It used to be that companies were concerned with one issue when it came to platform support: Does the browser run on Windows? For many companies, however, it's not that simple anymore.
While the numbers are still small compared with those of Windows PCs, Macs are definitely becoming more common in many companies. And more than a few employees may be accessing Web applications on Linux, especially with the widening use of netbooks.
The two top players for platform support are clearly Firefox and Opera. Firefox is available on Windows, Mac and Linux, and runs nearly identically on all of them. Opera also runs on these platforms (although new versions aren't always released on all platforms at the same time), and Opera has an excellent mobile implementation.
Safari, of course, runs on the Mac and iPhone platforms, and while it runs on Windows, the implementation isn't quite identical (though the Version 4 beta is better in this area than previous versions).
Both IE 8 and Chrome are Windows-only. IE 8 will likely stay that way, but Google officials have said the company plans to release Chrome on other platforms.
When browser makers compare themselves, one of the main areas they focus on is performance. At one point or another during the last year, each browser has been declared the fastest in one way or another.
In my opinion, for the most part these are comparisons of fast versus faster. It's been a long time since I've seen a browser that I consider slow in any way. And when I have seem a browser run slowly, it was either due to a bug in that release (and speed was improved upon updating) or it was due to issues with a plug-in or extension.
The browsers that performed the best in these tests tended to be Chrome and Opera. Safari was just behind these browsers, with Firefox and IE bringing up the rear.
Like taking your car to a racetrack to see how fast it can go, running these tests must give results that mean something. But just as that time trial on the racetrack won't tell you how your car will perform in rush-hour traffic, these tests won't tell you how these browsers will run your corporate applications.
Performance does matter, but only so far as it impacts the applications you use in your business. So, rather than rely on external (and potentially biased) performance reports, make sure that the browsers you use in your company perform well with the applications you use.
In the end, that is the key to picking a browser for your company: Don't pick the one that is the fastest, the most standards-compliant or the most feature-rich. Pick the one that meets your specific needs the best.
Chief Technology Analyst Jim Rapoza can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.