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Microsoft Promises Limited IE Compatibility Support with Enterprise Mode

Microsoft has an evolving plan to help organizations address their legacy Internet Explorer support problems, but it only goes so far.

That's the gist of an announcement made this week by Chris Jackson, a worldwide lead for application compatibility at Microsoft. He acknowledged organizational pains in getting off older IE browser technologies and provided a sketch of Microsoft's future plans to provide some relief, which will center on Microsoft's new Enterprise Mode technology.

Organizations typically run Web apps or intranet sites that depend on some of those older IE technologies, making it difficult for them to move to a new IE browser without spending the time and money to recode multiple line-of-business apps. In an apparently unsympathetic move, Microsoft announced earlier this month that it will initiate a new browser support policy, effective after Jan. 12, 2016. After that date, an organization will have to use the most current browser for a particular supported Windows version or face losing future patch support for that browser.

This new browser support policy essentially is an accelerated IE product lifecycle deadline. For instance, Windows 7 Service Pack 1 users must either move to IE 11 (or the latest supported browser on that operating system) by that Jan. 12, 2016 date or they must accept the potential security and compliance risks of continuing to use an unsupported browser. That date is four years earlier than the end of extended support for Windows 7 SP1 on Jan. 14, 2020. Microsoft's browser product lifecycle previously was tied to the Windows product lifecycle, but the new policy radically changes that scenario.

That browser support policy change represents a hard line for some organizations, and Jackson admitted that some of Microsoft's customers have been "grumpy" about it. However, Microsoft's view is that many support problems will go away when the most recent browser technologies are used. It's also hoping that its new Enterprise Mode solution, introduced with IE 11, will tide over organizations that remain stuck on having to use older IE 8 browser technologies. Enterprise Mode emulates IE 8 technologies within the IE 11 browser for users running Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 OSes.

Microsoft admits that its Enterprise Mode solution doesn't solve all of the compatibility problems that organizations face. However, according to its announcement this week, Enterprise Mode will be the company's "first strategy" going forward. The company plans to build up Enterprise Mode's capabilities, in some cases, when certain compatibility problems aren't solved.

Microsoft has a paradigm to follow when apps or intranet sites aren't compatible with IE. When facing such issues, organizations should carry out the following steps, according to Jackson:

  1. Try it in IE11 native
  2. If that doesn’t work, try it in Enterprise Mode
  3. If that doesn’t work, invert the current Compat View setting while in Enterprise Mode

"Compat View" is the compatibility view toggle switch on the browser that switches to emulate a previous browser version. Jackson said that following those three steps has worked "for all but a handful of apps at most."

Microsoft is currently working on a way for its customers to communicate when those steps don't work. The idea is that Microsoft's engineering team will investigate issues where compatibility fails with the idea of delivering some kind of future fix.

Jackson offered zero solace for organizations with regard to Microsoft's faster release cycle for Windows and Internet Explorer. He promised to allow a "reasonable amount of time for the transition" to newer browser technologies, but he didn't spell out what that transition time would be.

"This [organizational response to a faster release cycle] is one where, unfortunately, I don't have a complete answer today," Jackson stated. "There is a lot of churn going on right now in how we deliver and support products."

So far this year, Microsoft has updated IE 11 in April and in August by adding new features with those updates, instead of just plugging software flaws. In the past, new features only arrived with a new IE browser version.

Microsoft may have an optimistic view about its ability to move its IE technologies forward with Enterprise Mode, but third-party vendors have already stepped forward with alternative help. For instance, Flexera Software offers an application compatibility pack for its AdminStudio product that checks for Internet Explorer app compatibility issues. Browsium offers a couple of solutions that promise that "your application upgrade schedules don't need to be dictated by browser vendors," according to a Browsium blog post.

About the Author

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

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