Legacy keeping IE6 in enterprises

A "don't fix it if it ain't broke" mentality is helping to keep Microsoft's Internet Explorer 6 browser in use among businesses, which an analyst says isn't a bad thing.
Written by Victoria Ho, Contributor

Some big Internet properties are dropping support for Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) 6, but a "don't fix it if it ain't broke" mentality continues to keep the aged Web browser in enterprises, says analyst.

Hydrasight's research analyst, Vu Long Tran, said in an e-mail interview that IT departments need a solid business case to justify upgrading Web browsers enterprise-wide, as well as to deal with the risks of making changes deemed unnecessary.

"Despite many of the benefits of later versions of Web browsers, change management and regression testing issues still consume the majority of thoughts and concerns of enterprise IT departments," said Tran.

Web browsers are also often tied to enterprise upgrade cycles, he said, adding that businesses are likely to upgrade to newer browsers that come with new OSes. He noted that Hydrasight estimates 80 percent of enterprises in the Asia-Pacific region are still running Windows XP, and IE6 numbers are tied to that OS.

According to Net Applications data from February this year, IE6 had a 21 percent share of the global market, ranked almost on par with the latest version, IE8. IE7 stood at 14 percent, with Microsoft browsers taking a 61 percent share of the overall market.

Tran said a primary reason for companies to continue using IE6 is to maintain support and stability of existing corporate systems.

Financial institutions ZDNet Asia contacted agreed, noting that this was the primary reason they were still running IE6. Alluding to the need to support legacy systems, these sources, who declined to be named, said they would be sticking to IE6 until their companies are forced to make an upgrade through vendor initiatives.

Upgrade by app requirements
Jason Yeh, regional IT manager for Kellogg Company, said in an e-mail that the company upgraded to IE7 a year ago, prompted by requirements of its Web applications.

Kellogg's global IT policy does not allow its users to download other browsers, said Yeh, who is based in Taiwan.

Paul Loke, senior assistant director of computing and information systems at the National Heritage Board, said the Singapore statutory board had also moved to IE7 as part of the country's government-wide initiative to operate within standardized environment, dubbed SOEasy.

Employees are also not permitted to download their own browsers, said Loke. "This is to reduce our manageability issues [such as] increased testing, and the standardized environment will allow us to roll out patches quickly and easily, in cases where urgent fixes are needed," he explained.

IE and Firefox browsers are supported internally, he added.

Tan Teik Guan, CTO and CEO of Singapore-based Data Security Systems Solutions (DSSS) Asia, said the company does not enforce browser choices on its staff.

Its employees also run multiple browser versions to test the company's Web-based products, Tan said, adding that most of the company's users prefer Mozilla Firefox.

According to Tran, organizations should not rush into upgrading Web browsers but must instead, concentrate on maintaining systems and ensure they are fully patched.

"We do not recommend a major wholesale upgrade of the Web browsers inside organizations, where upgrades are not linked to a complete desktop upgrade or overhaul," he said.

Lack of ongoing support
But, there has been pressure by the Web community to kill off IE6.

Google in January announced it would drop support for IE6 on its Google Apps and YouTube Web properties. Earlier this month, a group of Web designers also held a mock funeral for IE6.

However, Tran noted that Google's announcement will have minimal and gradual impact on enterprise users since enterprise vendors will ensure support for the most common denominator--the Microsoft family of browsers.

Furthermore, the main priority for IT organizations is in maintaining the overall computing environment, and not about managing benefits of individual applications such as the Web browser, the analyst explained.

Microsoft has been actively pushing the latest version of its browser IE8, since its launch in March last year.

In an e-mail to ZDNet Asia, Richard Francis, Microsoft's Asia-Pacific general manager for Windows Client business, said IE8's features offer "significant productivity gain" over the competition.

Its security features will also defend PCs against Web attacks, said Francis, quoting NSS lab study data that showed IE8 blocked 80 of all "socially-engineered" malware and phishing sites.

Nonetheless, he noted that the browser also comes with a "Compatibility View" feature to support pages on older versions of IE.

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