Gartner: Existing options for migrating from IE 6 are too pricey, risky

Gartner Inc. analysts have published a research note for their clients who are still stuck on Internet Explorer 6, offering guidance around "Solving the IE 6 Dilemma." But none of options included are very palatable -- at least not according to Gartner.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

Gartner Inc. analysts have published a research note for their clients who are still stuck on Internet Explorer 6, offering guidance around "Solving the IE 6 Dilemma." But none of options included are very palatable -- at least not according to Gartner.

Gartner notes that a number of organizations still are supporting and/or standardizing on IE 6 -- nine years after its introduction -- because they've built up sizable installed bases of line-of-business applications that are IE 6-dependent (among other reasons). These organizations aren't easily able to move to IE 8 or Windows 7 because of these dependencies, they said.

Gartner estimates that "organizations running IE6 report that up to 40% of homegrown browser applications fail to run properly with IE8."

"Furthermore, many ISV applications, including complex ERP and CRM applications, with lengthy and expensive migration requirements, must be remediated before IE8 can be used," Gartner officials said in the research note. "Through 2014, IE8 compatibility problems will cause at least 20% of organizations to run overtime or overbudget on their Windows 7 migration projects," Gartner estimated.

The research outfit is advising these customers to "continue to fix or replace affected applications with ones that adhere to Internet standards by April 2014" (the date XP SP3 support ends). But fixing apps is hard and time consuming, especially for those with hundreds or thousands of internally developed programs, Gartner acknowledged.

There are  some temporary solutions that IE6-burdened organizations can apply, but none of them are without problems, Gartner said. Microsoft offers customers a few possible workarounds, including terminal services and MED-V, its operating-system virtualization technology. Various other software vendors, including VMware, also offer virtualization technologies that can be  used to run IE 6 applications on top of Windows 7, the researchers noted.

The problem? Microsoft's offerings are pricey (MED-V is available only to customers who purchase Microsoft's Software Assurance licensing), Gartner said. And the third-party offerings are potentially fraught with legal complications, the Gartner analysts added.

Companies including InstallFree, VMware, Symantec and Spoon.Net are offering tools specifically for virtualizing older versions of IE for use on Windows 7, Gartner said. "They embed certain OS components with the IE 'bubbles' to allow IE6 or IE7 to run and provide compatibility. But this kind of virtualization may run afoul of Microsoft licensing, Gartner is warning its clients.

So what's a customer stuck on IE 6 to do?

"A set of (IE 6 migration) tools from Microsoft would be nice," said Gartner analyst Michael Silver, "But Microsoft seems to have decided not to help extend the life of IE 6 apps." (A decision applauded by many, but not all,developers, partners and customers, I'd point out.)

Gartner is suggesting its customers request indemnification clauses be added to their contracts. From the list of recommendations in Gartner's research note:

"Request Microsoft to grant specific contractual amendments to allow you to virtualize IE6 as a Windows 7 compatibility solution without fear of reprisal (but consider that Microsoft could still pursue your application virtualization vendor with legal action). Organizations in need of IE6 compatibility solutions that don't have sufficient licenses to use Terminal Services and want to comply with Microsoft’s recommendation to avoid IE6 application virtualization should petition Microsoft for use of Windows 2003 Server software and associated Remote Desktop Services (RDS) client access licenses (CALs) for the sole use of accessing IE6 at no charge through 8 April 2014."

"If Microsoft hates these (third-party) solutions, maybe they should improve terminal services or offer something lighter-weight than MED-V," Silver opined.

I asked Microsoft officials for comment on Gartner's report and was referred to a recent Microsoft blog posts on how to deploy various Microsoft virtualization licensing options as part of a migration to Windows 7. Microsoft execs had nothing specific to say about Gartner's IE 6-focused recommendations.

Update: I did get an updated statement from Microsoft, however, after this post was published. The Softies emphasized other researchers have said the majority of business users are planning to move to Windows 7 and IE 8 in the next 24 months.  From a spokesperson:

"To help customers take advantage of the modern desktop Microsoft makes available a significant number of resources to help organizations with their migrations to Windows 7 and Internet Explorer 8 including: Webcasts, Prescriptive guidance, Whitepapers, Tools; and Temporary virtualization solutions.

"Extensive information on all of these resources is available to customers on our  Springboard, MSDN and Windows 7 Enterprise sites."

Any business customers out there have other options they're considering or implementing to wean your organization from IE 6?

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