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Edge, Microsoft's Next-Gen Browser, Won't Be Available To All

It depends on "service-branch" options.

Microsoft's Edge browser promises to be faster, more standards-complaint, and more appealing visually than Internet Explorer. The problem is that your company may not be able to use it.

Organizations considering Windows 10 upgrade options will be steered, to a great degree, by Microsoft's coming service-branch options, which will affect browser choice.

One little known aspect, in that regard, concerns Microsoft's new Edge Web browser in Windows 10. Edge, which runs alongside Microsoft's Internet Explorer 11 browser in Windows 10, will not be available to organizations that stick with the so-called "long-term servicing branch" for maintaining Windows 10.

"Edge won't be included on LTSB builds," explained Michael A. Silver, a vice president and distinguished analyst at research and consulting firm Gartner Inc., via e-mail.

Silver, along with Gartner coauthor David Mitchell Smith, recommended that organizations adopt a "bimodal browser strategy" with Windows 10. In their June report on that subject, the authors pointed out that the Edge browser will get feature updates streamed to end users, which is precisely the kind of software change that the long-term servicing branch was designed to prevent. Consequently, such organizations will likely use IE 11 instead, which becomes a "legacy" type of browser.

Gartner isn't the only source asserting that the Edge browser can't be used by organizations adopting the long-term servicing branch with Windows 10. Veteran Microsoft reporter Mary Jo Foley also got confirmation directly from Microsoft in her recent report.

Microsoft has already announced a July 29 Windows 10 release date. Possibly, the Enterprise edition of Windows 10 will arrive later than that date, though. Foley, citing unnamed sources, suggested that the Enterprise edition of Windows 10 will appear in the fall of this year. Microsoft has previously indicated that Windows 10 would have summer and fall releases, but it didn't explain why that would be the case. Wes Miller, an analyst with Kirkland, Wash.-based Directions on Microsoft, an independent research and consulting firm, indicated in a Twitter post that he thought the fall release of Windows 10, namely, the Enterprise edition release, would occur on Oct. 1.

Service Branch Options
Organizations with complex software requirements to maintain may opt for the long-term servicing branch option with Windows 10 because it will provide the familiar 10-year Windows operating system product lifecycle support. It also provides greater control over the software update process. Only Windows 10 Enterprise edition users have the long-term servicing branch option.

Other Windows 10 service-branch options include the "current branch for business" option, which allows for update deferrals for a limited period of time, plus a "current branch" option, which doesn't permit the delay of any Windows 10 updates. At least that's the picture of the service-branch options offered recently by Microsoft MVP Andre Da Costa in his Windows 10 FAQ (see Table):

[Click on image for larger view.] Microsoft's three service-branch plans for Windows 10. Source: a Microsoft community page FAQ.

Microsoft previously described its Windows 10 service branches in an Ignite conference session. However, Da Costa's description is more concise and shows which management tools can be used with the three service branch choices.

Losing the Browser Edge
Gartner's bimodal browser report explains that Microsoft is permitting two of its browsers -- IE 11 and Edge -- to run on Windows 10 concurrently for the first time. It's a reaction to the competitive landscape shift in which IE has lost market share to competing browsers. The company used to insist that just one version of IE could be installed on a Windows machine.

Gartner's report is even predicting that IE will lose its market lead among enterprise users to Google's Chrome browser by year-end 2015. Edge is supposed to be Microsoft's "modern browser" reaction to stave off browser market loss, but it just runs on Windows 10 right now, and it could be a couple of years before enterprises move to Windows 10, the report argues. Consequently, Microsoft is expected to lose its browser grip on the enterprise next year.

The report acknowledged the benefits of running a modern browser. That's why it recommended that organizations take a two-pronged approach, which means having a technology to support modern apps in browsers as well as one to support legacy ones.

January Deadline
Organizations trying to tough it out using older IE browser technologies to run intranet sites or custom Web apps don't have a lot of time left. That's because Microsoft set a deadline of Jan. 12, 2016 to move to the most current browser per supported Windows OS. For Windows 7 users, that means moving to IE 11 by that January date.

IE 11 includes an Enterprise Mode technology that's designed to help organizations use older browser emulation modes as a stopgap measure and aid them in moving to Windows 10. However, Gartner hasn't found that Enterprise Mode is the solution for all of its clients, according to another report coauthored by Silver and Smith.

"No, IE 11 with Enterprise Mode does not solve all problems with IE," Silver said. "There will be many organizations that won't be on the latest version of IE before support ends."

Gartner advises organizations to just spend the time and money to move to IE 11 before the January deadline. There are alternatives, such as virtualization, software modification and resources from software vendors, but those also cost money, the report argued.

Browsium's Ion software is one possibility suggested in Gartner's report as an option for organizations needing legacy browser support. Ion is described as a browser management solution that lets organizations run things like "multiple versions of Java side-by-side." In a white paper (sign-up required), Browsium argued that organizations with CRM and ERP systems to maintain may not solve their problems using Enterprise Mode for Internet Explorer:

EMIE is useful for less complex intranet and extranet websites, and web applications with minor layout issues. Every enterprise should evaluate EMIE and use it for the subset of their web applications that it remediates. However, for mission-critical web applications in complex enterprise IT environments, EMIE can be insufficient.

Alternatively, it might be possible for organizations to pay for "custom support" from Microsoft if they can't meet Microsoft's January deadline. However, that likely will be an "expensive" option, according to Gartner. Moreover, Microsoft just provides support for "critical" security vulnerabilities under such plans. In addition, Microsoft hasn't yet announced that custom support for older IE versions will be available, Gartner's report noted.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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