Is Microsoft Internet Explorer Really the Best Browser for the Enterprise?

By Don Reisinger  |  Posted 2009-07-07

Is Microsoft Internet Explorer Really the Best Browser for the Enterprise?

A recent StatCounter report revealed an interesting shift in the browser market. According to the research firm, both Internet Explorer 6 and Internet Explorer 7 are losing market share at an astounding rate, while Internet Explorer 8 and Firefox 3 are gaining ground.

StatCounter's research found Internet Explorer 7 now enjoys 30.61 percent of the market, while Internet Explorer 6 controls 8.74 percent. Internet Explorer 8 now holds 15.4 percent of the browser market. All told, Microsoft's three most recent browser releases have captured almost 55 percent of the entire browser market. Compare that to Mozilla's Firefox browser, which now controls 27.73 percent of the market, as well as browsers from Google, Opera, and Apple, which have yet to climb out of single digits, and it becomes clear that Microsoft is still far ahead in the browser space.

But just how long that might last is up for debate. Just last year, Microsoft owned 78 percent of the browser market. Mozilla's Firefox browser had just 18.2 percent market share. In just over six months, that browser has been able to capture a significant portion of the space, while Microsoft has lost some of its influence.

It might get worse. After losing an antitrust battle, Microsoft won't even ship Internet Explorer in European editions of its Windows 7 operating system. And with new security issues arising almost every week against Internet Explorer, some IT managers are realizing that having employees use Internet Explorer might not be the best option. Although Internet Explorer 8 is an admittedly more robust browser, it's still less appealing than it should be.

But does that really matter? Even though Google's Chrome browser is faster than Internet Explorer, Apple's Safari 4 browser is more lightweight, and Firefox contains all the elements it takes to be a fine browser for business customers, most companies are still using Microsoft software to surf the Web. Part of that might be due to company-specific applications that need Internet Explorer to run, but it might also be because of convenience. Since Windows PCs ship with Internet Explorer installed, it doesn't take much to get employees online. And considering most of them use Internet Explorer at home, asking them to use a browser they're familiar with is much easier than training them on Firefox, Chrome or any other browser.

A Matter of Security

From a security standpoint, Internet Explorer has historically suffered from a variety of issues. Prior to the release of Internet Explorer 8, Microsoft's operating system was hobbled by a slew of security issues. Patch Tuesday, the day Microsoft releases updates to its software each month, have featured a slew of security fixes for Internet Explorer.

That said, an eWEEK Labs review found Internet Explorer 8 provided a far better browsing experience than its predecessors. It's more secure, it's faster and it's more reliable. But as the eWEEK Labs review points out, it's simply not as compelling as some alternatives. And current Chrome, Firefox and Opera users won't have any reason to switch to the new browser.

Realizing that, why is Internet Explorer still in such high demand in the business world? If it's not the best browser on the market, it's certainly not the most secure, and it can't quite zip around the Web at speeds you'll find in Chrome or Safari, is the enterprise clinging to Internet Explorer out of convenience? If so, what will it take to get Internet Explorer out of the enterprise? If it has survived security issues, if it has survived a feature-set that's isn't even close to its competition, and if it has survived speed issues, it's doubtful that Internet Explorer will ever be out of the enterprise.

But should it? Never has there been so much competition in the browser market. Not only is Microsoft still leading the way, but Google and Apple, the company's two biggest competitors outside of browsers, are providing browsers that are, arguably, more worthwhile than Internet Explorer. And although Internet Explorer 8 is a vast improvement over previous iterations of the software, it can't be updated nearly as often as browsers offered by Mozilla or Opera.

For example, Internet Explorer 8 is a fine alternative to Firefox 3.0. But it can't match Firefox 3.5. Firefox 3.5 is the first browser to support HTML 5, it has a "Forget this site" feature, which ensures visiting a particular site will never be recorded in the browser's history, and most importantly, Firefox now saves text you input into forms, so you can pick up where you left off if the browser crashes. All those features make Firefox 3.5 more compelling. And they all leave us wanting more from Internet Explorer.

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