Ion seeks to save IE6 users from themselves

As IE6 continues its descent into its grave, there's one constituent group that fears the future: large corporations with proprietary IE6 apps. Browsium's Ion add-on might be the IE6 sniper they've been looking for.

Browsium's new browser add-on for supporting legacy IE6 corporate apps without the security risks is called Ion. (Credit: Browsium)

While many are cheering the impending death of Internet Explorer 6, including Microsoft itself, large businesses aren't. Replacing corporate apps built for IE6 could cost tens of millions of dollars, and that's where Browsium's new Ion browser add-on comes in.

Originally known as UniBrows, Ion ditched Browsium's locked-down, more secure IE6 engine, once engineers realized that it wasn't necessary. Ion utilizes a merged IE8-and-IE9 engine to enable corporations to run their proprietary sites and apps without having to deal with complications like sluggishness from virtualization.

Gary Schare, president and chief operating officer of Browsium, explained that the problem is related to the magnitude of the cost of upgrading those proprietary tools. "The larger apps can cost millions per app to update or replace. Many large companies still have 10 to 20 apps that won't run in anything but IE6 or IE7, so they can't upgrade to Windows 7 because these apps break."

In an e-mail to CNET yesterday, Schare estimated that 10 to 20 apps could cost a large company $50 million to upgrade; Browsium often sees estimates of $3 million to $5 million per app. "We can do it for about $7 per PC per year, including support. For 50,000 users, it's $350,000 versus $50 million. That's why we're in business," he wrote.

Browsium offers a free 60-day trial for Ion, after which pricing is determined by the size of the business.

Ion makes several key improvements to UniBrows that allowed Browsium to ditch the IE6 engine. One of these is the Adaptive IE Quicks Profile, which chooses on the fly between IE Quirks Mode and IE7 Standards rendering. Another improvement is a String Replacement feature that overrides HTML, JavaScript, or CSS in real time without requiring server-side code changes. Combined with legacy UniBrows tools like Data Execution Prevention and Java version redirection, these features allowed Browsium to skip the rotted IE6 engine completely.

The changes from UniBrows to Ion also provide some more robust tools to end users and administrators alike. Ion allows multiple versions of Java to run side by side in Internet Explorer tabs, and it provides more fine-tuning of security controls. This enables administrators to customize settings based on each Web app, rather than globally for the entire browser, and keep the browser more secure overall.

The problem of future browser incompatibility with legacy tools isn't expected to go away, either. Schare, a former Microsoft employee, said he's already heard that the version of Internet Explorer that's expected to ship in Windows 8, IE10, will break some apps that worked in IE9. It won't be as severe a break as from IE6, he said, "but enough that customers want our software to let them control the underlying Web platform, as the browsers evolve. We let them take advantage of new innovations (like HTML5) while keeping their existing apps working. It's a win-win."