Internet Explorer 8 Challenges Hosting, Services Companies

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Microsoft’s latest version of Internet Explorer isn’t exactly causing outright panic, but hosting providers, managed service providers and software-as-a-service companies still find plenty of challenges in the new browser.

Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 8 didn’t incite the kind of panic that occurred with last year’s daylight-saving time debacle, but manged service providers and hosted application providers say there’s still plenty of work to be done to ensure that customers weather the transition smoothly.

“This impacts our entire customer base and all our delivery models, from managed services to SAAS [software as a service] and even our systems integrators,” says Stephen Moss, chief operating officer at NSPI, a Microsoft partner.

While end users familiarise themselves with the new features, capabilities and quirks of the browser, MSPs, SAAS providers and solution providers are doing the same thing. What they are finding is a browser that isn’t exactly services-ready.

“We have to add the caveat that customers are upgrading at their own risk while we also get fully up to speed,” Moss says. “Absolutely, yes, we can help them work through any issues that arise, but we are on the same page and we are going through it with them.”

Urvish Vashi, director of product management for hosted applications provider The Planet, is already seeing about 3 percent of the site’s traffic coming in via IE 8. Customer challenges aren’t just limited to Internet Explorer, but customers are seeing functionality and rendering issues as more vendors join the browser market, he said.

“As the browser wars heat up, customers are seeing the same problems no matter whether they’re using IE, Firefox, [or] Safari,” Vashi says. “While all these browsers say they support proper rending of standards-based Web pages, customers find that things don’t work the same or they don’t look the same,” he says.

At the MIX09 event held in Las Vegas last week, Microsoft’s Mike Nash said IE 8 has more than 500 new add-ons for the browser including accelerators, Web slices and visual search. Accelerators invoke an online service from any other Web page using only the mouse, eliminating the need for users to copy and paste content between Web pages. Web Slices allow users to subscribe only to small pieces—slices—of a Web page, and are updated by the browser.

Nash, corporate vice president of Windows product management, said security, ease of use, and improvements in RSS, CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) and AJAX support also are key priorities for IE 8.

IE 8 also features the IEAK 8 (Internet Explorer Administration Kit 8), which lets users configure the browser to meet their company’s customised default settings. This feature standardises functionality across all browsers, making administration easier, and also blocks access to unwanted or risky internal or Internet applications for greater security.

Moss says IE 8 will impact each facet of NSPI’s three major routes to market in different ways, but adds that NSPI is quite familiar with how to help customers make the changes.

For NSPI’s traditional systems integration practice—which includes software, infrastructure and services from large vendors like Microsoft, Cisco, EMC and IBM—the process will be fairly straightforward, says Moss, as NSPI ensures that applications and infrastructure work seamlessly with the new browser.

The managed services practice challenges are much the same, although some customers have challenges related to data hosted in a co-location or in an off-site data centre.

“These customers will need our help to ensure that what we tested in the lab before the actual release will work in real life,” Moss says. “There’s a lot of due diligence we’re doing right now to make sure their Web applications can work correctly.”

The trickiest customers are those who use NSPI’s SAAS offerings, says Moss, since these can include insurance, financial and health care customers who have stringent change management policies and that must remain in compliance with government regulations.

NSPI also has a number of custom software and environments developed for customers, he says, and those will need to be completely recertified for the new browser. Same goes for hosted application environments, such as Exchange, he says, which must be tested to make sure they work seamlessly.

While the certification and configuration work for optimising IE 8 is time consuming and disruptive to end users, there’s a bright side, says Moss. “Yes, this involves a lot of time and hassle for them, but for us, there’s revenue that’s going to be driven as we make these changes,” he says.

Moss says past experience with Microsoft upgrades leads him to believe NSPI’s customer base will be fully migrated to the new version of IE within about six months given the number of new and enhanced features and security fixes that can be added to their environments.

While the changes do require some effort and patience, Moss says that overall he expects things will go smoothly. “We’re certainly not freaking out and panicking, and neither are our customers,” he says. “Everyone sees the changes coming now and with our help they’ll be prepared.”

For The Planet, the challenge is much the same—quickly resolving customer issues to make sure they can continue to run their businesses successfully with minimal disruption.

“Customers work with hosting providers like us because their Web presence is their lifeblood, their applications are crucial to them and that’s what they do best,” Vashi says. “The onus is on us to do better validation and testing across all platforms and browsers to make sure everything works right and looks right.”