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Windows 7 upgrades stalled by IE6 holdouts

Gartner offers advice for bringing IE6 applications to Windows 7.

By , Network World
November 11, 2010 05:11 PM ET

Network World - Microsoft wants customers to upgrade to Windows 7, and most IT managers say they plan to do just that. 

Will Microsoft Internet Explorer 9 finally kill IE6?

But actually making the move won't be so easy. One tricky problem is ensuring support for applications as they move from an old copy of Windows to the new version – and this includes numerous applications that only run on the archaic, insecure Internet Explorer 6 browser.

Believe it or not, IE6 is still more widely used than IE7 and the newest version of Google Chrome, according to data from Net Applications

IE8 is the most-used browser version, and Microsoft is enticing customers to move to Windows 7 in part by denying IE9 to users of Windows XP.

But IE6 will not go away, both among casual users who haven't gotten around to upgrading and among businesses that rely on IE6 to run old applications.

"From 2001 to 2006, Microsoft was very successful at getting organizations and independent software vendors (ISV) to write applications using features unique to IE6," Gartner analysts Michael Silver and David Mitchell Smith write in a new report titled "Solving the IE6 Dilemma for Windows 7."

"Many homegrown, browser-based applications and ISV applications fail to run on IE8 or third-party browsers," the analysts continue. "Inventorying and remediating IE6 applications is extremely time-consuming, was not part of the promoted migration plans and tools from Microsoft, and is delaying Windows 7 migrations."

Businesses can't hold on to IE6 forever, though. Gartner offers several pieces of advice to those who need to move away from the 9-year-old browser. The best move is to fix or replace the affected applications so they can run on modern browsers that comply with Internet standards – but this is "potentially the most difficult solution," Gartner says.

MED-V not the answer for all

Further options include running IE6 on a terminal server or hosted virtual desktop to offer at least temporary access. There's also Microsoft's Enterprise Desktop Virtualization [MED-V] package, but that can be quite expensive.

"Gartner clients report that Microsoft commonly advises them to run Microsoft Enterprise Desktop Virtualization (MED-V) to resolve these issues, which requires licensing Windows Software Assurance and Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack (MDOP), and outfitting each PC with a Windows XP virtual machine (VM)," the report states.

MED-V and MDOP together could cost upwards of $50 per PC per year, and require additional RAM and computing resources.

MED-V could make sense if a company needs to run multiple applications that require Windows XP, but the current version of MED-V is causing performance problems and likely isn't worth it in many cases.

"Running a whole Windows XP VM (or hundreds or thousands of them) would seem to be counterintuitive to solve a problem with a browser, which is supposed to be a very lightweight way to access applications," Gartner writes. "For many organizations, the cost of deploying, running, supporting and securing MED-V on the percentage of their PCs that need IE6 access is exorbitant."

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