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Browsium Rolls Out Multibrowser Management Tool

A new management tool from Browsium aims to give IT pros greater control in a mixed-up multibrowser world.

The new Browsium Catalyst product, released as a beta last week, lets IT pros set rules on which browsers get deployed in an organization. This multibrowser management solution might typically be used by organizations that are trying to keep their line-of-business Web applications running, often based on the fading and insecure Internet Explorer 6 browser, while also trying to provide their employees with the benefits of using a secure modern browser.

IT pros use the Catalyst Configuration Manager to set the rules for which browser to use, based on URLs. Next, IT pros can push down those policies to individual clients via Active Directory or "any enterprise software distribution system," according to Browsium's literature, including Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager.

The idea is that, with the rules in place, a user doesn't have to recall which browser to use when doing certain activities. The right browser for the situation opens automatically.

Catalyst is a complementary product to Browsium Ion, a Web application remediation solution that allows Web applications built on IE 6 or IE 7 to run in a tab in IE 8 or IE 9. Ion is Browsium's next-generation product, based on its earlier UniBrows product.

The Windows XP Problem
Redmond, Wash.-based Browsium was formed in 2010 by former Microsoft experts on Internet Explorer. The company's solutions are designed to address enterprise continuity problems on the browser side. However, that situation is often tied up with organizational dependencies on the Windows XP operating system, which loses Microsoft security patch support on April 8, 2014. Enterprises aren't getting over it, according to Gary Schare, president and chief operating officer at Browsium, whose past career included serving 14 years at Microsoft.

"Overall, migration to Windows 7 has been alarmingly slow…in terms of Microsoft's progress in getting their installed base off Windows XP and onto Windows 7," Schare said, in a phone interview. "It's just been just astounding to see how many large banks and governments and healthcare companies and insurance companies are just mired on Windows XP -- they just can't figure out how to get off it."

About 80 percent of enterprises are still using Windows XP, according to Browsium's research. And while that may seem high, equaling the percentage that analyst and consulting firm Gartner said existed a year ago, Schare said that other industry observers are seeing the same thing.

The Multibrowser World
Meanwhile, it's becoming a multibrowser world, according to Schare, who headed Microsoft's product management team for four years before IE 7's launch. He said that IE still holds about 50 percent market share, "but it's on the way down." While Internet Explorer use predominates in the enterprise, other browsers are coming on the scene. Browsium is seeing about 60 percent use of Chrome and Firefox and other browsers, and only 40 percent use of IE, just in terms of visits to Browsium's Web sites.

IE 8, which is the highest version of Microsoft's browser that can be used with Windows XP, is starting to lose support. For instance, Google announced that it would no longer support IE 8 for Google Apps starting on Oct 26. That's causing companies to look toward using a second browser, according to Schare.

"It's becoming an IE 8 world right at the time IE 8 is becoming legacy," Schare said. "There are definitely some discontinuities coming with that. So one way around that is to actually put in second browsers."

The use of a second browser may be permitted just so that users don't use an insecure browser, like IE 6, on the Internet. Some companies use virtualization, but that approach just gives users two browsers, which can be confusing. Lastly, the so-called "consumerization of IT" phenomenon is driving enterprise users toward using other browsers, even though it may not always sit well with IT since the use of the wrong browser may compromise compatibility.

Browsium's solution to these scenarios is Catalyst for IT pros.

"They get great compatibility because the most compatible browser opens each site," Schare said. "They get better security because they cordon off the legacy browsers to only be used for the legacy apps that need them. And they don't have to put in any new infrastructure -- there are no servers involved with our solution."

Schare described a few examples of the kinds of problems that organizations can face with browser compatibility issues. For instance, SharePoint doesn't work with IE 6, necessitating the use of a different browser. Users could then switch to Chrome, which will run SharePoint, but in other situations those users will just get broken Web sites running Chrome. For instance, if the site depends on the use of ActiveX, then Chrome doesn't support it. Another problem necessitating a browser switch might be an organization that runs IE 8 and wants to use it with an HTML 5-based Web app. That's a problem because IE 8 doesn't support HTML 5.

As for IE 10, which ships with the new Windows 8, it's maybe too early to tell. From a compatibility perspective, "IE 10 breaks a lot of Web apps," Schare said. He added that the two user interfaces in Windows 8 immediately create "a multibrowser scenario." Microsoft doesn't allow browser extensions on the Metro side of Windows 8, Schare noted, adding that Browsium knows how to hook in but "Microsoft isn't really thrilled with it."

The Catalyst beta currently works with Windows XP SP3 (32-bit only), Windows Vista and Windows 7. It works with .NET Framework 3.5 or later. Multiple browsers are supported, including Internet Explorer versions 6 to 9, Chrome 22 and later versions, and Firefox 15 and later versions. There's no support for IE 10 and Windows 8.

The final Catalyst product is planned for release sometime in the first quarter of 2013. Meanwhile, the beta is available via sign-up at Browsium's site here.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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