Internet Explorer 9 in the enterprise: Ready or not?

Microsoft is aiming IE9 at organizations planning a Windows 7 migration. Find out what your enterprise needs to know about the vendor's latest Web browser.

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If you wade through the hype and introductory material for Internet Explorer 9 -- released to the public on March 14, 2011 -- you'll find that it can have a prominent place in a corporate setting. In fact, Microsoft's documentation aims IE9 squarely at enterprises, stating that it "built Windows Internet Explorer 9 with the enterprise in mind."

In general, IE9 is enjoying a much higher adoption rate than Internet Explorer 8, with five times as many downloads in its first month of general availability. But the Web browser hasn't been widely adopted in the enterprise yet and is still considered to be in the acceptance, or pilot testing, phase. This is partly because businesses need some time to change their reference desktop configurations and go through compatibility testing, pilot testing and deployment planning before wholesale rollouts can occur. As part of the process, enterprise-level IT professionals need to investigate the Internet Explorer Compatibility Test Tool (IECTT), which is part of the company's Application Compatibility Toolkit.

Upgrading to a new browser isn't smooth sailing
Although Microsoft has reported higher adoption numbers with IE9, the company also uncovered several problems when using the browser with various sites, Web-based applications and services. Administrators can find an extensive compatibility list of sites that don't properly display in native mode for IE8 or IE9 browsers. The list may provide clues to tools, runtime environments, language extensions or application programming interfaces (APIs) that have trouble rendering properly.

Table 1 provides a summary of user and corporate-level issues, as well as problem reports with IE9.

Table 1: Issues with IE9

Category Instances reported Problems
Content Management Systems Joomla, Drupal, DotNetNuke, SiteCore Add-ins, compatibility, missing features
Blogging Tools WordPress, Blogger, LiveJournal, TypePad Compatibility, missing features
Languages JavaScript, Java, jQuery, PHP Dynamic menuing, benchmark inconsistencies, compatibility, image display

Of course, this is just a small smattering of possible development tools and environments that organizations will use. But it does illustrate that careful testing is important to ensure that tools will interact properly with IE9 for content creators and end users alike.

IE9: A browser of many modes
As with IE8 and earlier iterations, IE9 includes multiple optimization modes to enable it to work with a broad range of websites, including older sites. The browser supports four document modes, so anytime compatibility or presentation difficulties occur, it can work with these modes to address possible underlying problems. These modes include the following:

  • Standards mode: This is the most current, standards-compliant mode in IE9. It is especially suitable for sites that incorporate HTML 5, SVG or CSS3 elements (though Microsoft is taking a more conservative stance on feature applications than other browser makers). It is also the default mode for IE9 -- unless sites use DOCTYPE or meta element data to request another compatibility mode.

  • IE8 mode: This reverts IE9 behavior to emulate standards mode in IE8. Note that this mode does not support HTML 5 and CSS3, and it includes limited support for SVG.
  • IE7 mode: This reverts IE9 behavior to emulate standards mode in IE7. Like IE8 mode, it is not part of the HTML 5 specifications either.
  • "Almost standards" mode: This takes a traditional approach to vertical sizing for table cells and does not follow the CSS2 specification. Standards modes in older browsers are actually closer to this mode than those in newer browsers. It applies to IE7 and older versions, such as Macintosh IE5 and pre-Opera 7.5 versions.
  • Quirks mode: This mode ignores current Web format specifications to prevent older pages from breaking and is meant for websites that don't adhere to CSS 2.1 or newer versions. Different browsers implement quirks mode differently, however, so don't expect standardization across browsers.

    With Internet Explorer, quirks mode freezes browser capability at an IE 5.5 level, so it applies to Versions 6 through 9. Other browsers implement quirks modes as a varying collection of selected deviations from "almost standards" mode.

As you can see, there are a lot of options to try when working with webpages and IE9. Each mode requires tinkering with webpages to change the DOCTYPE declaration or tweaking the content-type meta element declaration in the document header to determine the effect on users.

Is IE9 ready for prime time?
Many Windows and Web experts praise IE9 as a fast, capable browser that delivers a solid user experience and conforms with contemporary guidelines such as HTML 4.02, XHTML versions and Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) 2.1 or higher. But others believe IE9 is not yet ready for immediate wholesale enterprise adoption.

Regardless of public opinion, enterprises must decide whether IE9 is right for them through extensive browser testing against key websites and Web-based applications. A combination of compatibility modes, document modes, and occasional rewriting of dynamic page-generation tools and environments will also be needed. Remember that this takes time, so don't pull the trigger on adoption and deployment until your infrastructure is ready to provide an acceptable user experience.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ed Tittel is a longtime computer industry writer with over 100 computer books and thousands of articles to his credit. His most recent security book is Computer Forensics JumpStart (Sybex, 2011, ISBN-13: 978-0470931660). Read his IT Career JumpStart and Windows Enterprise Desktop blogs for TechTarget, as well as his weekly posts for PearsonITCertification.com.

This was first published in May 2011

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