back to article Browsium rescues HMRC from IE6 – and multimillion-pound bill

A browser startup has undercut some of government's biggest IT suppliers to win its largest deal: shifting HM Revenue & Customs from Internet Explorer 6 and Windows XP to IE8 and Windows 7. Browsium has moved 85,000 PC users from Microsoft’s hated browser and dated Windows XP, out-bidding computing stalwarts Capgemini and …

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  1. JDX Gold badge

    Smart Fellows

    Find a niche and sell it for all it's worth. Well done to them, I say.

    1. Bob Vistakin
      Happy

      Re: Smart Fellows

      Get them to explain the concept of a leap year to microsoft while they're at it and that's the cloud sorted too!

      1. JDX Gold badge

        Re: Smart Fellows

        Talk about stuck records. Yes we know, find something new.

    2. Silverburn
      Thumb Up

      Re: Smart Fellows

      +1 for the startups, and another for the outbreak of common sense/practicality at a government department.

      Lets have more please.

  2. James Turner

    Really a fix?

    I may be wrong, but I was under the impression that these things are essentially still using IE6, but hiding it round the back. What happens when XP support goes? You're still stuck using components that MS aren't supporting, so you'll be stuffed in just the same way as soon as a bug comes up.

    1. Richard 12 Silver badge
      Happy

      Re: Really a fix?

      I would expect that Browsium are now the ones providing support for the "IE6 Frame" and all the associated components that aren't part of Windows 7, as that would all need to be rolled into their plugin for this to work under Windows 7.

      It sounds like a very good way to escape from IE6 - that was always a tricky problem as most large corporates dare not go for a "Big Bang" approach to that migration, even if they could afford it.

    2. Malcolm 1

      Re: Really a fix?

      Their previous product UniBrows used IE6 behind the scenes. Ion doesn't if their website is to be believed: http://www.browsium.com/ion/

      End of the first paragraph: "...it does not include the IE6 engine used in our prior solution UniBrows."

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Really a fix?

      The point is that it allows HMRC to get the hideousness of IE6 out of their systems.

      Once they've got rid of IE6 they can start to use new applications developed for standards-compliant browsers, whilst still retaining support for their old IE6 applications. They will still have a couple of years to migrate any legacy IE6 apps to newer browsers. Admittedly that's a blink of an eye in government IT terms, but it's a start.

    4. Captain Scarlet Silver badge

      Re: Really a fix?

      Considering many of them were envolved in developing IE6 I don't think they need to worry about MS supporting it.

    5. Tom 13

      Re: Really a fix?

      Erm, yes and no. So long as Browsium works in the current OS, you don't need XP, so that gets you out of that problem. But because it is still rendering in what is effectively a Native IE6 environment, yes it still is and doesn't really get you out of IE6. It just lets you NOT have to rewrite your hideously old VB6 web apps to support current standards.

      As I see it, the real risk is whether or not Browsium provides potential IE6 malware infection vectors even though you think you are safe because you are running if from a Windows 8 PC running IE11. And since it is HMRC, that sounds like a good targeted (although not quite spear) attack environment for me.

  3. StephenD

    Extended support

    I was under the impression that XP SP3 extended support ends in 2014, not 2012:

    http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/products/lifecycle

    1. Erroneous Howard

      Re: Extended support

      Yes, it does. It was due to end in 2012 previously but they extended it further.

    2. Tom 13

      Re: Extended support

      Yep, and that means if HRMC starts RFN, they should only be about 3 years late getting it implemented.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    I DONT GET IT

    WHATS WRONG WITH INTERNET EXPLORER 6 I STILL USE 4

    1. asdf Silver badge

      Re: I DONT GET IT

      Oh yeah well I am posting this using Netscape Navigator 2 (lol really am). It throws lots of javascript errors but I think it will work and not crash this time. The message box typing in right now, lmao doesn't even wrap. Probably about the oldest browser can get this to work with.

      1. asdf Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Re: I DONT GET IT

        Well enough wasting on the morning setting up a vm to actually run 15 year old browsers. And by the way posting with lynx or some other text only browser is not sporting. El Reg as expected looks like crap on Net Nav 2 but degrades itself remarkable well where it still actually possible to read the articles (lol looks like the WAP version though).

        1. RAMChYLD
          Boffin

          Re: I DONT GET IT

          It's not all VM users tho.

          Up until recently I was still maintaining a old Pentium II that boots into DR-DOS and Windows for Workgroups 3.11.

          Reason: Retrogaming.

          It suffered a PSU blowout that took out the mobo tho, and now I'm scouring for replacement parts.

          1. Tom Chiverton 1
            WTF?

            Re: I DONT GET IT

            DOSBox.

    2. Silverburn
      Facepalm

      Re: I DONT GET IT

      WHATS WRONG WITH INTERNET EXPLORER 6 I STILL USE 4

      For one, it doesn't require CAPS LOCK to be enabled...

    3. Crisp Silver badge

      Re: I DONT GET IT

      Are you using a ZX81? You don't appear to have any lower case letters.

  5. dotdavid
    Meh

    Browsium

    So, it's like IETab for IE8/9?

  6. probedb

    So crutches for IE6 then?

    Kind of like what HP have done with Quality Center?

    IE6 native or IE8/9 with a helper app type thing. Hopefully Ion is better than HPs method :)

  7. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Unhappy

    Now this *should* allow departments to *gracefully* upgrade their apps out of IE6

    Will HMRC do that?

    Will they f**k.

    HMRC *should* view this as a *short* term migration tool to let them upgrade their apps in a *controlled* manner with a nice sustainably sized time working through the migration list. Here's an idea. Stop making them browser *specific*.

    But instead they will probably continue to run their IE6 specific stuff (and let me guess make sure their *new* staff know how to write IE6 specific code as well, perpetuating this s**t).

    Like a Heroin addict on Methadone. They're still an addict.

  8. PaulOldfield1

    Is it a saving?

    Okay, nice idea - but the money they claim to have saved will need to be spent eventually in re-writing or replacing the apps. Sure, deferring the spend is a help, and might offset the extra cost of adding the translation functionality... or it might not!

    1. JDX Gold badge

      Re: Is it a saving?

      DO they need to rewrite the apps? Or can Browsium let them avoid doing so until the natural end of life for the app, when something new is needed regardless of browser upgrade issues?

      1. Tom 13

        Re: Is it a saving?

        I believe a famous US President once remarked that the problem with government programs is they continue long past the time when the need for them has passed. While he was referring to the wetware, I expect the same is true of the software as well.

    2. pixl97

      Re: Is it a saving?

      Possibly and probably. All software comes to a point where it needs refactored or replaced because the world has moved beyond it. I'm not talking about the browser, hardware or related software, I'm talking about the human needs for the software in the first place. At the point where the underlying software needs rewritten the interface can be updated too. If 'patches' like this can extend a number of years before jumping in the code is necessary, then yes, I would say it saves money.

  9. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge
    Coat

    Is it just me,

    or does Browsium sound like a Discworld element like Narrativium?

    Mine is the one with "Thud" in the pocket

  10. AbortRetryFail

    Impressive

    Good stuff, and good to see that *someone* at HMRC had enough brains to go for this approach rather than flinging £35million of our money at Capgemini as would usually have happened.

    Yes, John Smith 19 has a fair point, but this is a good start to weaning applications off IE6.

    1. chr0m4t1c

      Re: Impressive

      Unfortunately the article doesn't go into details, but it does say that the money is for "Browsium", whereas the Cap/Fujitsu bid probably covered the re-write of all of the backend systems.

      And that bit is probably the expensive bit.

      And it still has to be done.

      What this solution does give HMRC is the ability to move straight to W7 (and so presumably make legacy support savings) and migrate the old IE6 only stuff in a more piecemeal fashion.

      I expect HMRC will still be giving £30m+ to Cap/Fujitsu to re-write those legacy systems over the next few years.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    How I liked the simplicity of tables.

    And Javascript that worked.

    Sure, the escalation in browser variations has created jobs for a whole generation of people, but at least IE6 worked. What the hell they've done with IE9 I have no idea.

    1. frank 3
      FAIL

      Re: How I liked the simplicity of tables.

      Javascript that worked?

      When was that around?

      Oh, you mean when NN and IE had completely different DOMs so you ended up writing each script twice?

      Yeah, none of this 'standardised library' nonsense that we get from jQuery.

      Sheesh. Get yer facts right.

      And tables.

      Tables are for the display of tabular data. Not for layout/styling. That's what styesheets are for. Y'know, so you can reskin the site in 2 years time without having to edit every line of code on every page with <font color='green'> or somesuch rubbish.

      The good old days? They were shit.

      1. toadwarrior

        Re: How I liked the simplicity of tables.

        I would agree on tables but I'm not sure we're better off with jquery. Most problems with js can be solved with a couple helper functions. Jquery is a framework so there's over head which hits performance especially with things like each() vs a for loop or unwrap(). So you're either writing something small where it doesn't matter but probably don't really need jquery or you still need to know core JS and learn where jquery's weak spots are. That or you have a shitty experience that pisses people off.

        Too often people throw tons of JS libs at a problem which is fine if you have awesome broband and are on your home pc but it's shit on 3g and smaller devices.

        Then there's the fact jquery is the new PHP and attracts every no talent 'developer' so trusting jquery add-ons is risky at best.

        1. Aaron Em

          Speaking as someone who can write a for loop

          I thank God on my knees every night for jQuery, warts and all -- yeah, fine, it's less than perfect, what isn't? .find() by itself is an absolute godsend.

      2. JDX Gold badge

        Re: How I liked the simplicity of tables.

        "Tables are for the display of tabular data. Not for layout/styling. That's what styesheets are for."

        Yes we're all aware of the mantra, which web developers must recite at every possible opportunity. After all, it justifies them getting a lot of work to create old sites.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: How I liked the simplicity of tables.

        "Oh, you mean when NN and IE had completely different DOMs so you ended up writing each script twice?"

        Well, actually, you wrote a compatibility class that provided a consistent API so you only had to write each script one.

        But, yes, I fondly remember IE6's document.getElementByIdOrNameSoBuggyPagesMysteriouslyDon'tWorkInMozillaBrowsers.

    2. Crisp Silver badge

      Re: How I liked the simplicity of tables.

      Simplicity? Tables? Are you on crack?

      Javascript that worked? Are you talking about the IE implementation of javascript? Or the Netscape implementation?

      I for one certainly wont lament the passing of generations of browsers that paid scant regard to W3 standards.

    3. Aaron Em

      Re: How I liked the simplicity of tables.

      "I don't know how to write modern Javascript, and I never bothered to learn CSS, and I expect the whole world to conform itself to my requirements." Gotcha!

  12. dotslash

    Telford

    Employees at Aspire might be happier and work better if they didn't have to work in Telford, thus saving costs?

    Just a thought.

    1. Jimbo 6

      Re: Telford

      "Good news, everybody !

      We're moving to Mansfield !"

      Oh....

  13. Gordon Fecyk
    Thumb Down

    Um, fixing DNS does this for FREE

    "Browsium's low-cost answer was to avoid rewrites. [...] When it receives a call to a URL for IE6, it reproduces IE6's security and configuration [...] to make sure things still work."

    I did this three years ago by fixing DNS in networks, and making sure internal app servers were visited with short names. IE8 automatically placed these in the "Local Intranet" zone, doing all of that natively. For others that needed full names or IPs I made Group Policy objects that put those things in the same zone. Sites in this zone automatically use 'compatibility' mode and relaxed security, unless their HTML has headers that tell IE8 to do otherwise.

    So Browsium wrote a hack that does what was built in already. And they got paid to do this? If they have a patent, I claim prior art.

  14. Cucumber C Face
    Coat

    Did Browsium realise..

    .. that by winning a UK Gov contract they are thereby obliged to give highly paid jobs for an unending stream of failed ministers and clueless senior civil servants.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    re: Browsium rescues HMRC from IE6

    That headline is a bit economical with the truth if you ask me. HMRC `upgrades' from Microsoft IE6 to Microsoft IE8 all under a Microsoft reseller staffed by former Microsoft employees.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    IT Angle

    IE6 Compatibility

    How did HMRC make its entire IT infrastructure totally reliant on Microsoft IE6?

    1. Clockworkseer

      Re: IE6 Compatibility

      If it's anything like some of the places I've worked, you start off with one little helper app with an activeX control, webapps have been the up and coming thing over the last decade or so. You then expand out as you add new apps and functionality, because the browser's alway's there, and why not just make this new java cms run on ie6 with activeX because the poor programmers can implement a HTML/JS/java based UI and not have to keep distributing program updates to everyone and and and ... you get the idea. It's the creep of taking the cheap way out once or twice, and then eventually finding out you have to stay that course, or everything breaks at once in an expensive fashion.

    2. John Smith 19 Gold badge
      Unhappy

      Re: IE6 Compatibility

      "How did HMRC make its entire IT infrastructure totally reliant on Microsoft IE6?"

      The same way *other* UK govt departments did it.

      1 outsourced application development contract at a time.

      1. PaulOldfield1

        Re: IE6 Compatibility

        Are you sure? The IE6 legacy may be part of their in-house development legacy.

    3. Tom 13
      Pirate

      Re: totally reliant on Microsoft IE6?

      MS made it easy, and the first hit was free.

  17. Andus McCoatover
    Windows

    "HMRC `upgrades' from Microsoft IE6 to Microsoft IE8 "

    OK, I must be being VERY stupid.

    I thought that was what the "Windows Upgrade" thing was for.

    1. The Baron
      Holmes

      Re: "HMRC `upgrades' from Microsoft IE6 to Microsoft IE8 "

      Presumably there wasn't space in the headline field to add "...in such a way that their old IE6 apps all continue to work."

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It must be a nail - I have a hammer

    Of course it would be more in line with policy to end vendor lock-in during technology refresh and upgrade cycles if they put something like Chrome or Firefox on XP and starting upgrading apps and putting a web front end on client/server apps one at a time with proper testing for a range of browser technologies. Find solutions for the apps, then make your choice of device, browsers and OS when you like in a piecemeal fashion as fits user requirements.

    No reason you can't do this solution on a remote desktop for any apps not worth upgrading or that cause particular difficulties.

    This approach on all desktops seems to be only required as they've chosen to upgrade the OS and browser first. Getting an upgrade discount in before the Open Standards and Open Source policies bite or it counts as a new project?

    Which CIO in the delivery board was responsible for end user device, reference architecture and technical (er open standards subject to the current consultation?) standards? One guess. (Fig 4 on the SIP).

    With all due respect to the Browsium team - HMRC would now seem to be locked into one value added channel reseller of one upstream technology provider until they do the redevelopment anyway.

  19. Why Not?
    Pint

    Very sensible

    They have extended the life of ancient internal apps, which now identified can be upgraded one by one. Reducing risk and upgrade costs.

    They did this for a pittance and shown the usual suspects it can be cheap.

    Have a virtual one!

  20. spammeanddie
    FAIL

    Just pass the bill on to Microsoft for writing a dog-shit browser.

  21. ZweiBlumen
    FAIL

    Why IE8???

    Given that they moved to Windows 7, why are they stuck on IE8, when IE9 has been out for over a year??? Why oh why are they paying so much taxpayers cash to upgrade to 3 year old techonology?????

    Complete and utter fail.

  22. taxman
    Flame

    RTFM

    Read this and ROTFLMHO. Where did all the stuff in the article come from?

    Brosium been implemented? Nope not today. Later this year probably.

    Upgrade to Windows 7? Nope not today, still on XP.

    Apps locked into IE6? Yup.

    Whose been writing them? Oh, probably the suppliers and their contract staff, no one else to write them.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Or you could read it like this?

    £1.28m to roll out a simple browser plugin. "Our engineers were in and out in two hours." pretty expensive engineers to brush the problem under the carpet.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Or you could read it like this?

      Provision of engineers for two hours to brush problem under carpet: £2k

      Provision of brush: £1.278m

      1. The Baron

        Re: Or you could read it like this?

        Surely "knowing where to sweep: £1.278m"?

  24. Neil Hunt
    Unhappy

    I'm not sure I understand

    So let me see if I understood this article. The Aspire Consortium quoted roughly £35 million to upgrade 85000 desktops to Windows 7 and IE8/9. I assume this included hardware costs.

    Browsium came along and said, hey, we can upgrade you NOW to IE8 by installing a plugin on every desktop so that your old applications will still run, but we won't upgrade you now to Windows 7 and IE9 as it would break too many applications.

    I have a few questions:

    a) Who is going to support their XP environment once Microsoft stop doing so?

    b) When are they going to upgrade their desktop hardware and Windows version?

    c) When are they planning on fixing their applications so that they're not so locked in to a particular browser?

    In the end, they're still going to need to spend the £35 million pounds or whatever it is to upgrade their hardware and OS.

    Anyway, it's the start of the long weekend here (it's 7pm and I'm still in the office in Perth), so I'm off.

    1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Re: I'm not sure I understand

      "I assume this included hardware costs."

      35 million divided by 85000 is a tad over £400 per desktop, so it is probably mostly hardware costs.

      Obviously I can only guess at your questions, but they would appear to have perfectly plausible answers:

      1) Who supports XP after 2014? Quite possibly no-one, which isn't terribly different from the current situation. The security of the XP systems that I manage depends mostly on running with minimum privilege and keeping them away from dodgier parts of the interwebs. (I don't think I've even *seen* an internet-facing XP system in many years.) It seems to work.

      2) When are they upgrading Windows and hardware? As and when they need to, which is going to prove a darn sight cheaper than "because it's Spring", which is how the vendors would like us to operate.

      3) When are they planning on fixing their apps? Never. I'd be surprised if they had the source code. I'd be surprised if anyone who knew how it worked was still employed by them. I'd be surprised if the companies that got the contract to develop it are all still in existence. I'd be surprised if there was a budget for "things that don't deliver new features".

      At some point, the applicable law will change and the apps won't be doing the right thing anymore. Then someone will commission a shiny new crock.

    2. Emj

      Re: I'm not sure I understand

      The Browsium approach is pretty sensible if you consider the option that Gov need to buy some time pending replacing desktop PCs with thin-clients, something that is happening in droves around both central & local gov.

  25. Christoph Silver badge
    Boffin

    So who will they hire ...

    ... to get the IE6 apps working on IE20 a decade or two down the line, while they're still holding meetings to plan what kind of meetings to hold to begin discussing feasibility studies for starting to think about rewriting the apps?

  26. Chika
    FAIL

    Banana

    Question: Did anybody bother to proofread this article? There are any number of punctuation, syntax and grammar errors throughout!

  27. Dave Bell

    So what are the numbers?

    Just how much will this cost per computer?

    Even if all it does is buy time, and let them use current replacement hardware/OS systems, it sounds as though the cost is remarkably low. I've just upgraded to Win 7 myself from XP, and I am not 100% convinced it was a good move, but XP just can't get the best out of current hardware. Trouble is, Win 7 can still do some things horribly slowly, even if some things are incredibly faster than under XP on the same hardware.

    1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Re: XP to Win7 upgrades

      Your experience probably doesn't apply to an organisation like HMRC.

      It probably has a volume licence for XP, so it could roll out the shiny new hardware and put XP instances in VMs. Or it could set up a vast array of Terminal Server machines and use all the old hardware as RDP clients and never upgrade them at all.

      The point is, if your problem is IE6 then the minimal answer is an IE6 replacement, not a migration to Win7. That's the difference between Browsium and the more expensive bid.

      1. Fatman Silver badge

        Re: the difference between Browsium and the more expensive bid.

        Simples!!

        Pay Browsium the 1.2 to "fix" the problem,

        as for the rest, can you say the word:

        "PROFIT"

        Now, where is the "money" icon (use your choice of currency).

  28. Alastair Millar

    This article does not explain how they moved to W7 or the cost of that

    The artice describes a plug-in to IE8/IE9 to allow IE6 apps to run but does not explain that the cost of reimaging/replacing 85,000 dekstops with W7 and IE8/IE9 still has to be paid. It is also just putting off the inevitable as these apps must be ancient and in need of an upgrade at some point soon so is at best a cost delay. The reluctance of government to move forward to modern apps that can move to the cloud is actually costing them money.

  29. Darren2k10
    Meh

    Cost savings?

    I can't help but think that £1.3m for a web plugin that essentially puts IE6 back on a PC, and effectively very little else, is still well over budget for any government that still does not support SMEs in any meaningful way. As for £35m.... it would be laughable if it wasn't for the fact that they will continue to fork out this ludicrous amount for often late, and mostly substandard work.

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