The multi-browser enterprise Is here to stay

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For many years, the enterprise browser standard has been Internet Explorer. In fact, despite the increasing popularity of browsers like Firefox and Chrome in recent years, you’d be hard pressed to find a CIO today who claims any browser other than Internet Explorer is the organization’s default and preferred browser.

This homogeneity began around the time Internet Explorer usage peaked in 2004, with roughly 95% share on consumer and business PCs. As enterprises built and deployed their first web applications, they based them on (or more accurately “tied them to”) the popular browser of the day – Internet Explorer. It didn’t hurt that Internet Explorer was highly manageable via Group Policy, or that it contained a very powerful application development platform that allowed native Windows code to run inside the browser (aka, ActiveX). The net effect was that enterprise IT had the browser it needed to run the business, so there was no reason to look at any other options.

How times have changed. Since then, Internet Explorer’s overall usage share has dropped by nearly 50 basis points, while Chrome and Firefox have risen to become mainstream browsers on consumer PCs.  By some measures, combined usage of Chrome and Firefox even dwarfs Internet Explorer. In the enterprise, Internet Explorer is still the most-likely standard, but alternative browsers are increasing in usage, with a clear trend under way – the enterprise (like the consumer market) is becoming a multi-browser environment.

In this post, we’ll look at why this change is happening. What scenarios drive a second browser into the typical Internet Explorer-dominated enterprise and who is driving this change?

Turns out there are three key scenarios that create the multi-browser enterprise, and end-users and IT are equally responsible for the change. So let’s take a look at the scenarios:

Scenario 1: Legacy browser still used for legacy apps. In this scenario, legacy applications dependent on legacy browsers (typically IE6 or IE7) are still in use and IT has not yet implemented a remediation plan. These legacy apps might be upgraded, they might be retired or replaced, or they might be remediated to run on IE8 or IE9 using Browsium Ion. But the fact remains, IE6 or IE7 are still being used on the organization’s PCs and that’s a problem.  Not only are those old versions lacking modern browser security features, but they’re also largely incompatible with modern business applications and the web. Have you tried running SharePoint in IE6 or visiting YouTube with IE7? They not only look horrible, they’re non-functional.

So what does IT do? IT takes control and begrudgingly installs an unmanaged, alternative browser (usually Chrome or Firefox) to handle everything but the legacy IE6 and IE7-dependent applications. And then end users are expected to make the right browser choice, depending on the application or website they’re using. That’s a problem. At best, the wrong choice means a work stoppage or a helpdesk call. At worst, the wrong choice means a security catastrophe and organization-wide downtime.

Scenario 2: Legacy apps remediated via virtualization. In this scenario, IT has implemented a remediation strategy for those legacy IE6 and IE7-dependent web applications – via virtualization. Whether IT has chosen to use Terminal Servers, VDI, client-side OS virtualization, or even the Microsoft-frowned-upon application virtualization, the end result is the same. End users are faced with a confusing choice of multiple browsers, where the wrong choice may have dire consequences.

Scenario 3: End users install their alternative browser of choice. In this scenario, IT may have declared Internet Explorer as the organization standard, and may even have locked down the desktops in an attempt to prevent new browsers from being installed. But IT policies are no match for the computer scientists at Google and Mozilla who have figured out how to install their respective browsers directly into the user’s profile (not in c:\program files and the HK Local Machine registry hive).

So whether IT says okay to BYOB (Bring Your Own Browser), looks the other way when it happens, or is helpless to defend against it, Chrome and Firefox are showing up on enterprise PCs in increasing numbers. And once again, IT must bear the brunt of the confusion and incompatibility this will cause.

Once you come to grips with the fact that the multi-browser enterprise is inevitable, you turn your attention to strategies to tame it. Leaving end users responsible for using the most compatible or secure browser is asking for trouble. No amount of training will ensure they make the right choice. After all, they’ve been trained their whole IT lives that browsers “just work” with the web, and each user’s choice is simply a matter of personal taste.

That’s why we’ve built Browsium Catalyst.  Catalyst puts IT in control of the chaos, ensuring that the right browser opens the right website on every PC in the organization. Need Internet Explorer for a line-of-business application that uses ActiveX? Done. Want your end users to browse the web with the latest version of Firefox? Done. Need Chrome to handle that nifty new HTML-5 application or for Google Apps? Done. And all of this “just works” automatically, as users have come to expect.

Catalyst provides centralized management, with distribution of Catalyst configurations via Group Policy (or flat files for those who have eschewed Active Directory). And Catalyst provides many additional layers of security protection, from simple mitigation of zero-day exploits, to the ability to add zones to Chrome and Firefox.

We invite you to try out Catalyst Beta today. We’re gearing up to release early in 2013 and value your feedback. The days of the homogeneous, Internet Explorer-dominated enterprise are over. It’s a multi-browser world now. With a better understanding of how we got here, you can turn your attention to managing it. We’re here to help.

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