We all like choices – until too many choices get in the way. We want options – until the number of options makes problem solving a complex set of tinker toys in which “fixing” one thing breaks another. It’s a heck of a lot easier for a business to say, “Let’s just pick one, and stick to it,” whether that applies to operating systems, hardware vendors… or web browsers.
If your company is considering moving to a standard browser, the corporate decision-makers should first understand the problems they might create by hitching the business’ wagon to only one horse. One giant issue, which could be costly and time consuming, may deter your company from being stuck to one browser, but first let's look at why it might want to standardize.
In Praise of Standarization
A corporate standard browser can help keep support costs down. Mike Thomas, IT training consultant for global biopharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, says that the company decided years ago to implement standard software, including the Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) browser, to reduce support costs. Thomas says that employees who need other, non-standard software in order to perform their job functions must request it.
Streamlining operations and increasing efficiencies are also considerations. With 7,000 staff and contract employees, ITV, the UK’s largest commercial television network, announced in July 2011 that the company was moving from Microsoft Exchange to Google Apps as a step in its transformation plan. As part of this move, the company said it would also deploy Google Chrome as its corporate standard web browser.
For some companies the driving factors are training and market share. Lew Hundley, technical writer for PHTech, a health plan administrative services provider, says that less employee training is necessary because the company sticks to IE. “If issues come up, the odds are that, through experience, the user has dealt with it before,” Hundley says. Users may resolve the problems themselves before calling the help desk; the best tech support is the support that’s never needed.
Hundley adds, “I guess the bottom line is market share. Microsoft has the highest within the business community. There are many other browsers that are better, and I know that the technical staff would prefer to use and support one or another of them. But it all has to do with training and support. If you are dealing with a non-technical staff, more than likely you will go with what is the most prevalent browser within your business sector.”
Interoperability, open standards, and cloud computing are three more good reasons a company might choose to select a standard browser. Back in July 2010, former vice president of Open Systems and Linux at IBM, Bob Sutor, announced that Firefox would be the new corporate default browser for the company’s 400,000 employees. Employees and vendors with browser-based services would be encouraged to use Firefox, and new company computers would have it installed by default.
In his blog post about the browser decision, Sutor explained why Firefox was chosen. “Firefox is stunningly standards compliant,” he wrote, as it supports interoperability and open standards. Plus, Firefox is also open source, has an international community of developers and contributors, is extensible and easily customized, and is innovative, Sutor wrote.
The Big Fat Con
Browsers probably change faster than your company can change with them. In AstraZeneca’s case, the company’s special applications that work with IE7 make upgrading to IE8 or switching to a different browser a huge, potentially expensive, and time-consuming endeavor. “Two years ago the company moved from Windows 2000/Office 2000 to Windows Vista and Office 2007, so it was just natural progression that the company moved to IE7. There are 65,000 employees and the Vista project took two years to plan,” Thomas explains.
However, he says, IE7 isn’t actually the best choice for the company because so many sites no longer work with it. “But to upgrade to IE8 will require major testing to ensure that all specialist apps work with it,” Thomas adds.
Enough companies were stuck on IE6 to inspire a migration solution. Browsium’s UniBrows add-on offers one solution for IE6-dependent companies. UniBrows lets you upgrade to the latest Internet Explorer release while keeping the IE6-dependent web apps working, and at US $5 per user per year, it is more affordable than some other fixes.
Of course, if your company opted for Firefox, you might not be in any better shape than IE-dependent offices, now that Mozilla has adopted a rapid release cycle. Some companies still hadn’t completed their move to Firefox 4 when Mozilla released Firefox 5 and ended support for the older release.
How to Decide?
Do you need a standard browser? And if so, which one is best for your organization? Well, it depends. The browser plays an increasingly important role in our daily computing lives, but becoming too reliant on these rapidly changing technologies is problematic.
Firefox could be your company’s solution if you want open source code you can customize or a selection of powerful add-ons. Mozilla seems to be paying attention to enterprise-user feedback and now plans to have Enterprise Support Release desktop versions of Firefox, which will be maintained for seven release cycles. So what if Firefox doesn't sound enthusiastic about enterprise support? At least they're throwing a little out there.
Although Internet Explorer usage is on the decline, the Microsoft Windows browser is still your best choice if yours is a large company that isn’t able to update to new browser releases frequently. In June, Ari Bixhorn, director of Internet Explorer at Microsoft, posted an open letter in response to IBM's displeasure about the rapid release schedule for Firefox updates. Bixhorn outlined two strong arguments for companies to choose IE over other browsers. The first one is Microsoft's long-time focus on — dare I say, love of — enterprise users. The second, more important reason is that Microsoft supports each version of IE as long as the latest Windows version on which it runs is supported. Bixhorn explained that Windows Enterprise 7 is supported through January 2020, which means that IE 9 will be supported until then, too.
If HTML5 compatibility, open-source code, and speed are important, embrace Chrome. Chrome also rapidly rolls out new releases every six weeks, but unlike Firefox, Google seems eager to attract — and keep — corporate clients.
In December 2010, Google announced that Chrome was ready for business use. “Today, we’re announcing that Chrome offers controls that enable IT administrators to easily configure and deploy the browser on Windows, Mac, and Linux according to their business requirements,” the announcement said. The announcement also introduced the new MSI installer, which lets businesses using standard deployment tools install Chrome for all their managed users. And Google added a new group policy feature with a list of policies and templates to allow admins to customize browser settings to control security and privacy.
Still, if your company hasn’t had a standard browser in the past and you can’t think of a reason why you’d need one now, you’re probably better off playing the browser field than getting too attached to just one.