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Solutions for Virtualizing Internet Explorer

With new features and benefits, the Windows® 7 operating system drives lower total cost of ownership by helping users stay productive anywhere, enhancing security and control, and simplifying computer management across an organization. Windows Internet Explorer® 8, the default browser for Windows 7, provides improved security and new features. These new versions of Windows and Internet Explorer can increase efficiency and enhance an organization’s productivity and security.

However, migrating to a new operating system can be a challenge, and it brings with it the need to support older software. For example, your organization may be required by a regulatory agency to use the same software to obtain business data that was originally obtained using an older version of the operating system. You may also rely on an application that was built for previous versions of Internet Explorer, such as Windows Internet Explorer 7 or Microsoft® Internet Explorer 6, and cannot easily run in Internet Explorer 8.

Your organization may not currently have the time or resources needed to rebuild, refit, or upgrade such applications within the timeframe required to roll out a new operating system. You may find that you are already maintaining older hardware that you need to support your older applications—this requires the effort of IT staff and can be very costly.

Microsoft provides solutions that let you run previous versions of Windows (and Internet Explorer) by using virtualization on your current hardware and software. By using these solutions, you can continue to run Internet Explorer 7 or Internet Explorer 6 in a virtual environment; you can then continue to run your older applications seamlessly, while you benefit from the newer technologies in Windows 7 and Internet Explorer 8.

This white paper looks at several Microsoft virtualization options that let you run Internet Explorer 7 and Internet Explorer 6—Microsoft® Enterprise Desktop Virtualization (MED-V), Windows XP Mode, and Terminal Services. This paper details these options, including benefits, costs, limitations, and licensing considerations, and helps you decide which option is best for your organization.

Additionally, this white paper provides a series of appendices with prescriptive guidance and best practices—including step-by-step instructions—for setting up each virtualization solution and for running it securely.

Virtualizing Internet Explorer

Application compatibility is one of the main reasons why organizations may be reluctant to upgrade to the latest version of the Windows operating system. Organizations may rely on an important line-of-business (LOB) application that must run in the operating system, for example, or they may have a critical intranet site that was built to run in Internet Explorer 6. Additionally, they may not have the time or the resources they need to rebuild, refit, or upgrade these applications.

If your organization is considering an upgrade to Windows 7 but is concerned about the expense, time, and IT staff effort needed to maintain your older (or legacy) LOB applications, using a virtualization option might be a an effective solution until you can run your applications natively.

The three Microsoft virtualization options most appropriate for virtualizing Internet Explorer 7 and Internet Explorer 6 are MED-V, Windows XP Mode, and Terminal Services. The following table summarizes these options.

 

Virtualization Option Benefits Limitations Basic Requirements Recommendation for Size

MED-V

Most robust option

Seamless Web solution with automatic URL redirection for applications that run on only Internet Explorer 6 (no user training necessary)

Centrally managed via a MED-V management server

Flexible—can have different virtual machines for different users if other applications are required

Older computers might not meet the system requirements to run the virtualized XP instance

Does not work on a virtualized operating system

Requires both client and server

Required 2 GB of RAM on the host

Part of MDOP 2009 volume licensing; a Software Assurance benefit, available for enterprise customers

Recommended for enterprise environments

Windows XP Mode

User can start Internet Explorer directly from desktop or Start menu

Windows XP Mode and Windows Virtual PC are free downloads for Windows 7 Professional, Windows 7 Enterprise, or Windows 7 Ultimate

Not as centrally managed as other options

Older hardware might not support Windows XP Mode

Needs to be installed individually on each computer

Requires some user training

Requires only client computer

Recommended 2 GB of RAM and 15 GB of hard disk space

Suitable for small to medium-sized implementations

Terminal Services

Easy to configure

Centrally managed

Some enterprises already have Terminal Services deployed

All resources to run Internet Explorer on server side

Clients need network access to the server resources

Requires user training

Requires purchase of Windows Server® 2003 Client Access Licenses to expand Terminal Services option

Requires both client and server; requires

Suitable for any size organization

Table 1. Virtualization options.

What About Other Virtualization Options?

Because Internet Explorer is integrated into the operating system, application virtualization options are not appropriate for virtualizing Internet Explorer 7 and Internet Explorer 6. (For more information, see the Knowledge Base article Running Multiple Versions of Internet Explorer on Single Operating System Is Unsupported.

It is necessary to virtualize the entire operating system to obtain a previous version of Internet Explorer. By doing so, you prevent system conflicts that can occur if Internet Explorer is treated as an application. To reduce the cost of ownership of those operating systems, you can use Software Restriction Policies in Windows XP and Group Policy Settings in Internet Explorer 6 to lock down the virtualized environment.

The following table provides a comparison of desktop virtualization and compatibility issues. In the table, machine virtualization (or full virtualization) includes Windows Virtual PC, Windows XP Mode, and MED-V. Session virtualization includes Terminal Services.

 

  Machine virtualization Session virtualization Application virtualization

Description

A virtual machine simulates enough hardware to allow an unmodified guest operating system to run in isolation

Applications and data are accessed on a remote computer over a network

Application is encapsulated from underlying hardware

Runs earlier version of Internet Explorer

Yes

Yes, with earlier (legacy) server

No

Application-to-operating system incompatibilities

Yes

Yes, with earlier server

No

Application-to-application conflicts

No

Yes, using one server per application

Yes

16-bit applications on 64-bit hosts

Yes, with 32-bit virtual machine

Yes, with 32-bit virtual machine

No

Enterprise manageability

Only with MED-V

Yes

Yes

Table 2. Comparison of desktop virtualization options.

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