More and more software applications are now “hosted” via the web, which means you get to them by typing an address on your Internet browser. This trend will continue, because the software companies get to charge an ongoing subscription fee as long as you use their products. They like the predictable reoccurring revenue. It’s good for you too since it means less IT infrastructure that you have to manage, like servers and backups.
Now that you are running all these web-based applications, which browser should you use?
The top contenders are Internet Explorer, which is Microsoft’s built-in browser; Safari, which is Apple’s built-in browser; Mozilla Firefox; and Google Chrome. Safari, Firefox and Chrome can be run on Windows PCs and Macs; Internet Explorer can only be run on a Windows PC, although there are ways to run Windows (and thus Internet Explorer) on a Mac if needed. Check out Parallels or VMWare Fusion if this is something you want.
Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) is the Internet browser that most companies use most of the time. Programmers often dislike it because it is not as “standards compliant” as the other leading web browsers. That means Microsoft is not always following established protocols for handling web programming languages. Programmers have to custom-tailor their code for IE, writing a lot of exceptions that should be unnecessary.
That said, it’s considered the standard and is widely used in the business world. Because of that, software developers always make sure their programs run smoothly in IE. If you want a trouble-free experience, Internet Explorer is typically your best bet.
In the past, many programs have not run well on Apple Safari. There are just enough differences between Safari and other browsers that there tend to be a lot of small glitches (and sometimes some big ones). The experience is improving, especially now that Apple is gaining market share in the business world. Still, unless your software company promises Safari compatibility, you should expect issues. Only use this if you are on a Mac and have no other choice – for example, if you are working from home on a Mac.
Mozilla Firefox has been around since 2004, so it’s a very stable and powerful browser, and it is highly compliant with web standards. It is popular because it allows users to control their web experience by providing a huge variety of “add-on” programs that give you a variety of extra features. Power users love customizing Firefox to their precise needs. Most applications that run well on IE also run well on Firefox, but as with Safari, don’t count on it unless your software provider promises compatibility.
Google Chrome is a more recent entry into the browser wars, but it has become hugely popular in record time. It is known for lightning fast speeds. Google built it with the cloud in mind, so it is already compliant with the very newest standards and highly compatible with most applications. Still, many software developers will not support it – the default remains Internet Explorer. Nonetheless, Chrome is a great choice for day-to-day web surfing.
Picking a browser isn’t the only concern. You also have to worry about which version you use, because software vendors usually run a little behind on the latest versions. For example, if there is a new version of Internet Explorer, your software vendor might not catch up for a few months, meaning you could run into issues. Fortunately you can use “compatibility mode” to simulate older browser versions.
Web applications often use third-party add-ins like Java, a popular web-programming language. Java is notorious for security issues so patches are released regularly, and these can also cause compatibility issues. If your vendor uses Java, make sure they have a good track record on keeping their programs up-to-date. Ask if your vendor is rewriting their applications in HTML 5, which will eliminate the need for Java and its associated risks.
If you run several web applications, it is possible that you could run into a situation where different vendors require conflicting security settings or versions. The more applications you run, the higher the risk. However, there are nearly always ways to work around this issue. Ask your friendly tech for help – it make take a little ingenuity, but you should be able to find a way to run everything you need.
Choosing What’s Right for Your Business
If you don’t set policies, your staff will probably use whatever browser they use at home. Most people will run Internet Explorer because it’s there. However, those who install Firefox or Chrome on their home PCs may take the initiative to install it at work, and Mac users may install Safari on their Windows PC.
You can choose any of the following for your company:
- Require Internet Explorer for everything. You can even lock down security to prevent people from downloading other browsers. Best for environments where staff is not tech-savvy, because it minimizes potential for issues. It is the safest choice.
- Require Internet Explorer for web-based applications that you use for the business, but allow your team to use other browsers for web surfing. This balances control and empowerment, giving your team some freedom over their work environment.
- Let employees use whichever they want, and deal with issues as they arise. Best for organizations that don’t like to restrict their staff, but only if most of their staff is fairly tech-savvy, your software doesn’t have too many issues with Chrome and Firefox, and your people can handle routine issues.
Additional considerations: if you run software that has significant conflicts with browsers other than Internet Explorer, you will need to keep the environment more locked down; if your software vendor is compatible with multiple browsers than you can leave it more open. If you choose to limit choices, use computer security policies to enforce this decision.
Whatever you choose, be sure to clearly communicate and explain the options to your team. Happy surfing!