With a little over 28 months left until Microsoft ends all support for Windows XP and with Internet Explorer 6, the time to consider their replacements is long overdue.  While Microsoft and others have acted to deliver tools to assist with Windows 7 migration activities little effort has been made to address the challenge of IE 6. One of the others, Quest, has released an IE 6 rescue package. However, if anything, Microsoft’s only visible response has been to act stymie the actions of those withing to offer a solution.

Gartner’s Neil MacDonald first reported that Microsoft has written to some of its customers stating that:

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.

Kenji Obata, CEO of Spoon  also reported that he had  received a “nastygram from Microsoft’s attorney” notifying him that using Spoon to distribute IE 6 was in violation of Microsoft’s intellectual property rights, leaving Spoon little option but to remove its virtualized versions of IE from its website.

Microsoft subsequently went on to release a knowledge base article explicitly stating that:

Running multiple versions of Windows Internet Explorer, or portions of Windows Internet Explorer, on a single instance of Windows is an unlicensed and unsupported solution. Microsoft strongly discourages the use of any solution or service (hosted or on-premises) that repackages the executable components of Internet Explorer, or portions of those components, into a separate installation. Any attempts to repackage Windows to execute multiple versions of Internet Explorer from such packages on a single instance of Windows will result in an unsupported configuration by Microsoft Customer Support Services.

This statement includes solutions that attempt to incorporate “application”-level virtualization for running multiple repackaged versions of Windows Internet Explorer on a single operating system instance.

The only help that Microsoft offered IE 6 dependent customers was to provide a white paper Solutions for Virtualizing Internet Explorer offering Microsoft Enterprise Desktop Virtualization (MED-V), Windows XP mode, or Remote Desktop Services as the only ways to a solution that would be both supported and compliant with Microsoft’s licensing terms. Which left a substantial gap for Redmond based startup Browsium, and its browser rendering engine substitution system Unibrows.

Now though, there is another Microsoft backed solution available in the form of Quest vWorkspace IE6 Compatibility Edition.

Quest first released vWorkspace IE6 Compatibility Edition as a hot fix to vWorkspace 7.2 in July 2011, followed by a further enhancement in August. However, having made it available, quest has done little to publicize it limiting publicity to the occasional blog post.

In developing the IE 6 Compatibility Edition, Quest has taken the current release of vWorkspace, explicitly locked it down so that it will only run Internet Explorer and extended it by offering the capability to redirect named URLs to IE 6 while others are processed by whatever browser is locally set as the default.

Quest have priced vWorkspace IE6 Compatibility Edition at just $9.99 per concurrent user per year, excluding, of course the additional cost for Windows RDS licenses and the supporting hardware needed to host multiple IE sessions. Given that the majority of potential customers will already have Citrix XenApp or Microsoft Remote Desktop Services in place, the additional $10 per user is unlikely to present a challenge. Even for those customers who  do not have any experience of RDS, Quest vWorkspace IE6 Compatibility Edition is a relatively simple extension to an already mature solution. One that is unlikely to be seen as representing any significant risk, and given the relatively low cost off Microsoft RDS client access licenses, the benefits that it delivers will ensure a return on investment measured in days, if not hours.

In summary: Quest vWorkspace IE6 Compatibility Edition represents a pragmatic solution to an awkward dependency on legacy development standards that should have been addressed years ago, and one that can remain viable only for as long as Microsoft offers support for Windows server 2003. It is not and never will be a solution to overcoming all browser compatibility/configuration issues, for that enterprise IT departments would be better served looking towards Browsium.  The only question that arises from review of Quest vWorkspace IE6 Compatibility Edition has to be given that it was first released in July 2011, why has quest failed to capitalize on this solution. As things stand today, vWorkspace IE6 Compatibility Edition is the most mature, capable, and enterprise IT friendly solution to the difficult problem of maintaining support for IE 6 while migrating to Windows 7.

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Simon Bramfitt (131 Posts)

Simon is an independent industry analyst covering enterprise desktop, mobile and application virtualization, delivery and management technologies.

He is an experienced solutions architect with unmatched insight into the challenges of designing large (200,000 seat plus) high availability presentation and desktop virtualization systems.

Simon was invited to join the Citrix Technology Professionals (CTP) group in May 2010 and joined the Virtualization Practice in September 2010

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