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IT departments face upheaval as Microsoft ends support for older versions of its Internet Explorer browser on current operating systems (OS).
On 16 January 2016 Microsoft will end support for IE8, 9 and IE10. Organisations running Windows 7 or higher will only be able to run applications on IE11, the latest version of Microsoft’s browser.
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Last year Microsoft introduced Enterprise Mode to enable applications that only worked on older versions of Internet Explorer to run on newer browsers. In June 2015, it extended this support with a mode called IE7 Enterprise Mode.
But configuring browsers with these settings is only a small part of the workaround to enable legacy web applications to run on IE11. IT departments still have to identify the incompatible applications.
The situation facing IT departments is analogous to when Microsoft ended support for Windows XP. Organisation face the cost of migrating or paying Microsoft hefty custom support.
And even with a custom support contract, its cost will double a year after support ends, which puts IT departments under immense pressure to switch or face paying Microsoft a significant fee.
Why web apps fail on newer browsers
IT departments need to get all browser-based applications running on the latest Microsoft browser.
When asked why IT departments seem to face a constant problem of having to support enterprise applications that only run on legacy browsers, Gary Schare, president of Browsium, said: "It is about the evolution of technology. Languages evolve, browsers get optimised and old ideas and patterns hit their limits."
As the limitations of ideas and technologies are addressed, he said internet browsers eventually need to break with the past or the codebase becomes untenable and the improvements would be lost trying to make it all work. "Enterprise apps are always affected by this more than consumer-facing websites, because they don’t start with a 'support everyone' mindset. The app developers target the platform (browser version) in use at the time and typically don’t think about what happens when the browser evolves."
Schare runs a company which specialises in helping organisations to support legacy browser applications. Commenting on the extent of the problem, he said: "No-one calls us to tell us their web apps are working great. It is a widespread problem because enterprises typically don’t have a good handle on their web apps."
Challeneges in identifying incompatibility
He said many IT departments are unaware of all the web apps they run. Since departments in the business can set up their own servers or purchase SaaS licenses on their own, he said IT departments lack visibility of what browser apps have been deployed. "They don't have automated testing and often don’t even have test scripts, so a small change in the browser can block a key component of an app, which then breaks a critical business workflow."
Browsium has shifted its raison d'être from offering tools to remediate web apps during a browser migration, to ongoing browser management. Referring to a prediction from Marc Andresson, who co-developed Mosaic, the first internet browser in the early 1990s, Schare believes the browser will become the operating system of the future.
HP has recently begun offering a browser migration service based on Browsium to help businesses move over to IE11. Its WebApp Accelerator Service for Internet Explorer 11M Offered as a combination of software and services, HP said the service offers a cost-effective way for businesses to overcome web application compatibility.
The WebApp Accelerator Service for Internet Explorer 11 provides an implementation and migration service designed to ensure that an organisation's critical web applications, built for legacy versions of Internet Explorer, will continue to function effectively in the latest browsers and operating system, HP said.
"Each new operating system and browser release can result in complex and costly web application compatibility challenges for our enterprise customers," said Simon Hughes, vice-president, network and mobility, HP Technology Services Consulting. "The combination of Browsium’s browser management software and the HP WebApp Accelerator Service for Internet Explorer 11 give customers a cost-effective, comprehensive solution designed specifically to address their web application compatibility needs."
Read more about browser compatibility
Browsium – the start-up which helped HMRC slash IE6 upgrade costs by £50m – is in talks with all major government departments.
Browsium Ion, which provides legacy Internet Explorer emulation, now supports multiple Java releases and IE8.
Move to browser management
Among the reasons why Windows XP remained in use in businesses for so long was that many relied on IE6 for browser-based applications. These were initially updated to IE8. "Many of the applications we see are ERP and CRM systems that cost millions of dollars to buy/customise/deploy and then will cost millions more to upgrade," Browsium's Schare added.
Arguable this cost is among the reasons IT leaves them in place. But then a browser upgrade breaks key functionality, said Schare. Because most line-of-business applications today run in a browser, web application incompatibilities can have a significant negative impact on business productivity and become a barrier to a successful operating system or browser upgrade. With the Windows 10 upgrade cycle beginning this year, and added pressure to migrate to IE11 on Windows 7 by January 2016, enterprise IT departments are in urgent need of complete browser management, Schare said.