There are plenty of people out there still using Windows XP, however many parts of the operating system have needed to be updated in order to keep things going. There have been three service packs released for Windows XP since it’s inception and those service packs add such critical functionality as WiFi, which wasn’t mainstream tech when Windows XP was released. It doesn’t end there - Windows XP shipped with Internet Explorer 6, which to give it it’s due has been a great browser. Whilst massively popular IE6 now requires huge amounts of work by web designers in order to keep their sites running on both it and other browsers. One thing everyone can agree on, it’s time to get a better browser.
There can be few people out there who believe that IE6 is better than modern equivalents like IE8 and IE9, the latter of which cannot be installed on computers running Windows XP because XP can’t support some of its more advanced features. Internet Explorer 8 then is where you need to be if you’re running Windows XP, IE6 doesn’t cut the mustard any longer. There are an increasing number of mainstream websites that have given up support for IE6 as modern browsers are far easier to support. However, there are still quite a few people who are yet to move off of Windows XP because of some requirement or another and although the number of organisations in this box is diminishing they still exist.
So why would you want to bring your browser more up to date with Internet Explorer 8 rather than an alternative? In a corporate environment deployment, management, control, trust and security are the top line reasons to select a browser in addition to it rendering sites well. Internet Explorer 8 has features that resolve issues in all of these areas that are unsurpassed by any other browser, except of course for IE9.
Deployment of Internet Explorer 8 can be as customised as you want it to be, so if you want to setup a specific home page, RSS feed, group of favourites, proxy server or changes to browser security then you can do that. To enable the building of an installation package you need to look to the Internet Explorer Administration Kit. This kit takes you through building a custom installation so as soon as the installation completes all your configuration requirements are set on the PC. This is great when you need an environment that can be replayed over and over to provide consistency – it also doesn’t have any requirements on 3rd party software or setting config requirements using a simple text file.
When you want ongoing management of IE8 you need to be looking to group policy. Group Policy can be used for deployment as can software distribution systems like System Center Config Manager, Windows Intune, SMS or any other deployment software capable or deploying MSI files.
On going management of Internet Explorer is best achieved using Group Policy as the configuration options are made on the PC every time the user or computer logs on. This means that once it’s deployed you can make any alterations you need by changing the GPO. So, should you need to change homepage you just change the GPO, should you need to block a specific plugin, you can do so in the GPO.
There are over 1500 settings that can be managed for IE8 with Group Policy which on the surface might sound complicated, but you only need to pick and choose what you use. It’s a bit like having every tool in the toolbox available to you, one of those big red racks on wheels you see in professional garages. In contrast some other browsers require you to use 3rd party software that’s not made by the same people as the browser and can be a step behind – a little like buying a special set of tools for a very general job. The 3rd party software is needed mainly because some browsers need to be managed using text files and anyone who’s ever done some version control will know what a pain that is. Another browser has some shiny settings that you can set with group policy but you soon realise that there are tools missing from their toolbox – a little like buying a full tool kit and realising they didn’t include a spanner!
Managing a browser isn’t just about managing a bunch of setting though, it’s also about managing the life of the browser. Inevitably there will be updates as patches to secure against vulnerabilities are released. Internet Explorer manages this using Windows Update which, therefore, delivers updates on a known time scale – Patch Tuesday – and using a known mechanism. So if you have WSUS deployed patches are deployed to your clients using this and you have control. Without a good infrastructure to manage these updates other browsers struggle, which is why you’ll often find a fix popping up and asking a user if it’s ok to install it in some other browsers. If they decline, no patch, so the vulnerability persists.
Management and Control are baked right in and work in almost the same way as IE6, but also allow you to manage compatibility. Say you have an internal site that you know needs to run in IE7 mode, well that’s fine. You can just set that using Group Policy and all your clients will use the IE7 rendering engine to do the work, compatibility delivered centrally and controllably.
Security and Trust
Internet Explorer 8 delivers some fantastic improvements over IE6 and in addition to the above delivery mechanism for security patches we also have built in Phishing protection. Phishing, if you aren’t aware, is an attack whereby someone pops up a website claiming to be a site the user should trust and asks (Phishes) for information. IE8 has inbuilt protection to highlight the risk to end users and helps them to avoid the attack. Of course there are other types of attack too, so IE8 warns your users if a site contains malware. These settings for SmartScreen filter are all configurable through Group Policy as well, ensuring you remain in control.
For some useful information on deploying IE8 take a look at the TechNet library.