The ridiculous splintering of Internet Explorer

26 Feb 2013

Today, Microsoft has got around to releasing Internet Explorer 10 for Windows 7, finally bringing the browser it released in October on Windows 8 to its most popular OS.

Just so as we're clear which browsers work with which operating systems, I've produced this handy chart.

Yes, every other major browser manages to support every Microsoft OS still in common currency, except Microsoft's own browser. It may be the case that certain features aren't supported on older OSes, but the others can all be installed from the same binary and they all look roughly the same.

This browser splintering may not matter too much to consumers: Windows Update will make sure they're up to date with the latest available browser for their operating system, and there aren't too many websites where performance will be dramatically hampered by not having the latest version of Internet Explorer. Even if it is, they can easily jump ship to one of the rivals.

However, for the poor sysadmins of the world, who manage multiple different versions of Windows within their organisation, this is becoming one of those irritating headaches. Now it's no longer possible to have all your Windows PCs running the same version of IE, unless you effectively downgrade your Windows 7 and 8 users to Internet Explorer 8 (using a convoluted virtual machine workaround in Windows 8). That, however, compromises security: there are many exploits that only work on older versions of Internet Explorer, such as the recent Java exploit.

So now IT managers have the choice of running an out-of-date, more vulnerable browser across the entire business, or accepting different browsers on different machines, and making sure any business-critical browser-based apps work smoothly across all of them.

Or they could run one of the alternatives - although the rapid, six-week refresh cycle of Chrome and Firefox could cause as many validation headaches as the splintering of Internet Explorer.

A phrase involving large stones and hard places springs to mind...

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