Internet Explorer Dependent? Time To Move On - InformationWeek

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3/24/2015
01:06 PM
Doug Henschen
Doug Henschen
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Internet Explorer Dependent? Time To Move On

Microsoft's move to Project Spartan should be your cue to retire aging enterprise apps that rely on Internet Explorer plug-ins or Active X controls.

Internet Explorer: Microsoft's Troubled Browser Retires
Internet Explorer: Microsoft's Troubled Browser Retires
(Click image for larger view and slideshow.)

If you still have legacy enterprise apps or custom apps that have browser version dependencies, let Microsoft's plan to retire the Internet Explorer (IE) brand be a warning that it's time to start thinking about moving on.

Microsoft announced last week that it will replace IE with a new browser that has yet to be named. Code named Project Spartan for now, that new browser will, by all accounts, more closely resemble Google Chrome and Firefox in terms of standards support. As for IE, Microsoft is obviously promising continued support, but it's not too early to be planning for a future without IE.

How do you know whether apps a stuck on IE? IT departments are usually well aware of such dependencies, but Microsoft offers an Enterprise Site Discovery Toolkit that can be used to gather and analyze data on these situations. The toolkit can be used with IE8 and later versions of the browser to detail exactly what Web-based apps and sites users are browsing and how often.

The standard advice from Microsoft and other software vendors is to embrace the latest browsers, but you shouldn't upgrade without first doing thorough app-compatibility testing. You could test everything, but there's no point in getting worked up about a potential compatibility problem if an app is no longer being used.

Microsoft is promising continued support for legacy versions of Internet Explorer, but how long can you maintain aging browser-dependent apps?

Microsoft is promising continued support for legacy versions of Internet Explorer, but how long can you maintain aging browser-dependent apps?

Enterprise Site Discovery collects usage data so you can figure out which apps are being used most often. Once that's done, the toolkit helps you spot what browser document modes and ActiveX controls are in use. It's not uncommon for aging commercial apps and custom apps to break when installing new browsers, but any app that could remotely be described as "modern" is unlikely to be browser dependent.

"Smart developers stopped leveraging IE-specific functionality years ago," according to Erik Johnson, VP of technology and strategy at ERP vendor Epicor. "Even 12 years ago when we developed our first browser-based app using .Net 1.0, you could see that browser dependencies were just not tenable."

Dependencies aren't tenable because new versions of browsers are inevitably released, old ones are retired, and it's hard to prevent employees from downloading and using alternatives such as Firefox or Google Chrome unless IT locks PCs down tight. Epicor's ERP systems are aimed squarely at Microsoft shops, yet the vendor has made a point of sticking with HTML and Javascript rather than IE-specific plugins, says Johnson.

"We take the approach that HTML can do anything that's needed from a user-experience standpoint -- at least where ERP is concerned" he says.

If developers didn't adopt a no-plug-ins philosophy a decade ago, they certainly should have during the rise of mobile computing devices over the last five years, Johnson notes.

"When tablets came out [in 2010], that was the big inflection point, because modal dialogs, popups, and other interactions designed for legacy browsers stopped working," he says.  

[ Want more on IE? Read Microsoft: Internet Explorer Is, Mostly, Dead. ]

Like Epicor, cloud-based ERP and HR-app vendor Workday also recommends that customers embrace the latest browsers, in part because it tries to exploit the latest-and-greatest functionality supported by HTML5, including animations, curved edges, and rendering video.

Workday uses videos to introduce new features of its applications, and customers of its HR apps can add videos of company executives making important or routine company announcements. Animations are used by an org chart feature that surfaces reporting relationships as you scroll through the corporate hierarchy.

Roughly 40% of Workday customers use Internet Explorer, according to Joe Korngiebel, Workday's VP of user experience. Among this group, about 10% to 12% are stuck on older versions of the browser because they have custom apps that are dependent upon plugins or controls specific to IE7 or IE8 (introduced in 2006 and 2009, respectively).

"If they're using a browser that is that old, it's usually because they've invested lots of money on custom applications that were built for that browser," Korngiebel explains. "They may want to upgrade to IE11, but the effort and cost required to rebuild, test, and certify a handful of custom apps on a new browser has been a deterrent, so they've kicked the can down the road."

When conflicts like these do crop up, Workday customers could obviously use Google Chrome or Firefox to access the cloud-based apps, and use an old version of IE for the custom apps. But the vendor also offers a Workday Open Frame plug-in that brings HTML5 support to IE7 and IE8.

"The plug-in just goes into a browser update that's applied like a patch across all laptops and desktops," Korngiebel explains.

The good news in Microsoft's Spartan announcement, Johnson and Korngiebel agree, is that this new browser will have more in common with its rivals, making it easier for vendors and enterprises alike to ensure a consistent experience across applications and browsers.

"Microsoft had always gone its own way, but the early signs are that many of the [Web] standards are being interpreted in much the same way," Korngiebel says. "In the older versions of IE, the rendering of elements often looked so different from other browsers, but they're finally starting to come together."

Meeting demands for interactive interfaces and mobile support will be challenging enough, so greater consistency across browsers is a good thing. Whether static old custom apps can be brought into a new era is a separate question. But the move from IE to Spartan is just the latest reminder that you can't kick the can down the road forever.

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Doug Henschen is Executive Editor of InformationWeek, where he covers the intersection of enterprise applications with information management, business intelligence, big data and analytics. He previously served as editor in chief of Intelligent Enterprise, editor in chief of ... View Full Bio
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TerryB
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TerryB,
User Rank: Ninja
3/25/2015 | 1:51:13 PM
Re: Do you have an IE-dependent commercial or custom app?
I wonder/worry about Sharepoint. I'm currently working towards getting from WSS 3.0 to SP 2013 Foundation services, mainly just to get it to work for people without IE and even in IE without Quirks mode. I'm going to be extremely irritated if I need another quick upgrade after SP 2013 to work well with this new browser. Sharepoint is not something you want to be upgrading each time they release new version. Honestly, I have yet to find any business value in SP 2013 over WSS 3.0 the way we use Sharepoint here. I'm only doing for the technical reason of cleaner client side browser code and getting off of Win Server 2003 to Win Server 2012. I then hope to run SP 2013 for at least the 8 years I've gotten from WSS 3.0. But this browser change makes me nervous about that.

Another issue is SaaS apps. You'd think vendor would keep that up to date. But we have HR SaaS app which broke with IE10-11, have to force it to Compat mode or stuff doesn't even render correctly. You don't just jump SaaS vendors at a whim when they are used globally. :-(
SaneIT
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SaneIT,
User Rank: Ninja
3/25/2015 | 8:11:04 AM
Re: Do you have an IE-dependent commercial or custom app?
Currently I do have one app that is locked in to IE, we're moving away from it at this point but I really should have happened much sooner.  The developer warned us out of the gate that at that time it only worked with IE but they would be re-writing the front end.  That never happened and it has been a point of frustration for years.  The problem occurs when it's as painful to replace that front end or the entire app as it is to require IE to access it.  There is definitely a no man's land where either way is equally disruptive and you have to get to a point where continuing on tips the scales toward moving away from the IE only solution.
D. Henschen
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D. Henschen,
User Rank: Author
3/24/2015 | 9:19:20 PM
Re: Do you have an IE-dependent commercial or custom app?
Well, it's still far from game over for that app, but it's clearly time to start thinging about rebuilding or replacing. Better yet, don't just pave the cow path. Maybe there's an opportunity for a mobile app or an innovative new approach that will redefine how you handle that functionality.
progman2000
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progman2000,
User Rank: Ninja
3/24/2015 | 8:43:07 PM
Re: Do you have an IE-dependent commercial or custom app?
The challenge we have had is finding a way with a browser to access local resources (to do things like scan, or even get information about the user and/or domain the user is logged into).  The only way we have seen to do this was to use ActiveX controls.  It stinks because no one wants to be married to IE.
D. Henschen
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50%
D. Henschen,
User Rank: Author
3/24/2015 | 8:40:22 PM
Re: Do you have an IE-dependent commercial or custom app?
Well, it's still far from game over for that app, but it's clearly time to start thinging about rebuilding or replacing that app. Better yet, don't just pave the cow path. Maybe there's an opportunity for a mobile app or an innovative new approach that will redefine how you handle that functionality.
progman2000
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50%
progman2000,
User Rank: Ninja
3/24/2015 | 8:16:49 PM
Re: Do you have an IE-dependent commercial or custom app?
Yep, we have an app that is heavily leveraged with ActiveX controls.  We have been unable to find a suitable replacement that can access local resources without using ActiveX controls.  Knew this day was coming though...
jagibbons
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jagibbons,
User Rank: Ninja
3/24/2015 | 6:54:00 PM
Re: Do you have an IE-dependent commercial or custom app?
I need to check, but I fear that at least one of our mission-critical, but legacy, applications may be affected. If that is the case,it will force our hand on some strategic replacement decisions.
D. Henschen
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D. Henschen,
User Rank: Author
3/24/2015 | 1:37:05 PM
Do you have an IE-dependent commercial or custom app?
Do you have a commercial or custom app that's preventing you from upgrading browsers? Tell us what it is and why you'd rather not redevelop it to run on modern browsers. What are you doing, meanwhile, to support more modern apps? Dueling browsers or another approach?
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