Application Compatibility, Standards Support, Administration Features

 
 
By Jim Rapoza  |  Posted 2009-05-29 Email Print this article Print
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


 

Application Compatibility

For any business, the most important criterion by far when picking a Web browser is application compatibility. A Web browser could have the greatest features, fastest performance and best standards support, but if it can't run the sales applications you use, it's essentially useless.

For a long time, not only were many Web-based enterprise applications designed specifically to work with Internet Explorer, many would work only with IE.

However, the growth of AJAX-based Websites and improved standards support by Web developers has largely changed this. While IE-only Web applications still exist, they are by far in the minority. During general Web use in my tests, I rarely ran into any Websites that would refuse to run in any browser I chose, and I also didn't see many cases where a site displayed differently in one browser than it did in another.

However, in testing with enterprise applications, I did run into some small compatibility issues. These tests included not only the Web-based applications I use for my own job, but also the Web applications I review and test for eWEEK Labs.

Overall, Firefox had the least amount of issues with Websites and enterprise applications. Nearly everything ran smoothly using the browser, and I was able to access all of the functionality and features of most of the applications I tested. Most of the problems I encountered were in applications designed specifically for IE use.

Somewhat surprisingly, also running into problems with IE-only Websites was IE 8. During my tests, several sites and applications designed for IE use, including some Microsoft applications, didn't work properly with IE 8 in default mode. However, in all cases, switching to IE 8's IE 7 compatibility mode fixed the issues.

But while the compatibility mode fixes the problem, this is still a bit of a business issue. Workers will need to be trained to use compatibility mode, or the IT department will need to configure IE 8 to use compatibility mode for certain sites or turn it on all the time.

For most sites visited during my tests, Chrome, Safari and Opera worked well. However, I did run into some minor problems with several applications, mainly in the ability to take advantage of some embedded features, such as the WYSIWYG editor in applications such as Mambo.

In some, but not all, of these cases, the main culprit is developer laziness. Some developers set up their applications to look for the most common browsers (namely, IE and Firefox) and reject other browsers in the same way they reject old browsers. This can sometimes be fixed by changing the user agent in these browsers to identify as another browser, but this probably isn't something most businesses would want to do.

Standards Support

The browsers that do the best when it comes to solid support of Web standards are Opera, Chrome and Safari, all of which do well in tests such as the Web Standards Project's Acid3.

Firefox also does well when it comes to standards support, although it is behind the top three performers. While IE 8 has much better standards support than previous versions of IE, it is still well behind the other current-generation Web browsers.

One would expect that the browsers that have the best standards support would be the ones that run the widest number of Websites and applications without problems. But it turns out that the opposite is true.

How does this happen? For one thing, again, developers tend to write for the most popular browsers-IE and Firefox-so sites and applications work best on these browsers despite their lower standards support. Also, throughout the history of the browser wars, challenger browsers have tended to focus on good standards support, and then become less enamored of that support once they gain market dominance.

This brings up an interesting dilemma for IT managers. After all, standards support is all well and good, but it doesn't mean much if a browser can't run the applications you need to use.

But standards support is important to a browser's ability to take advantage of cutting-edge Web technologies. Many companies that stayed wedded to older browsers found themselves sitting on the sidelines during the Web 2.0 boom as competitors gained an edge by taking advantage of new technologies.

Administration Features

For many enterprises, customization and management options are important for any widely deployed application. And, just as many companies want to lock down and define the capabilities of the operating systems they deploy, locking down and defining the capabilities of the browsers they use is key.

By far, the browser that offers the most options in the way of customization, management and deployment is Internet Explorer.

Most of this capability comes by way of the free IEAK (Internet Explorer Administration Kit). Use of the IEAK tool, recently reviewed here, makes it possible for a company to build customized IE packages that control what features are available, predefine settings, lock down security options and even add corporate branding.


How the Browsers Match Up for the Enterprise

  Browser

Web App Compatibility

Standards Support

Security

Administration Features

Extensibility

Browser Features

Platform Support

Performance

Chrome

Good

Excellent

Fair

Fair

Fair

Good

Fair

Excellent

Firefox

Excellent

Good

Fair

Good

Excellent

Good

Excellent

Fair

IE 8

Good

Fair

Fair

Excellent

Good

Good

Fair

Fair

Opera

Good

Excellent

Fair

Fair

Good

Good

Excellent

Excellent

Safari

Good

Good

Fair

Fair

Fair

Good

Good

Good


Even without the IEAK, IE would still be tops in this area due to its integration with Microsoft deployment and updating tools. Companies can easily make sure that employees are using the most up-to-date version of the browser and can tie it into the corporate patching and deployment infrastructure.

A distant second in this area is Firefox. There is an extension for Firefox called the CCK Client Customization Kit) Wizard that offers basic customization options, but it's pretty limited when compared with IEAK.

Firefox and Chrome both have integrated updating mechanisms that make it possible for users to keep their browsers updated. And, while both Safari and Opera will let users know when the browser version is out of date, both require users to download the new updates and run installation routines, something that can be difficult on locked-down corporate systems.



 
 
 
 
Jim Rapoza, Chief Technology Analyst, eWEEK.For nearly fifteen years, Jim Rapoza has evaluated products and technologies in almost every technology category for eWEEK. Mr RapozaÔÇÖs current technology focus is on all categories of emerging information technology though he continues to focus on core technology areas that include: content management systems, portal applications, Web publishing tools and security. Mr. Rapoza has coordinated several evaluations at enterprise organizations, including USA Today and The Prudential, to measure the capability of products and services under real-world conditions and against real-world criteria. Jim Rapoza's award-winning weekly column, Tech Directions, delves into all areas of technologies and the challenges of managing and deploying technology today.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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