Zimbra and Internet Explorer Compatibilitiy View Settings

Summary

  • Some users have had problems with the Zimbra Web client interface when viewed in Internet Explorer... missing features, and visually different.
  • The problem is mostly due to Internet Explorer's Compatibility View being enabled by default for web sites on the JLab network
  • At COB on Wednesday, 1/14/2015, the Computer Center delivered a configuration policy to Windows systems that caused them to view all web sites on the JLab network in "normal" mode.
  • Some users may now see problems with other sites at the lab that previously relied on compatibility mode to be viewed correctly. These problems are expected to be isolated and few in number.
  • Users can add these specific sites to a list in Internet explorer of sites that should use compatibility mode to get them to display properly again using the procedure outlined below.

Configuring IE to View Specific Sites in Compatibility Mode (not just JLab sites)

If, after the configuration change is delivered to JLab Windows systems, you encounter JLab web sites that do not display correctly -- e.g. the page doesn't "look right", or there is an obvious jumble of out of place menus, images and text boxes, etc. In these cases, proper display of the site can sometimes be obtained by configuring IE to present the page to you in compatibility mode.

Compatibility View Settings dialog --

Compatibility view settings are managed via a dialog that allows you to enter sites that should use compatibility view into a list. If you visit a page and it doesn't look right, you can try using compatibility view by selecting the "Page" menu item, then clicking on "Compatibility View Settings".  A dialog box will appear that looks like the following. The box below "Add this web site" will contain the name of the site you are currently viewing.

Image of Internet Explorers Compatibility View Settings dialog

Click "Add" to add the site to the compatibility view list, then click "Close". The dialog box will close, the web page will refresh, and hopefully, will now look right.

Discussion -- IE Compatibility View and Zimbra EMail Web Interface

The Zimbra web interface is designed to work on just about any platform. It accomplishes this by providing several different user interfaces and selecting the one that works best for your device. The "best" (fanciest) interface is one that uses ajax and provides a very nice user interface, comparable to what you get in most desktop applications. For systems that for security or other reasons do not support the Ajax interface, there is an HTML-only interface. In addition, there is a user interface that is optimized for mobile phones and  other small-screen devices. The different interfaces all provide the most basic core features, but many popular features are only available in the ajax version.

After the updated Zimbra email server went into production at the end of the holiday break, some users began to report problems when connecting to zimbra.jlab.org using Internet Explorer. In particular, it continued to revert back to html only mode, and displayed a warning indicating that your browser wasn't supported for the ajax interface and that it strongly recommended use of the html interface.

Overview

The problem with zimbra switching to the HTML-only interface in IE is caused in most cases by IEs operatoin in "Compatibility View" mode. This configuration of IE is intended to allow old web sites to display normally in the browser. The Zimbra server is a new system and delivers content to IE using current standards, etc. But, by default, Internet Explorer 9, 10 and 11 all operate in Compatibility (legacy) mode when viewing an "intranet" site (one that is on the same network as your browser -- i.e. a JLab web server being viewed by a computer on the Jlab network).

Web sites commonly detect the web browser you use to connect to them and adjust their output to accommodate each browser's specific implementation. Recently, Internet Explorer has been moving toward better support for widely recognized standards.  This is generally a good thing, but due to this change, some web sites that have supported Internet Explorer in the past now show problems if viewed in recent versions of IE. The sites themselves need to be changed to adapt to the recent changes in IE behavior.

To help bridge the gap, Microsoft provides a feature called "Compatibility View" in recent IE versions that allow you to tell the browser to operate in legacy mode when needed. Obviously some sites need to be viewed with compatibility view enabled, while others, that have been updated to reflect the changes in IE can be viewed in IE in the "normal" mode.

It's hard to know which to use...

Unfortunately, it's difficult to make sure that IE operates in the way needed by whatever site is being viewed. Microsoft attempts to do just that through the use of a few controls that allow you to guide IE in selecting the correct mode. Currently, the default configuration for compatibility view in internet explorer is:

  • Compatibility View is disabled for all sites by default, except --
  • Systems retrieve a list from Microsoft of sites that require compatibility mode be enabled and enables it for those sites.,
  • Users can explicitly add other sites for which compatibility view will be enabled
  • Compatibility view is enabled by default for intranet sites

The last item is Microsoft's attempt to accommodate enterprises that may not have updated all their internal servers to properly recognize  the new IE versions and render pages for it correctly. The assumption is that public servers on the internet are more likely to have had the issue addressed. This is an imperfect approach.