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What's behind Web browser choices

Security, administration are key issues for enterprise network managers choosing among Microsoft IE, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome and other Web browsers

By , Network World
October 13, 2009 12:04 AM ET

Network World - The Web browser is a tiny piece of software code that sparks fierce loyalty among end users, who debate the speed and functionality of the latest versions of Microsoft IE, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome and the rest. But enterprise network managers seem less concerned about end user productivity than they are about standardization and security. That's why more organizations are standardizing on one--sometimes two--commercial Web browsers.

The economic downturn is encouraging this trend, as more organizations cite cost-savings from supporting fewer Web browsers.

"As this downturn occurred, fewer people have experimented with things that are outside of the standards," says Victor Janulaitis, CEO of Janco Associates. "Corporations are saying: I'm just going to use Internet Explorer…They want to stick with one browser and not many from a consistency standpoint and because of security alerts."

After years of flux, the enterprise market for desktop Web browsers has stabilized.

For the last year, Microsoft's Internet Explorer has held around 70% of the market, while Mozilla's Firefox has held 20%, according to Janco Associates. The rest of the market is held by smaller players: Google Chrome with 4%, Opera with 1%, Apple Safari with less than 1% and the remainder to older versions of Mozilla and Netscape browsers.

The current situation is turnabout given that market share for Web browsers has varied widely in the 15 years since the first commercial Web browser was released.

Slideshow: Browsers that launched an industry turn 15 

It was 15 years ago Tuesday that the first commercial Web browser -- eventually called Netscape Navigator -- was released as beta code. While researchers including World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee and a team at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications created Unix browsers between 1991 and 1994, Netscape Navigator was the first commercial Web browser to become a household name.

In the intervening years, the Web browser has prompted battles for market share, government-led lawsuits and attracted hacking attacks. Much of the innovation today surrounds creating new and improved browsers for mobile devices and social networking sites.

Much of the stability in the enterprise Web browser market comes from the fact that more organizations are standardizing on a particular Web browser, often Internet Explorer.

One such organization is the Isle of Man government, which is migrating 5,500 computers to Internet Explorer 8. All government employees use the Internet, Web applications and SharePoint sites, so they rely on a Web browser to get their work done every day.

Peter Clarke, CTO for the Isle of Man government, says the benefits of browser standardization include "administration, security patching [and] overhead minimized to one application performing the required business function."

"Choice isn't a business requirement," Clarke adds. "It's usually an unnecessary cost overhead."

Before migrating to IE version 8 this year, the Isle of Man used IE version 6 and 7. Users, however, complained about the lack of support for Web standards and Java applets in these older versions of IE.

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