IT pros and partners want to use application virtualization tools to run Internet Explorer. But Microsoft forbids the practice and last week put its big foot down on one application virtualization company for using the technology to offer IE on the Web.
One of the common uses of application virtualization tools, such as VMware's ThinApp, is to run legacy or even multiple versions of IE on Windows 7. But Microsoft does not support virtualizing IE because it is part of Windows, and the company does not want it to be abstracted from the operating system.
Seattle-based Spoon, formerly known as Xenocode, uses virtualization to let users run desktop applications from the cloud. Until this week, Spoon provided a quick and easy way for developers to run and build applications on different versions of IE for test and development.
Microsoft took away the one tool developers had to support Microsoft and its browsers.
Kenji Obata, CEO of Spoon, said there was a "nastygram from Microsoft's attorney" waiting for him when he returned from TechEd Europe 2010 recently. The letter specifically stated that distributing IE from the Spoon website is in violation of Microsoft's intellectual property rights.
Obata said he has to comply with Microsoft's request that Spoon not provide IE via the Spoon website, but the capability is something customers want and need. And by policing the virtualization of IE, Microsoft may slow Windows 7 upgrades.
"It is their product and up to them what they allow us to with it; we have no objection with that, but they are shooting themselves on the foot," Obata said. "It isn't good for Microsoft or for the customer. They took away the tool developers had to support Microsoft and its browsers."
There is now a notice on Spoon's website stating that "Microsoft has asked us to remove Internet Explorer from this service. We hope to work with Microsoft to restore cloud-based access to their browsers shortly, but in the meantime we have disabled access to Internet Explorer."
In response to Spoon's blog post and Spoonapps Twitter feed, thousands of customers publicly complained on Twitter, blogs and emails.
"There was an explosion of rage on Twitter from developers," Obata said. "I have never seen such a virulent response to something before. I have learned curse words in multiple languages."
For example, one Web developer tweeted, "Microsoft can go to hell for making @Spoonapps remove the IE apps from spoon.net." Another commented that "browser testing just got more annoying," and another developer pleaded for Microsoft to return IE support to Spoon. "How else can we code support for your crap?" said the post.
Microsoft also forbids Windows customers from virtualizing IE within their own data centers. Some customers do it anyway but know that they won't be supported by Microsoft if there is a problem.
In his September blog, Neil MacDonald, an analyst at Gartner Inc., also urged Microsoft to support the use of application virtualization tools to run IE. By taking a strong stance against the virtualization of IE6, "Microsoft risks upsetting its customers and pushing them to consider alternative browsers which aren't tied inexorably to the OS underneath and which can be virtualized using application virtualization so they don't run into this problem during their next migration," MacDonald wrote.
While there is little support for Microsoft's stance against Windows license holders virtualizing IE with App-V or other tools, people are more understanding of Microsoft's rule against third-party distribution of IE.
From Microsoft's position, giving IT shops a way to run IE without Windows undermines its strategy, which is to make customers upgrade to Windows 7 and the latest applications.
Microsoft's official posture is that IE can be virtualized using terminal services, virtual desktop infrastructure/hosted virtual desktops or running XP in a virtual machine locally through Windows XP mode. This is not ideal because XP Mode requires extra memory and slows performance, according to IT pros.
Other application streaming products are commonly used to virtualize IE, including VMware ThinApp. In fact, VMware said Windows 7 adoption is driving ThinApp adoption because that tool gives enterprise IT a way to make sure that legacy apps run on it.
"Our stance is that there is customer demand for it, and we are urging Microsoft to listen to what customers want," said Raj Mallempati, a VMware desktop products manager. "Customers want a way to move to Windows 7, and [application virtualization] gives them a way to do that."