Leveraging Internet Explorer Enterprise Tools to More Quickly Upgrade to IE11


As a reminder, to anyone who hasn’t noticed yet, we will be ending support for anything but the latest version of Internet Explorer available for your operating system on January 12, 2016. We’ve been really busy building tools and features to help simplify this, and with four months left, I wanted to take a look back at how you can potentially bring all of these tools together to tell a story and drive a rapid approach.

Modernize your browser first

I’ve talked to a number of folks, who are really growing wearing of bearing the weight of their technical debt, and there’s often a temptation to use this opportunity to, once and for all, get applications up to date and leveraging the latest in web standards.

Given that the clock is ticking, you simply may not have time. So, there’s that.

But, even if you had an extra year or two (or three), I would still recommend that you modernize the browser first.

Why?

Because if you insist that you have apps that work natively in IE11 when in IE11 document mode (“edge” – not to be confused with the browser of the same name), you’re doing this at a time when you haven’t yet deployed IE11. Which means it has to also work with the browser you’ve already got – which could be as old as IE8. That forces you to make least common denominator choices – web sites that only use features that an old browser also supports, giving you less bang for your buck from your modernization spend.

Instead, if you modernize your browser first, then when you invest in modernizing the app, you can take a hard dependency on modern features, because you know your entire population of users has a browser that supports them. More goodness for the same spend!

Preconfigure the environment to be compatible

The core of IE compatibility is the Document Mode, and the Enterprise Site Discovery tool allows you to determine not only which sites your users are currently visiting, but also the document mode the sites using! You increase the probability that a site works if you use the same document mode it was using in that previous browser, and Enterprise Site Discovery makes that easy. In fact, if you output Enterprise Site Discovery to XML, we even directly support importing this XML into the Enterprise Mode Site List Manager tool.

By building an Enterprise Mode Site List that keeps the sites you use in the same document mode, you ensure that most sites work without modification – because they’ve already been fixed.

That being said, I do recommend going through this list to remove the sites you don’t want there. Specifically, if you have public web sites that are built with modern browsers in mind, you may have been having a suboptimal experience already. If I’m using IE8, for example, the highest document mode I have available is IE8 document mode. If I’m using Office 365, it will be forced to use IE8 document mode on IE8. If site discovery detects this, and forces it back to IE8, you’ll actually continue to have a suboptimal experience (as Office 365 runs way better on modern browsers). While you won’t be worse off than you were on actual IE8, you won’t be better off like you should be – so some time to rationalize and remove sites that were historically capped at legacy document modes because of limitations in that product can help you deliver more immediate ROI from the browser migration.

Determine when to disable Compatibility View GPOs

This topic comes up often enough I figured I would address it in context here.

There are a lot of customers who have heard “somewhere” (not sure where) that they should be disabling the Compatibility View group policies. Now, in terms of maximizing compatibility, turning off a compatibility feature doesn’t really forward that goal. That being said, I’m also acutely aware of the fact that these group policies are significantly less targeted than the Enterprise Mode Site List.

If you want less compatibility problems, then leaving the compatibility feature on that’s been going since 2008 and the default in most Local Intranet zones will help you maximize default compatibility. However, the preconfiguration approach above will also capture what is using Compatibility View as well (IE5 and IE7 document modes) and can replace that.

If you feel that you’ve got good enough coverage with Enterprise Site Discovery that you’ll have preconfigured all of your compat view sites (IE7 document mode / IE7 Enterprise Mode are the equivalent of Compatibility View – either without or with Enterprise Mode), then you can disable the group policies. If you have new applications that want modern document modes (but aren’t using X-UA-Compatible – ugh) then you may want to turn this off just to accommodate those applications (or, alternately, promote them with the site list).

If, however, you feel that you don’t yet have enough data, or don’t have the appetite to put this on the critical path (we do have a short timeline, after all) then there’s no shame in postponing this – you can always come back later with the Preconfigure approach above for removing Compat View GPOs and separate these two tasks. Both are valid choices, and I recommend weighing the pros and cons of both orderings.

Test your platinum apps

Once you’ve gotten the environment pre-configured, you’re most likely still going to want to test your most critical apps.

Now, this is a risk decision that is really different from the past. In a migration from IE6 to IE8, for example, if an application failed, you often had to wait for the dev team to fix it – a time frame that could extend into months. However, with Enterprise Mode, the fix timeframe is often under 30 minutes – and the number of apps that can’t sustain a 30 minute downtime is significantly smaller than the number of apps that can’t sustain a several-month downtime!

But your most mission critical apps are going to always be validated – sometimes even with full regression testing. So, ensure you plan for that, and I recommend setting up a local (to the lab) Enterprise Mode Site List configuration for quicker on-the-fly configuration and testing.

Deploy IE11

Once you’ve pre-configured and then certified your most critical apps, the next step is to start deploying.

Personally, I’m a huge fan of the “gradually expanding pilot” approach where appropriate – as this helps you continue to measure risk when you have an unknown diversity of application usage – and also to validate that your methodology was as effective as hoped (or to let you know if perhaps you didn’t sample the right group or for long enough). The overall goal is to finish the deployment and reset the baseline – hopefully before January!

Repurpose the Enterprise Mode Site List

Once you’re done, the Enterprise Mode Site List remains a compatibility feature, but it now takes on a second purpose – it’s your modernization to-do list! Your next mission is to remove everything from this list. These application dependencies on legacy IE behavior are holding you back – whether it’s from using Edge in Windows 10, or from using the browser on your phone, your tablet, or other BYOD or enterprise devices where you can’t be certain that IE will be an option. Once you’ve worked your way to the bottom of the list, you are free from the shackles of that legacy software! Of course, you can do this on your own time, and as business priorities dictate, but it’s important to keep in mind that you are working to whittle this down.

Keep in mind that you’re going to have to remove sites from this list if the developer releases a new version that works with modern browsers – this list has the highest priority of all compatibility signals, and there is no way for a developer to overrule it. So, staying at the ready to manage it down is super important.

Good luck with your migrations, and with your modernizations!


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