Enterprises ditch Microsoft's IE6, go big for IE8

PC system information-tracking network says IE8 a bigger hit than most think

Editor's note: The person quoted in this story as "Craig Barth" is actually Randall C. Kennedy, an InfoWorld contributor. Kennedy, who presented himself as the CTO of Devil Mountain Software, no longer works at InfoWorld. Given that he disguised his identity to Computerworld and a number of other publications, the credibility of Kennedy's statements is called into question. Rather than simply remove stories in which he is quoted, we have left them online so readers can weigh his data and conclusions for themselves.

Contrary to popular belief, enterprises are not wedded to Microsoft Corp.'s old and buggy Internet Explorer 6 but have largely dumped the browser, a researcher said today.

IE6 is running on only 8.3% of the PCs powered by Windows XP that Devil Mountain Software's community-based Exo.performance.network (XPnet) tracks, said Craig Barth, the company's chief technology officer. In comparison, 19.4% of the XP machines are running IE7, while an amazing 72.2% run IE8, Microsoft's newest browser.

"I'm shocked," said Barth today. "IE6 is just a single-digit browser on XP in the enterprise."

Devil Mountain sniffs out system information, including installed applications, from the 23,000 PCs that run the XPnet agent, a small program that regularly "phones home" with the machine owner's permission. Devil Mountain recently reconfigured the XPnet agent so that it could determine the version of IE installed on the PC.

On those computers running Windows Vista, 12.8% have IE7, the browser that shipped with the operating system in 2007, but 86.5% have IE8, which Microsoft launched in March 2009.

"IE8 has been a much larger hit than most of us thought," admitted Barth, referring to the long-held idea that while consumers may have obliged Microsoft by upgrading to IE8, relatively few enterprises have.

"IT shops are clearly getting a bad rap for being behind the curve," Barth said. "These are smart people. They know that IE6 is kryptonite. And they're mostly off of IE6 now."

The perception that IE6 usage remains strong, especially in the enterprise, has come from metrics vendors such as NetApplications.com, as well as from Microsoft itself, Barth contended. "Measurements of the Web as a whole are just not painting an accurate picture of what is in the enterprise," he said. "They can't."

According to NetApplications' most recent data, IE6 accounts for 20.1% of all browsers in use, while IE7 and IE8 hold down 14.6% and 25.1% shares, respectively. Much of the measured IE6 usage, however, apparently originates in China, where the nearly nine-year-old program represents 50% of browsers in use. In the U.S., NetApplications has said, IE6 share is less than 10%, a number that is similar to XPnet's.

Microsoft has helped sustain the belief that IE6 is still widely in use by citing that as a reason why it cannot force corporate users to upgrade to a newer, and presumably more secure, version of its browser. "While we recommend Internet Explorer 8 to all customers, we understand we have a number of corporate customers for whom broad deployment of new technologies across their desktops requires more planning," a Microsoft spokeswoman said last week when commenting on Google's decision to drop IE6 support for Gmail later this year.

All in all, Microsoft has been much more effective in convincing business users to upgrade to IE8 than anyone thought, Barth said. Its move last August to push the new browser to enterprises via Windows Server Update Services probably helped considerably, he added.

"IT is on the ball; they're not blowing it by sticking with IE6," Barth concluded.

IE6 has been a popular subject in security news since Google confirmed that attackers had used a then-unpatched vulnerability in the aged browser to break into its company network. In little more than a week, Microsoft rushed out an emergency update to patch the IE flaw.

Users who want to contribute to XPnet's data collective can do so by downloading and installing the DMS Clarity Tracker Agent from Devil Mountain's site.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His e-mail address is gkeizer@ix.netcom.com.

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