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enterprises are moving their desktops to Windows 7, and are finding that they finally need to fix or replace these outdated applications.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.
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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.
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.