go F themselves.


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@Tim, great read. We maybe would have like Microsoft to build some kind of compatibility thingy in IE7/8 for IE6. This might be a good second best.


@appdetective


I'm a huge fan of your cynical (or maybe even realistic) views, but this one is taking it a bit to far, in my opinion.


Sure, it's arrogant to state that yes, we could help you run IE6 on Win 7, but we won't. On the other hand...ANY attempt to keep IE6 alive would interfere with Microsoft's goal to get rid of the browser.


Why not make the application vendors more responsible? Aren't they the onces who really need to be flexibel and allways on the tip of their toes?


I know it's all about the money, I'm just not sure if that balloon flies in this case.


--Cheers--


Siegfried


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@Sieffried huijgen I would agree with your logic if MS did not try to stop others like Spoon from offering a solution. The reality is that there is a lot of old junk that is still around. People are trying to move to Windows 7. Using RDS/XenApp for IE 6 if you don't already have the solution or want to expand existing solutions does makes not sense. There is no technical reason for App-V not to enable it. The reality is that MS has a huge legacy base. There is nothing wrong with telling the world use at your own risk, we are not supporting it etc. However the world is not ready to do that for 100% of apps and it is unacceptable to stop others providing solutions and then try to charge for their own solutions. MS has to wake up and see the bigger picture of getting people to Windows 7 faster. If that means a few percent of apps are left behind on some old version of IE 6 that MS won't support, then so be it. Let the customer decide if they want to assume that risk with THEIR apps not MS. So I don't give a F about MS's goals, I care about what I need to support my current environment while I figure out how to upgrade most of it to the newer technologies. When I do that, MS is helped regardless and I hate them less. They just don't get how to serve the enterprise customer.


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You could always do the decent thing and use Firefox - even if you have to use the IE plug-in for compatibility issues. Even Firefox 4 will support older versions of Windows, even as far back as Windows 2000!


Hurrah for Mozilla!


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VMware has officially said - "If you virtualize IE6 using ThinApp, we will support you."  So you don't need Microsoft to support it...


> I hear that VMware and Symantec had similar problems and you can only find some very complicated instructions on how to hack it yourself.


Spoon got slapped by Microsoft because they were blantanly redistributing all version of IE on their website without permission from Microsoft.  They do this for other applications as well, they just fly under the radar as a small company.


VMware and Symmantec don't redistribute any IE bits.  When you create a ThinApped IE6 package you will be redistributing IE6 bits internally yourself and you have to talk to Microft to see if they'll let you do that based on your license agreements with them (and your future purchasing leverage with them).


If you think creating an IE6 package in ThinApp is complicated, check out this video, it's "Next, next, Next, done."


www.youtube.com/watch


In terms of Unibrows - supporting multiple rendering engines is a good first step, ThinApp did this in 2009  with some more complex packaging work:


blogs.vmware.com/.../step-by-step-instructions-on-how-to-thinapp-internet-explorer-6-to-work-on-windows-7.html


However, we found rendering is only a part of the problem - the other part is supporting ActiveX controls that needed by a virtualized IE6.  For that you need a full instance of IE.


Jonathan / VMware


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I have participated in the Unibrows beta since the first of the year and we are considering it as a viable alternative to support internal apps that require IE 6 until those apps are updated.


1. It works. I have successfully used the tool to gain access to sites that previously did not work in IE 8.


2. The number one reason sites have not worked is ActiveX or other controls.


3. Cost is relatively low.


4. I find it to be slow to render


We are having our business fully vet functionality now. It still needs to be determined if the business will accept the experience regardless of the functionality. Our first choice is terminal services but the cost is higher. We are also looking at Symantec SWV. It seems to work OK but is quirky.


David


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@jonathan


> VMware has officially said - "If you virtualize IE6 using ThinApp, we will support you."  So you don't need Microsoft to support it...


I think you need to clarify that statement; while VMware can offer support for any issues a customer has with the use of ThinApp, it has no ability to support IE 6 or any other product that is encapsulated and delivered via ThinApp.


In theory, I would agree with you when you say


> VMware and Symmantec don't redistribute any IE bits.  When you create a ThinApped IE6 package you will be redistributing IE6 bits internally yourself and you have to talk to Microft to see if they'll let you do that based on your license agreements with them (and your future purchasing leverage with them)."


However, Microsoft has written to many of its customers advising them on its position with regard to IE 6, this letter includes the following statement " 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."


Theory and practice can swing either way, but for the moment it appears as though customers who insist on using IE have only two legitimate choices available, upgrade to a current version of IE, or use UniBrows.


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> I think you need to clarify that statement; while VMware can offer support for any issues a customer has with the use of ThinApp, it has no ability to support IE 6 or any other product that is encapsulated and delivered via ThinApp.


Some customers still have support that covers IE6 from Microsoft on Windows XP.  VMWare ensures that IE6 functionality will work correctly on Windows 7 when virtualized with ThinApp - so for these customers, they have full support coverage.  If an issue appears, customers need to isolate the problem to ThinApp or IE6, if it is IE6 specific issue not related to ThinApp. they need to repro it on XP before calling MS.


But having said that - IE6 is so old now that very few people are going to find any new IE6 specific issues that they need to call Microsoft about (and the chances of MS fixing those newly found issues are slim) - the whole reason for wanting to virtualize it is that you have something that has been working for a long time and is painful to rip out.


On the licensing question, I have seen many people mistakenly equate "support" for "license compliance" - these are two seperate questions.  Support is not important for the reasons listed above, however  license compliance is something that requires evaluating your agreements and asking if you can do this, and if not - what are the risk?


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