Windows 7, IE6 Migration Woes Eased with UniBrows Add-On

UniBrows from Browsium allows organizations to run IE6 line-of-business applications natively on Windows 7 at a fraction of the cost and without rewriting any code.

Even as users download Internet Explorer 9, there are a number of organizations still tied to Internet Explorer 6 because they need to keep running a critical legacy business application. For those users, a new plug-in may help them make the jump to a more secure Web browser.

Browsium released UniBrows, an Internet Explorer add-on that allows organizations to run legacy IE6 applications on IE8 without modifying a single line of code, the company said on March 15. The add-on wraps the actual IE6 rendering engine and other related files, such as the appropriate Flash Player, so that applications can run seamlessly in IE8, Gary Schare, Browsium president and COO, told eWEEK.

"UniBrows lets organizations continue using their IE6-specific apps while upgrading users to a more secure browser on a more secure operating system," he said.

In early 2000, IE6 had something close to a 95 percent market share, said Schare. It was a good browser when it first came out, and many companies built critical line-of-business applications based on IE6, he said. These are mainly internal applications and not external-facing, so they were not updated frequently because of user issues or funding concerns, he said.

Schare estimates that rewriting legacy IE6 applications would exceed "hundreds of billions of dollars" for the entire industry.

With Microsoft officially trying to move users off IE6, IT managers have to figure out a way to move these critical applications, Schare said. "You need to rewrite your code, and yes, you have to pay for it, and yes, it's going to be difficult," he said of Microsoft's stance.

While some organizations are undertaking the rewrite task, many are considering a two-operating-system environment, where users run legacy applications on a virtual machine running Windows XP and IE6, Schare said. Browsium is offering a third option, where organizations don't have to worry about the expense and time required for the rewrite or the complexity in managing old systems on a virtual machine, he said.

As a browser add-on, UniBrows is a "non-virtualized way to run legacy apps as is," he said.

With UniBrows, IE6-specific applications run using the original, native IE6 rendering, JavaScript, ActiveX and security design, Schare said. IT administrators create rules and profiles within the add-on's management screen to specify which Web applications should use the IE6 engine, he said. For everything else, the user will be on IE8.

Organizations are currently in a "vulnerable state" when everything the user does online is done via IE6. This exposes them to all kinds of Web malware and malicious exploits taking advantage of unpatched vulnerabilities in the aged browser, Schare said.

By using this plug-in, users are now in a more secure environment for most of their Web browsing, while using the IE6 engine for very specific, usually internal-facing, applications, Schare said. The idea is that IT teams control the internal applications, so using the older browser engine is not that insecure, he said.

UniBrows also picked up a little bit of IE8-specific security features, Schare said.

Not making the switch has other implications beyond keeping users on an older and insecure Web browser, according to Schare. IE6 is not compatible with Windows 7, preventing organizations from dropping XP and migrating to a more secure Windows platform.

Schare and key members of the Browsium team are former Microsoft executives who worked on Internet Explorer. Other executives include Matthew Heller, Browsium's founder and CEO, and Matthew David Crowley, the CTO.

Intended for enterprise use in organizations with 5,000 to 50,000 users, a UniBrows subscription costs $5,000 a year, with an additional $5 per user per year fee. All updates and upgrades are available at no additional cost.

UniBrows 1.0 started shipping on March 6 to customers, Schare said.