10 Reasons Why Companies Should Consider Alternatives to Internet Explorer

News Analysis: Internet Explorer may be the top Web browser in the enterprise, but should it hold the top spot? Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome outshine the Microsoft browser in terms of innovation. Here are 10 of the factors that might make some companies want to switch to the competition.

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Microsoft's Internet Explorer has been a lightning rod for controversy as of late. The software giant has been facing intense pressure from the European Union not to bundle its browser with Windows 7 when the operating system is released later in 2009. Opera Software has continued pelting Microsoft with criticism about policies that Opera claims make it far too difficult for users to install and use another Web browser.
Responding to those complaints, Microsoft announced recently that it has changed its Internet Explorer 8 default settings to make it easier for users to select other browsers. According to the company, Internet Explorer will no longer be installed or become the computer's default browser without the user's consent. The update will be coming in August.
Although it's noteworthy that Microsoft has changed its Internet Explorer policy, it raises the question of whether or not companies should reconsider their use of Internet Explorer. According to a recent study from Forrester Research, Internet Explorer still commands 78 percent of the enterprise market. Mozilla Firefox has just 18.2 percent of the market under its control, while Google Chrome and apple Safari lag behind in the low single digits.
Admittedly, Internet Explorer is so popular not because of the features it offers, but because of the corporate world's reliance on it for legacy application support. Unfortunately, it's the only browser, in some cases, that can support enterprise applications.
But that doesn't mean it's ideal. Quite the contrary: Internet Explorer is by no means the best browser on the market. In fact, it has some real drawbacks that might make it less appealing than competing browsers. And some companies might want to rethink their reliance on it.
Here's why:
1. IE is a follower
As appealing as Internet Explorer might be, it doesn't set the pace for the browser market. Since Internet Explorer 6 was released, it has trailed behind Firefox, Safari and even Opera. Microsoft was late adding tabs to the browser. It has yet to substantially improve site rendering. Internet Explorer is always playing catch-up.
2. Productivity matters
Internet Explorer might finally let you use tabs, but for the most part it doesn't have basic features that will increase productivity. In competing browsers, users can search in the address bar, tweak settings to increase the browser's performance and more. Such features create a faster, more appealing browser experience and, in turn, increase employee productivity.
3. IE doesn't do search ... well
When employees start using Firefox or Opera, it quickly becomes apparent that those browsers' search features are far more advanced than Internet Explorer's. There are more options, the search is quicker and it gets employees to the sites they're looking for sooner. Internet Explorer's search options are getting much better, but it needs to do more.
4. Extensions are all the rage
Firefox extensions are simply outstanding. For a while, they only catered to consumers, but while that still is the case for some extensions, more add-ons than ever are appealing to the enterprise. There are productivity tools and other business-related extensions that are perfect for the corporate world.
5. Speed matters
Although mileage will vary with browser speeds, I've found that there is simply no comparison between Internet Explorer's speeds and those of Firefox and Chrome. After zipping around the Web on the same connection with Chrome, I was displeased by how slow Internet Explorer was in comparison. Microsoft has promised that new versions of its browser will be faster, but for now, Internet Explorer is brutally slow compared with the competition.
6. What about security?
Internet Explorer has experienced some serious security issues since it was first released. With almost every round of patches, Microsoft is finding more and more security holes and buttoning them up. And although security is an issue with all browsers, there are far fewer drawbacks with Firefox and Chrome. They are simply more secure. If companies deployed those browsers, they might be able to save themselves from possible security outbreaks.
7. Integration is important
One of the best features of both Safari and Chrome is their integration with company applications. When Chrome is used, it's integrated with Google Docs, making it easy to quickly type out a document, add something to a spreadsheet or place images in a presentation. Safari integrates well with Mac and iPhone apps. And although Microsoft has made integration more important in recent years, the results are simply not as appealing as integration features in competing browsers.
8. The competition is nimble
Although Microsoft is the leader in the browser market, its competition is far more willing to innovate. Part of that is due to Microsoft's reliance on legacy applications. But it's also partly due to Microsoft's unwillingness to deploy rapid updates before the competition, due to bureaucratic decision-making that makes big companies slow. Microsoft's competition is agile. It's willing to innovate quickly. And, most importantly, it's not afraid to take some chances. That could come back to haunt Microsoft.
9. Competitors are gaining ground
According to StatCounter, Microsoft has lost significant browser market share in the past year to Firefox, Chrome and Opera. In fact, Internet Explorer, which once held 78 percent of the total consumer market, now controls just 55 percent. It's still far ahead, but it's losing ground. As more people find reasons to use other browsers at home, they will become more comfortable with them, making it easier to switch employees to alternative browsers. The tide is changing.
10. Google is Google
Although it's easy to discount a browser with single-digit market share, Google's Chrome browser is outstanding. It has all the features necessary to make it a winner in the market. And it also has the single component that might matter most: Google is behind it. Google is big, it's powerful and it has the desire to beat Microsoft no matter where it sets up shop. That means it wants to beat Microsoft in the enterprise. And it wants to do it with Chrome. The future is bright for Google. IT managers can't forget that.
In the end, Internet Explorer still reigns supreme. It provides the enterprise with what it thinks it needs today. But whether or not it will in the future is very much in doubt.

Don Reisinger

Don Reisinger

Don Reisinger is a longtime freelance contributor to several technology and business publications. Over his career, Don has written about everything from geek-friendly gadgetry to issues of privacy...