Microsoft Internet Explorer 6 and 7 is still in heavy use by the enterprise, but Mozilla Firefox has been steadily gaining share in the desktop browser market, according to a new paper by research firm Forrester.
Google Chrome and Apple Safari have also seen adoption by business users, who have been relying "more heavily on the Internet and Web-based tools to perform their functions," according to report principal author and Forrester analyst Sheri McLeish.
"As more and more companies look to SAAS [software-as-a-service] solutions and the Web delivers richer media, firms need to rethink their browser choices in concert with the Web-based apps they deploy," McLeish wrote. "Information and knowledge management [I&KM] pros must start to leverage today's browser innovations like faster processing, tabs and new search features to improve information worker productivity."
Forrester's survey pool consisted of 51,913 enterprise-client users, and the survey itself was conducted throughout the second half of 2008.
With regard to enterprise browser adoption in 2008, the study found that Microsoft Internet Explorer 6 continued to dominate the market on a month-by-month basis throughout the year, with market share fluctuating from 66.6 percent in July 2008 to 60.2 percent in December 2008. During that same period, the market share for IE 7 went from 33.4 percent to 39.0 percent. Overall, Microsoft's share of the enterprise browser market went from 81.3 percent in July to 78.0 percent in December.
Mozilla Firefox made gains, increasing its share from 16.9 percent in July to 18.2 percent in December. Google Chrome went from 1.6 percent in September, when it was released, to 2.0 percent by the end of the year. Apple Safari held relatively steady, both beginning and ending the six-month period with 1.4 percent market share, while Opera came in fifth with 0.2 percent of the market.
Mozilla released its Firefox 3.5 Beta 4 on April 27, including a number of new features such as availability in 70 languages, privacy tools such as Private Browsing Mode, and support for JSON and Web worker threads.
The study found that enterprise IT overall was reluctant to upgrade its browsers, for a number of reasons.
These reasons included concern over whether customized enterprise applications will fail to run properly on an alternative browser. Rather than have workers drain help-desk resources trying to craft workarounds to an incompatible new browser, these administrators figure, they can simply stick with an "approved" browser.
IT administrators may also have issues with browser security and compliance, particularly in businesses that frequently engage in online transactions of secure information. Firms "may restrict browsers to an approved list for trading as a security control and to limit liability in the event a [non-sanctioned] browser gets compromised," McLeish wrote.
Another barrier to new-browser adoption in the enterprise is "lack of perceived need due to self-provisioning." Knowledge-intensive businesses that refuse to restrict their employees' access to the Web may not feel the pressure to support a particular browser.
Nonetheless, some 70 percent of businesses surveyed blocked either Websites, browsers or some variety of Web content, while 25 percent said they provided unrestricted access. Five percent of those queried said "Not sure."
The study recommends that the enterprise embrace new browsers as the chance to boost worker productivity, and suggests that administrators and executives devise a cohesive browser strategy, lobby IT for an upgrade and seek to educate others about the efficiency of employing the latest Web tools.
"IE8 and Firefox 3 - and eventually Chrome and Safari 4 - offer compelling productivity enhancements that can help people work faster as they navigate and engage in applications on the Web," McLeish concluded, making new browsers something to be seriously considered.