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Death of IE6 still greatly exaggerated, says browser hit squad

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Internet Explorer 6 dead? In your dreams, Microsoft, in your dreams.

Redmond broke out the dancing shoes and did a twirl on IE6's grave in January, citing data that showed its once-celebrated, now-hated browser had slipped below 1 per cent US market share. The decline followed some determined pushing by, of all people, Microsoft.

The software giant was handing out praise along with slices of cake to celebrate.

One problem: the aforementioned data, gathered by Net Applications, counts browsers running on Joe Netizen's PC. It doesn't count enterprise users.

IE6 is dug in like a First World War sniper with 80 per cent of that market, according to Browsium - a startup run by ex-Redmond IE engineers - whose Ion software now lets you run apps built for IE6 inside IE8 and IE9.

IE6 is entrenched because many apps such as ERP and CRM, as well as finance kit from SAP, Siebel and Hyperion - the business lifeblood for many enterprises - have been built to work solely in IE6. Migration is seen as too expensive, time-consuming or too risky: or all three. Browsium tells The Reg of one New York banking client that had budgeted 18 months to replace its CRM system, but that is now five years in.

Browsium, which launched Ion this week, reckons that around the turn of 2012 more IE6 laggards are starting to ask what to do next and are beginning to set deadlines for some kind of change.

What's different?

Browsium chief executive and co-founder Matthew Heller - who worked at Microsoft and worked on the release of IE6 - reckoned the fact that 2014 has now come literally and physiologically a step closer - it's in April 2014 that Microsoft's extended support for Windows XP Service Pack 3 finally ends. For many business running Windows XP, their browser is IE6: they bypassed IE7 and IE8 - which now seeing declining market share in the consumer sector - while IE9 has been built not to run on Windows XP.

Anybody expecting feature updates or security fixes for the browser will be on their own after April 2014. Unlike the sales availability of Windows XP that Microsoft kept extending to plug the gap left by Windows Vista, Microsoft's said nothing about extending Windows XP support - not yet, at least.

Some Microsoft accounts think Redmond will crack, Heller said, but others are taking no chances. "We are working with companies who don't see that as a great contingency plan," Heller told The Reg on a trip to Vulture Central in London's West End.

This is where Heller hopes to come into with Ion, replacing its previous UniBrows. Ion plugs into the IE8 and 9 rendering engine to display pages and when it receives a call to a URL that expects IE6, it reproduces IE6's security and configuration - settings such as Active X filters, message headers, rendering values and Quirks Mode. System administrators configure the rules themselves. UniBrows had provided a rendering engine, too, but according to Heller there wasn't much call for this and it was also a costly model to support.

If Browsium works, enterprise IT shops could finally wean themselves off IE6, leaving its code as a ghost in the machine. Then Microsoft could really cut the cake. It doesn't look as though it'll be cake time soon. ®

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