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The Downside of Virtualizing Web-based Apps? Legal entanglements, for one...

We’ve been living in a brave new world of Web-based apps for nearly a decade now, and some of the smelly old birds that took off in the early days are coming home to roost. What do I mean? Well, check out this recent story by Mary Jo Foley entitled “Gartner: Existing options for migrating from IE 6 are too pricey, risky” to see what I’m talking about. Her basic point is that Gartner’s research tells them that many organizations are still supporting or continue to standardize on IE 6 because they don’t want to budge from a substantial installed base of IE 6 based applications, many of which are line-of-business or downright mission critical.

Sure, it’s easy to build programs to interact with users via a Web browser, but the more customized (and browser-dependent) that code becomes, the harder it also becomes to move the code base forward as newer browser versions replace older ones. I can’t help but believe this is exactly what makes products like the InstallFree 7Bridge (which I blogged about last week) so appealing to so many enterprise customers because it enables them to move their computing platforms forward to Windows 7, while allowing them to access their IE 6 dependent services within a workable wrapper that looks and acts like IE 6 on XP inside the envelope, but that drops into the Windows 7 runtime environment with nary a ripple or problem.

What’s wrong with this approach, you ask? Here’s what Mary Jo says with chilling effect:

Companies including InstallFree, VMware, Symantec and Spoon.Net are offering tools specifically for virtualizing older versions of IE for use on Windows 7, Gartner said. “They embed certain OS components with the IE ‘bubbles’ to allow IE6 or IE7 to run and provide compatibility. But this kind of virtualization may run afoul of Microsoft licensing,” Gartner is warning its clients.

Furthermore, she quotes as follows from Gartner’s advice to enterprise customers regarding requests for “indemnification clauses” they should make:

Request Microsoft to grant specific contractual amendments to allow you to virtualize IE6 as a Windows 7 compatibility solution without fear of reprisal (but consider that Microsoft could still pursue your application virtualization vendor with legal action). Organizations in need of IE6 compatibility solutions that don’t have sufficient licenses to use Terminal Services and want to comply with Microsoft’s recommendation to avoid IE6 application virtualization should petition Microsoft for use of Windows 2003 Server software and associated Remote Desktop Services (RDS) client access licenses (CALs) for the sole use of accessing IE6 at no charge through 8 April 2014.

Microsoft has yet to comment on the potential for legal issues that might arise from third parties (such as InstallFree, VMWare, Symantec, and even bundling older operating sytems components and capabilities along with older code to create usable, Windows-7-friendly runtime environments. But gosh, unless everybody’s planning on getting off the IE 6 bus by the time all XP support ends forever on April 8, 2014, this could be a huge potential liability for such organizations to swallow. Should be really interesting to see how this one turns out.

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