August 27, 2010, 6:30 PM — One of the challenges faced by IT managers in upgrading their desktop fleets to Windows 7 is in supporting older Web applications that only run on Internet Explorer v6, rather than the pre-installed IE 8 that comes with Windows 7. It isn't a simple fix.
Part of the problem is that Microsoft doesn’t have installers for IE v6 on Windows 7, which according to analysts still has the lion's share of all desktop browsers. One way is to run an entire virtual machine using VMware Workstation or Microsoft's XP mode, but that may be too involved and too expensive to support if you are just trying to get a small collection of apps to work inside IE v6.
Another part of the problem is that it isn't just IE v6 that you have to run, but all the accompanying legacy apps such as Java runtimes, various browser plug-ins, Active X controls and the right version of the .Net framework too that need to accompany the browser so that the older app can run properly.
What you would ideally want is some way to run a virtual layer of IE v6 on your desktop, and have it run only when a particular Web site or app requires the older tech, and disappear when you are done. There are several products that offer solutions here and we show you what is involved with three of them: VMware's ThinApp, Symantec's Workspace Virtualization, and InstallFree Bridge Enterprise. Each has a way to virtualize just IE v6 and deliver it to a Windows 7 – or older Windows – desktop when it is needed. Microsoft and Citrix have their own application virtualization solutions, called respectively App-V and XenApp, but we didn't examine them here.
Each of these three solutions works in a similar fashion. You start by packaging up the various software components that you need to run IE in a stand-alone virtual layer. Each has its own packaging tool, and various requirements to collect the IE software (or whatever else you want to run) into a single package.
Next, you decide on how you want to deploy this package. You can create an executable file and just run from a network share or copy it to a desktop, where it looks like a legitimate version of the browser itself, icon and all. Or you can stream it to each desktop, similar to how a MP3 or video file is streamed using a media player. This means that the actual software bits are coming from a streaming server and aren't stored anywhere on the user's desktop. When the user is done using the package, it removes itself and life goes back to the way it was before the stream began.
The IE v6 layer is isolated from the rest of the desktop: you can even run both v6 and v8 at the same time as you can see from the screenshot below. Performance is generally close to what you would see with running a regular browser session.